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How to Choose among Presidential Candidates, II

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Jan 08, 2008

To recap, my first voting principle is the sovereign importance of limiting and ultimately eliminating the abortion license (see How to Choose among Presidential Candidates, I). My second principle is a refutation of the mistaken opinion among some pro-life leaders that it is immoral to support incremental measures to restrict abortion. For these leaders, it must be all or nothing at all. The result is that they are very quick to declare no candidates acceptable, thereby leaving the voter morally free to choose on other grounds. On this reading, for example, a candidate who would propose to outlaw only some kinds or classes of abortion is regarded as actually proposing to commit murder against all those who will be left unprotected. In other words, as compared with a pro-abortion politician, the proponent of mere restrictions is said to offer no real moral alternative.

But this is nonsense on its face. While we have an obligation to do the very best we can, the morality of any given step along that path is to be assessed according to how the proposed step will alter the prevailing pattern of abortion at the time it is proposed. If a law will permit fewer to be murdered than are being murdered now (that is, the law will protect and save some), it may morally be supported by both voters and politicians (and the politicians are also morally required to make known their principled opposition to abortion as a whole). Incidentally, this is not me talking. It is Pope John Paul II, who stated the case very clearly in Evangelium Vitae #73:

A particular problem of conscience can arise in cases where a legislative vote would be decisive for the passage of a more restrictive law, aimed at limiting the number of authorized abortions, in place of a more permissive law already passed or ready to be voted on. Such cases are not infrequent. It is a fact that while in some parts of the world there continue to be campaigns to introduce laws favouring abortion, often supported by powerful international organizations, in other nations—particularly those which have already experienced the bitter fruits of such permissive legislation—there are growing signs of a rethinking in this matter. In a case like the one just mentioned, when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects.

Thus is established the second principle, a principle allowing for many strategic considerations and the exercise of prudence in a good cause—so long as the voter is truly committed to the cause.

On strategy, of course, there is room for disagreement. And there is even more room for disagreement in addressing problems that are not intrinsic moral evils, problems which may be significant but cannot carry nearly the same weight as abortion does in the current context. If a voter’s conscience is animated by the two principles I have outlined, he may also consider, further down the decision tree, these secondary matters, in differentiating among candidates who are still in play after applying the earlier decision path. Such a voter would be well-advised to inform himself about the positions, seriousness and viability of all the available candidates. He should then base his final selection on a decision tree whose first node is morality, whose second node (if multiple candidates still remain) is strategy, and whose third node (if multiple candidates still remain) is a collection of issues necessarily less significant in 2008 than the American holocaust.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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