Sunday, February 3, 2008

Establishing a political criterion: my two cents

This post deals wit remarks made by Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M Cap., to NCR's John Allen during this week's USCCB meeting: "I think there are legitimate reasons you could vote in favor of someone who wouldn’t be where the church is on abortion, but it would have to be a reason that you could confidently explain to Jesus and the victims of abortion when you meet them at the Judgment." It is, His Excellency went on to point out, "the only criterion." While I am inclined to agree both with Archbishop Chaput and Clarity that the dignity of the human person is the sole criterion, the one from which all other criteria flow, including the common good, I think the statement a tad rhetorical. It does, however, put the issue in bold relief, which, I suppose, is a good good use of rhetoric. After all, thinking in a teleological manner is part and parcel of being a Christian, which means nothing more than thinking in terms of the ultimate of things.

Getting back to the archbishop's remarks, many knowledgeable commentators are saying that his comments are just laying the ground for Catholics to be able to vote for Mayor Giuliani should he get the Republican nomination and do so in good conscience. While I think these pronouncements are both premature and wrong, they do recognize the elephant in the room, namely that we may well be faced with the prospect of two candidates for president from the major parties who favor legalized abortion on demand. Another problem with these rather cynical responses to Chaput's comments is that, while he is an eloquently outspoken proponent for Catholicism is the public square, he is not a partisan, he is not a crypto-Republican.

I also agree that we have to be careful about moral equivalency arguments. To wit, it is more important to seek to further restrict and even ban abortions, except those that may result from genuine attempts to save the life of pregnant mothers, which account for less than 1% of all abortions in the U.S., than to ban the death penalty. Ideally, we do both, but I agree that there is no moral equivalency here. When it comes to the waging of an arguably unjust war in which not only soldiers, marines, airmen, and sailors fight, wound, and kill other legal combatants while fighting for a just cause, but also many innocent civilians, whose human dignity and rights get trampled on both due to direct fighting and to conditions created by war, I am not so certain. So, when candidates for president, in an effort to sound tough, begin to speak of imaginary wars and to talk freely about taking pre-emptive military action, an equivalency begins to be established, at least in my mind.

Finally, in addressing the comment "A protest vote does not weigh in on that critical decision" (i.e., best safeguarding the dignity of human life and the overall common good), I agree that voting should never merely be an act of protest. By an act of protest in this case I simply mean rejecting both of the candidates of the two major parties under the banner of anybody but x or y, or a throw the bums out rant. I think this is an individual application of what Fr. Giussani said referring to CL as a whole, about how taking "a position against other positions in the public forum was self-defeating". It is always better for us to articulate our views in terms of what we are for rather than what we are against.

So, if, after careful deliberation, the person voting decides that a minor candidate is "better able to ensure the public good", then, because voting should be a fully conscious and conscientious act, in my view, the voter is duty-bound to vote for that candidate. If s/he does not for fear of not weighing in, I fail to see how that is not compromising or using a utilitarian calculus, which, by-the-way, has never produced a correct solution, even when using proportionate reason. So, if the only way to cast a consciously conscientious ballot is to vote for a candidate who is not the nominee of either the Republican or the Democratic party, then I do not see that as some kind of moral cop-out.

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