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A Note on Political Choices, and Political Lies

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Oct 25, 2012

In the past few weeks I’ve exchanged a number of shrillish emails with those who strenuously object to my assertion that there are two moral choices in this year’s American presidential election: Vote for Romney or vote for neither of the major candidates.

Some have argued that a vote for Obama is moral because (a) the culture of life problems on which the candidates differ are now an intractable part of American society; (b) the HHS mandate doesn’t really attack religious liberty since it doesn’t force anyone to get an abortion; and (c) Obama is, on the whole, far more concerned about the common good (in the sense of the common man) than Mitt “Fat Cat” Romney. This argument is so utterly vacuous, on all three points, that I won’t dignify it with a response.

But others have argued, sometimes indicating horror and hurt at my betrayal, that voting for neither major candidate (by writing someone in or not voting at all) is morally equivalent to voting for Obama. This is not an absurd argument, but it is a false one.

It is false on the following grounds:

  1. If one concludes that one cannot morally approve the positions of either candidate, one may in conscience withhold one’s vote regardless of the consequences. This is not morally equivalent to endorsing those consequences, which in any case are necessarily uncertain.
  2. If one concludes that the Republican Party will not offer a vigorous pro-life program unless it is taught that it cannot win merely as the lesser of two evils, then one may morally incline toward the long-term goal of improving the Republican Party, or building the cause of a third party, rather than to the short-term goal of an immediate lesser evil.
  3. If one concludes that the Republican ticket (which is apparently more pro-life and apparently more supportive of religion) really won’t make a significant effort to shift the country in the direction which these values require, then one is morally justified in paying little or no attention to “posturing”.

This last touches on the question of political honesty. For example, watching the Soviet Union from afar before it fell apart, most Americans understood that elections there were a sham, that no matter what candidates and their promoters said publicly, it made no difference because it was all lies. It is not necessary to draw this same conclusion about American politics, but it is also not necessarily wrong to do so in some areas, especially in light of the long (but admittedly not exclusive) history of pro-life campaign rhetoric followed by political inaction.

Note also that choosing to vote for neither candidate is not the same thing as voting for Obama even as a purely political calculation. This assertion assumes that removing a vote from the pool of voters is the same as casting a bad vote, when mathematically the two are quite different. It further assumes that only voters who would have otherwise voted for Romney will choose to vote for neither. This is unwarranted. In fact I have heard from some Catholics who will vote for neither candidate primarily because, while they would like to support Obama, they cannot bring themselves to do so in light of his recent stepped up attacks on the natural law and religious liberty.

In the current election, therefore, it remains morally possible to vote for Romney or vote for neither major candidate, but not to vote for Obama. And then one must ask whether the strongest argument for Romney is sufficient to break this moral tie.

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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  • Posted by: marianjohn7861 - Nov. 11, 2016 7:11 PM ET USA

    For this reason, a revolution in values is essentially impossible without evangelization. Protestant missionaries are reporting widespread conversions among refugees from Muslim countries.

  • Posted by: skall391825 - Nov. 11, 2016 6:11 PM ET USA

    "...we must bear in mind that Donald Trump lost the popular vote." But that is not to say that, therefore, most thinking Americans would side with Clinton over Trump--we just don't know because, inexplicably, many people didn't vote for either or wasted their vote on Joe Blow.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Nov. 10, 2016 7:01 AM ET USA

    This is certainly better news if not outright good news. Yet, it remains that 45% of Catholics still voted for Clinton. "Every Christian is called first and foremost to nurture the values that transcend politics." Trump also needs our consistent prayers for good leadership and an openness to God's grace that might further elucidate moral considerations for him so that he might respond favorably to good counsel and deepen his understanding and application of Christian principles.

  • Posted by: feedback - Nov. 09, 2016 11:35 PM ET USA

    Wonderful text! And this is what makes me very hopeful about Donald Trump: In 2009, Miss California, Carrie Prejean was stripped of her crown and her title after she had responded to a trap-question that she, as a Christian, believes that marriage is between man and a woman. Trump was the only one who very bravely and persistently defended her and her right to a Christian opinion. All details can be found online.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Oct. 29, 2012 3:08 PM ET USA

    Mr. Romney is not the savior, and the ultimate solutions are not contingent on this election. The Catholic rally cries for "religious liberty" and "religious freedom" while certainly as American as apple pie don't get to the root of the problem(s) either. The essay is reasonable and well-articulated. As the bishops alluded to in their recent joint statements, "conversion" is indicated. We are seeing the embryonic stages of a growing "awakening" that portends a possible conversion of hearts.

  • Posted by: Miss Cathy - Oct. 28, 2012 11:05 AM ET USA

    I don't agree with those who assure me that Mr. Romney will ensure religious freedom. Like the Affordable Health Care Act, we don't know what we get until he is elected. Both of our most recent Popes lived in countries where religious freedom, in their lifetimes, was rejected. Our own Church was not born in a nation of freedom, but in a nation in distress. Our freedom is from God, not the government. Regardless of the "winner" or the "persecutor", I have a duty and responsibility to God.

  • Posted by: impossible - Oct. 26, 2012 10:30 PM ET USA

    Mr. Mirus, your non-vote argument seems based more on stubbornness and/or a misplaced sense of personal infallibility than upon common sense and Church teaching. I'll follow Cardinal Burke's advice to vote and thus to vote for the candidate who will do the least harm or the most good, whichever you choose. The speed at which our culture and religion are being successfully attacked and ruined doesn't allow us the luxury of a fifty year campaign to scare either party into line.

  • Posted by: the.dymeks9646 - Oct. 26, 2012 9:31 PM ET USA

    By using Catholic principles, it's pretty clear which candidate promotes intrinsic evil and which one does not. Not being "sold" on the non intrinsic evil candidate, just seems like an cowardly excuse hidden behind a consumerist mentality.

  • Posted by: WBSM - Oct. 26, 2012 7:01 PM ET USA

    Nevertheless, it is better not to vote than to vote for evident, outright evil. A friend of mine who "loves" Obama enlightened me when she said so: many people cast their votes based on their feelings. We all know that feelings are hard to overcome. This friend of mine will not vote, and that is half a victory, which is better than no victory at all.

  • Posted by: the.dymeks9646 - Oct. 26, 2012 3:51 PM ET USA

    A question to ask ourselves is what type of fruit will each decision bear? For any fruit to be borne, some plant has to be planted, so deciding not to plant anyting we know will not bear any fruit.

  • Posted by: - Oct. 26, 2012 10:18 AM ET USA

    I came to this same conclusion after initially being disgusted with Romney's softness on what I consider a key issue: the assault on religious liberty by the HHS mandate. I went from refusing to vote for anyone to now voting for Romney. Obama is so horrible for innocent life, for the Church, for marriage, that I can't facilitate his re-election even by inaction. And I think that lifestienews is correct: all our votes are recorded in eternity.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Oct. 25, 2012 10:17 PM ET USA

    I heard a Catholic I respect say: "I'll vote for Romney and then vomit." That might prove the better course than abstaining.

  • Posted by: bkmajer3729 - Oct. 25, 2012 6:37 PM ET USA

    I don't agree. The election result may not make much difference in abortion. We must remain vigilant here. But, personhood & religious freedom are clearly at stake. Obama's path is anti-freedom. The Romney path is more aligned with freedom and personhood. Not to vote assists Obama by default - the liberal mindset is more prevalent than an orthodox God fearing attitude. Every abstain reduces the numbers to go against and remove Obama. Socialism cannot be allowed to become America's way of life.

  • Posted by: wojo425627 - Oct. 25, 2012 3:20 PM ET USA

    Oddly, over at the lifesitenews website they made a video commercial that says your vote this year will be recorded in eternity and seems to imply that if you vote for Obama or don't vote at all this will be recorded as a strike against you and God may punish you in hell. Which I think is dishonest and manipulative. Here's the link: