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September 21, 2008


Ed Peters

To be continued...

I hope so. Fine writing.

Jeb Protestant

I'll be voting for McCain because if Obama gets elected, abortion on demand will be the law of the land. If McCain gets elected, something less will be.

On a more practical level, the problem for the Republicans and social conservatives is that immigrants vote something like 2-1 Democratic. If McCain loses the Hispanic vote (even in Arizona) after pandering to them and advocating de facto amnesty, I think he and the Republicans might wake up to the fact that continued immigration will give the Democrats a lock on future elections.

Tim J.

I appreciate your jumping into the fray, here, SDG. My theological (or just plain logical) credentials are pretty sparse.

I have formal training in only one area (fine art), so it is with some trepidation that I wallow into such a mud pit with any hope of reaching a clearly defensible position.

More and more, though, I can't avoid the conclusion that no matter what I do, we WILL end up with one of these two men as president, and I CAN influence (to some miniscule degree) which one we in fact DO end up with.

I can at least say that I understand the arguments contra voting for someone who supports intrinsic evil (and I even have great sympathy for this point of view... being disgusted with the two-party system), but I don't yet believe these arguments justify a claim to absolute certainty on the question.

I have been waiting to make any endorsement one way or another (owing to my own constant for error), and I don't know that I will have enough confidence in my own reasoning to do so. I am certain, though, that if I woke up to an Obama presidency after voting for a more acceptable third-party candidate, I would likely be kicking myself HARD for the next four years, if not much longer.


Thanks, Ed and Tim J.

Tim: If I understand him rightly, Zippy would counter by disputing whether in fact you CAN influence the outcome even to a miniscule degree, since in the case of any individual voter (say, you) the outcome will (almost) certainly be the same whether you do or don't vote.

I think this is confused sophistry, and will be arguing that point in an upcoming post.


I take it that the U.S. doesn't have a preferential voting system (at least for president)? Here in Australia, almost all elections are preferential, where all voters rank all candidates in a given race in order of preference. The candidate who gets the least number of primary votes has their votes distributed to the next preference, and so on until everyone but the winner has been ruled out. With this system the voter can vote for the most viable candidate (even one with almost no chance of winning) with an assurance that if their preferred candidate doesn't get through, then their vote will count towards the 'least problematic' of the major parties' candidates.



While I definitely sympathize with your position, especially in this election, I think there are certainly some circumstances which largely disagree your thesis.

Let's say, hypothetically, there were an election with two viable candidates. One has 100% intrinsically evil policies. The next has 95% intrinsically evil policies. Say that a good portion of the voting population will indeed vote for one of these by some weird twist of the fate of the universe (thus making the candidates viable). I would, of course, not vote. I would perhaps publicly protest or maybe leave the country. In this instance, I have serious doubts that it would be morally permissible to vote for that 95% candidate.

This is, of course, an extreme circumstance that is likely never to happen (hopefully).

What say you, though?

John Thayer Jensen

SDG, thanks for your comments. I love Mark, but am inclined to agree that things may have gone a little far here. The kind of intuitive level seems to me to support this. Of course, when you are dealing with levels of evil such as the 100/95% that Cj proposes, I think you are in a throw-up-your-hands-and-go-to-the-pub-instead situation :-)

As far as my own situation is concerned, I could in principle vote, but will not. My wife and I are US citizens but we live permanently in New Zealand. We did look into voting but the byzantine nature of the process necessary to get a ballot, together with the fact that our vote could not possibly affect the outcome, has persuaded us not to bother.

Why can our vote not affect the outcome? We have to vote in the last state we resided in - which was Hawai'i. No one but a Democrat will ever win in Hawai'i - and Obama is from Hawai'i, a Punahou boy. Even my good conservative Protestant Christian friends in Hawai'i are going to vote for him - on the grounds that Bush is a war-mongerer, McCain is a Bushie, and we need to stop fighting about abortion - sheesh!


SDG--very nicely written. I'm still digesting this a bit, but I want to suggest one nuance to your conclusion. Mark says it's objectively wrong to vote McCain/Palin, and he can't do it. You say it is never objectively wrong to vote the preferable candidate, and he can do it. I think there is a third option: it is not *objectively* wrong to vote McCain/Palin, but Mark still judges that subjectively he can't do it. I think people can say, it's not wrong for everyone to vote McCain/Palin, but it would be wrong for me to vote McCain/Palin.

Do you think this is a possibility? Or must people say, since it's not objectively wrong to vote McCain/Palin, it wouldn't be *wrong* for me to do it either, but I have the prudential *option* to vote third party rather than McCain/Palin, and I choose that option because of x, y, z. (?)


obama will win in november and he shall rule the world!!! muahahahahha. and he shall shut all yall christians up.


Isn't there supposed to be an apostrophe (') in y'all?


Isn't Senator Obama a Christian, Mr. Anti-Christian Bigot?


Hmmm, nice use of a reverse stereotype to troll... and I'm giving an extra point for the all y'all, and one for the mwhahahaha thing. Have to take a couple off though for being too obvious with the Christian bashing. Too easy here.

Troll score: 7/10


On a more serious note, I'm glad you're taking up this gauntlet, SDG. I'm looking forward to reading more. I've tried reason with folks, including Shea on his blog, but it quickly becomes a murky network of theological mish-mash. I hope you can do better.

I personally am now worn to the point of "use your God-given common sense, and oppose the greatest evil here."

Fr Martin Fox


Well done; I think you navigated the schylla and charybdis of this subject very well.

I am one of those who -- let me put it this way -- I do not see circumstances justifying me to vote for McCain. I do not condemn those who reach a different judgment, but I find McCain too problematic for me to want to associate myself with him.

One of the things about this subject: when you get within months of an election, it becomes hard for people to think calmly about these subjects, as so many get caught up in the catastrophizing mentality fostered by both campaigns.

For example, to Jeb Prostestant: abortion on demand is already the law of the land, and has been since 1973. If I thought McCain's election were really going to affect that significantly, I would vote for him. But he is, if anything, less likely to do anything about it than Bush did -- he gets credit for doing only the bare minimum (if Alito and Roberts do end up voting to overturn Roe, I'll change this assessment--but they have not done so, and we cannot assume they will), when he had something McCain doesn't have: a Congress led by allies!

Perhaps what you mean to say is that the so-called "Freedom of Choice Act" will assuredly become law, because Obama says he'll sign it, whereas McCain, presumably, will not.

My response is to say that 536 people will have a say on that (meaning Congress too), and I think it is very, very likely we can stop that in the Senate either way; if Obama wins, the prolife movement will be far more active and engergetic in that case: a certain slice of the prolife constituency will consider their job done by simply electing McCain. (Think of the Book of Joshua, when two of the tribes said, why can't we just stay here east of the Jordan? And Joshua compelled them to keep their promise to Moses to come and help secure the rest of the land.)

Finally, it should be pointed out that while McCain's position on abortion itself is better than Obama's, it is not in line with Church teaching: McCain supports legal abortion in the case of rape and incest. I fear that this has become the acceptable standard -- and if so, then that too helps my case. In 2000, Bush took this same position, and at that time, it represented a step down from where Reagan and his father had been, and prolifers did notice and object. But he won, and became "our standard-bearer." And one result which I predicted (not very widely, I didn't have a blog then) was that his lower, morally-indefensible, standard would become the standard. And so it has come to pass, that only some prolifers even notice, or seem to object, to McCain's support for abortion in these cases.

Anyway, I think you got it right: one is not morally obligated to vote for McCain, simply because he seems to be less morally problematic; but one may be justified in deciding to cast ones vote that way because he is believed to be less problematic.

Dave Mueller

Thank you, Steven!!

I instinctively find it way over the top to suggest that a vote for the least problematic viable candidate could be a sin, and I'm glad that you have decided to spend the time to show why in a logical detailed fashion.

This is especially true when there is a large disparity between the candidates. For example, when one is 60% evil and the other is 95% evil, that is easily a large enough disparity to justify one's vote. If both are in the 90+% evil range, perhaps not.

In this case, based on their levels of support for intrinsic evil, with some slight adjustments for policy positions which don't involve intrinsic evil, I'd rate them at about 20% evil for McCain and 80% evil for Obama. The calculus of others will vary, of course, but anyone who sees anything close to that level of disparity would find it difficult in conscience to do anything BUT vote for the less problematic candidate.



I am very glad you have entered the discussion. I enjoyed part one and look forward to the coming posts.

Below is a video that is worth watching if you haven't seen it yet and a two articles about bishops' statements on the subject.

Catholic Vote 2008

Bishop Vasa: Pro-Abortion Candidates are "Disqualified" - Clarifies "Faithful Citizenship"

Catholic voters must ‘limit evil’ with their vote, Kansas City bishops say

Take care and God bless,

Tim J.

"I instinctively find it way over the top to suggest that a vote for the least problematic viable candidate could be a sin"

To be clear, neither Mark nor Zippy has said it is a sin. They *have* held that a vote for McCain is an "objective evil", but have not speculated on the subjective sinfulness of the act in any individual case, owing to ignorance, etc...

Morning's Minion

"I submit that it is always morally legitimate to support and vote for the candidate one regards as the preferable — or least problematic — viable candidate."

I agree with this, and I believe that Barack Obama is the least problematic candidate, on the grounds that (rhetoric notwithstanding), the incidence of abortion and ESCR will be no different under an Obama or a McCain presidency, while McCain's other policies would be disastrous.

But, if you are going to link to Vox Nova in this context, please note that we have many contributors, and I am the only one who has written an "endorsement" of Obama. See it here: http://vox-nova.com/2008/08/19/barack-obama-for-president/


"I instinctively find it way over the top to suggest that a vote for the least problematic viable candidate could be a sin"

To be clear, neither Mark nor Zippy has said it is a sin.

That's not clarification. While they have not said it IS sinful and have in fact flatly said it is not by necessity a sin, they have indeed implied that it "could" be a sin.

By insisting that something is "objectively evil" they suggest that at minimum it "could be a sin".


But, if you are going to link to Vox Nova in this context, please note that we have many contributors, and I am the only one who has written an "endorsement" of Obama.

Thanks, MM. I've revised the post to reflect this.

I'll be addressing your other points in upcoming posts.

Dave Mueller

Tim J.,
I believe it is fair to say that they believe it is sinful (i.e. objectively evil) to vote for McCain. It is true that they refrain from imputing culpability to individuals that would vote for McCain.


But for this discussion, it really isn't about who will be president, it is about who will be appointed to the Supreme Court. That is who counts on matters such as abortion. Putting a tourniquet on the bleeding isn't much of a solution at all, and I doubt Obama will even do that. Loading the court with liberal justices could produce effects that last even longer than those justices live.


I actually think the strongest part of Mark's position is, in the end, the one that leads him to take such a decisive position. That is, that we must not let the candidates take our pro-life issues for granted. We must hold them accountable and let them know that "we're pro-life and we vote". The rest is predicated on how best to convey this message. Mark espouses a type of "take your ball and go home" approach by either not voting or voting doomed candidate. But I think we can be more effective by having large numbers of voters turn out and explaining why we voted pro-life. That's what will lead more candidates to openly embrace the pro-life culture.


Great, we'll show em they need to be pro-life at the cost of tens of thousands of dead children aborted when Obama's hand picked justices keep Roe v. Wade the law of the land for at least 40 years.

If voting for McCain wouldn't change anything, why would people be so against it? You have a choice to limit evil in this election, and if you don't, you are responsible for your actions. Lying to yourself doesn't help, as I did when I voted for Kerry 4 years back. I knew it was wrong, but covered it up with BS to soothe my conscience.

If you really think McCain is bad as Obama, you're either nuts or lying to yourself. If you want to pretend not voting for either will make you lily white and pure, then you're fully mistaken.

I heard a great statement by Archbishop Chaput saying that a proportional reason to not oppose a candidate that supports abortion is one you could tell to a baby aborted by this action in front of God. And to expect the baby to agree.

If you can't tell a kid he had to DIE for your point, and have that kid go, "I completely understand why you sacrificed me," then DON'T - God will be there watching and judging this.

But since places like Pax Nova can tell us when BISHOPS have overstepped their lines, I guess we can discount this. After all, it IS the laity's job to judge bishops and not learn from them. Oh, wait...


Also, if a fairly pro-life candidate with a strongly pro-life VP candidate loses, the message they get AIN'T "man, we HAVE to be more pro-life to win!" The message is, "the damn pro-life Christians think they're too good for us, screw em, we'll run Giuliani next go."

Then we'll have TWO parties that are pro-abortion. Won't that be fun? Won't the hundreds of thousands of dead children love us for that? Or will they be standing at God's side for the condemnation of this evil generation?


Oh Steve:

We almost forgot the obligatory.

Thanks for posting this, Jimmy!


Well said, Jarnor (and I'm not just saying that 'cause you're my husband!). :)

For reference, here is Archbishop Chaput's quote:

"As you know, I have written a book [on faith and politics], and in it I write that it means a reason we could confidently explain to the Lord Jesus and the victims of abortion when we meet them at the end of our lives, and we will meet them. 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. That’s the only criterion. It can’t be that we favor a particular party, or that we’re hostile to the war, or so on."


(Hopefully this doesn't show up twice!)

Well said, Jarnor -- and I'm not just saying that 'cause your'e my husband. :)

For reference here is Archbishop Chaput's quote:

"As you know, I have written a book [on faith and politics], and in it I write that it means a reason we could confidently explain to the Lord Jesus and the victims of abortion when we meet them at the end of our lives, and we will meet them. 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. That’s the only criterion. It can’t be that we favor a particular party, or that we’re hostile to the war, or so on."


To those who decided to skip voting for whatever reason, I recall that we as Catholics have an obligation to vote. God doesn't insist that we "win", but that we partake on behalf of the 'good' in the process, whatever the subject.


However, one can never rightly claim that it is morally necessary not to vote for any viable candidate, or that those who do support or vote for the least problematic viable candidate are (however sincerely) objectively wrong to do so.

Whether operating under my own moral vision or your own, I would agree that this is true in the American voting system and in any other voting system I am acquainted with where voting is little more than an application of game theory to democratic politics; a vote consists in a "move" in a game, not a social act that signifies approval or endorsement or praise of the candidate one chooses. Indeed in some voting systems which use rankings, people engage in strategic, "untruthful" votes where they rank the viable competitor last instead of their true preference to maximize the chance that their favorite will carry the vote.

But we must recognize the consequences of accepting this. This would mean that if Putin and Stalin were both somehow in the same election and Stalin were more problematic a candidate than Putin, that it would be morally legitimate to vote for Putin. The same would be true of other examples such as Ghenghis Kahn versus Hitler, etc. Any hesitancy to abandon the universality of your principle must stem from a lingering feeling that voting carries a weight of social signification (like attendance at an invalid wedding is said by some Catholic moralists or commentators to carry).

I disagree with the view that choosing not to push for criminalization of abortion (someone has to be punished for any delegalization to have any meaning or even under some views binding character) is intrinsically wrong under Catholicism. If the evils brought about by pushing (successfully) for criminalization were greater in kind or degree than the evils averted by criminalization, then one could argue it would be prudent to not at this time criminalize abortion. For example, if criminalizing abortion were to lead to chaotic rioting in all cities across the United States and calls for secession from the Union in half of them and one were to be faced with either the tearing apart at the seams of the Union and social fabric of the States or a second civil war more bloody than the first and more bloody than the lives otherwise to be lost to legal abortion, then it may be prudent to not criminalize, at least as long as that prudential calculcus persists. I don't dispute that desiring legalization of abortion for the sake of the good of the liberty to abort itself is contary to Catholicism; I only dispute that desiring legalization or the maintenance thereof for the sake of some other good is contrary, necessarily, to Catholicism.

Two issues which I hope your future posts will address.


Voting in an election does not consist in an isolated game that is not interlated with past and future elections. Voting rather involves participation in a game (this is not meant to trivialize voting; it's just a technical term) where one's choices in that election has influence over the landscape of future elections.

So for example, voting for someone "quixotic", say Bob Barr, may truly be a waste in terms of this election in isolation, but presuming many follow this "quixotic" path and Bob Barr gets say 10% of the popular vote, in the next election he is likely to get a little more than 10% since more would be encouraged to follow the "quixotic" path and he may get more press coverage. Eventually, after several or many election cycles, Bob Barr (or his successor) may actually win the presidency.

So one must look at viability not in isolation, but viability as a long term, generational project.


Having the sincere intention of voting for a "quixotic" candidate when the major party candidate is not sufficiently satisfactory serves the purpose of making it more likely that the major party will nominate (in the current or future nominations) candidates more amenable to you.

If the Republican party can count on taking the pro-life vote for granted and so figures nominating a moderate or wishy washy pro-life candidate will serve their victory interests, then they may be more likely to do precisely that when convenient. If on the other hand, the pro-life vote is more strict and liable to go "quixotic", then the Republican party would be less likely to nominate someone who is moderate on pro-life issues.

The same effect is true not in terms of party and nomination but candidate and "moving to the center" upon nomination.

So here in practical terms, the pro-lifer is choosing between a greater chance of electing a moderate pro-lifer versus a lesser chance of electing a staunch pro-lifer -- in both cases a candidate from the same major party.

The intention must be sincere -- i.e. the threat to bolt must be really carried out. Since all the conservatives threatening to bolt if McCain were nominated, didn't, in the future Republican candidates and party leaders will likely view any expression in the future of a threat to bolt to be insincere or nonserious. If all the conservatives had bolted, it may have been disadvantageous in the short term in terms of losing this election but advantageous perhaps in the long term in terms of getting more favorable candidates in the future.

Sleeping Beastly

Jarnor wrote:
I heard a great statement by Archbishop Chaput saying that a proportional reason to not oppose a candidate that supports abortion is one you could tell to a baby aborted by this action in front of God. And to expect the baby to agree.

If you can't tell a kid he had to DIE for your point, and have that kid go, "I completely understand why you sacrificed me," then DON'T - God will be there watching and judging this.

With all respect, I disagree with the archbishop. Casting a vote is not simply a matter of sacrificing some lives for the sake of some other end.

In some sense, I suppose we are all responsible for one another, and I think we ought to consider that we may have to answer to people for all our actions that affected others. But you can't reasonably hold me personally accountable for all the abortions someone else performs merely because I chose not to vote for John McCain.

A few reasons I will probably be voting for Alan Keyes in the upcoming election:

1st: As far as abortion goes, so-called "pro-life" Republicans have a tragically dismal record. Since the Roe decision was handed down, we've had 24 years of supposedly pro-life presidents, and seven SCOTUS justices nominated by said presidents. In fact, the only pro-abortion president we've had since then was Bill Clinton. (Please correct me if I'm mistaken.) The only progress our supposedly anti-abortion presidents have achieved has been endless lip service. Either these presidents can't make a difference, or they won't. Either way, this fact makes a candidate's "pro-life" stance carry very little weight with me. If McCain were a principled, idealistic leader, rather than a corrupt career politician, I might talk myself into hoping that this time it would be different.

2nd: McCain's support for ESCR is troubling, but his support for abortion "in cases of rape or incest" is even more troubling. I would love to see him explain exactly how that would work. I can see two possibilities: either women who go in for abortions will be forced to file police reports, or every woman who walks into a Planned Parenthood clinic will have to sign a little piece of paper saying she was raped. I don't see this decreasing abortions at all; the only effect I can imagine is a much higher incidence of "rape" charges for police departments to sort through.

3rd: The second biggest issue to me in this election (after abortion) is war. As far as I can see, both candidates are determined to implement policies that will kill thousands- if not millions- of my brothers and sisters in other countries. Yes, I realize this is a complex issue, but when I judge the wars of my nation to be unjust, I have to call it like I see it.

4th: November elections are one of the few times when the political machine in Washington actually asks for my input. And in this case, my input is this: Neither candidate is acceptable. I would rather "throw my vote away" on a "quixotic third-party candidate" than pretend I am okay with the moral rot that is this government's domestic and international policy.

Jeb Protestant

Certainly McCain's view on abortion isn't perfect, but even if the Supreme Court reverses Roe v. Wade, it's not as if more than a few states will ban abortion. I live in Catholic New England, and Catholics are ardent supporters of legalized abortion. So the issue is whether at least some restrictions will be passed or upheld. A John Sidney McCain Supreme Court will be better than a Barack Hussein Obama Supreme Court in that respect.

I'm 41 years old and I fully expect abortion on demand to be the law of the land until I die.

Rotten Orange
...Catholics are ardent supporters of legalized abortion.

Shouldn't that be politically liberal "cafeteria" Catholics?

Jeb Protestant

Speaking of Mark Shea, Catholics who link to his site should forever be prohibited from criticizing Martin Luther for ML's potty mouth.

E61 - FF

Sleeping Beastly -

In the fire service, we have a truckload of little quotes and sayings we tell ourselves and each other, mainly for the purpose of making ourselves feel better about unfortunate situations. On your first day of indoc at the academy you learn one of the more well-worn ones: "it's not my emergency." This is the shorthand version of "I didn't cause the situation - I'm doing what I can to fix it."

Here's a real-life example that actually occurred: Icy, narrow, winding 2-lane rural highway early in the morning. By the time my crew gets there, the 10-year old girl in the back seat of the car that is on its roof in the ditch has been bleeding for nearly 15 minutes. She has a serious head injury. Her pulse and resps are weak.

Here are the choices:

Obama: Leave her in the car so that she can die of either massive blood loss or massive brain swelling.

McCain: Very quickly carve her out of that mess and get her on the road to the hospital. On the way you get to cram a piece of tubing that is as big around as a cigar (look up King LT Airway)down her throat, snap a handful of her ribs off of her sternum, and watch her vomit her breakfast.

Alan Keys: Stand in the middle of the road and say "I wish this car hadn't crashed." Then close your eyes and wish, wish, wish as hard as you can that it will all be better.

100% of your options stink. 67% of them REALLY stink. But, by God, you have no choice but to make one...and you have to make one now.

I grow weary of people who refuse to understand and/or accept reality. Generally speaking, life kinda sucks. We spent so much time staring at the TV while we were growing up that we bought into the disgusting notion that we should never settle for anything less than a perfectly happy ending...preferably in 30 minutes or less.

The simple choice now is (A) actions that will enable the least desirable of the two realistic outcomes, or (B)actions that will push back against the least desirable of the two realistic outcomes. It really is that simple.

It's not your emergency...You didn't cause the situation, you are just doing what you can to fix it.

Thank you St. Florian...

Jason Petty

Since the Roe decision was handed down, we've had 24 years of supposedly pro-life presidents, and seven SCOTUS justices nominated by said presidents.

You're right; it's a crap-shoot. Less so since the Roe decision became a litmus test, but a crap-shoot no doubt. So three of them didn't turn out, so what? We should vote for Alan Keyes? Let's not forget that four of those justices are on the court now: waiting for a fifth vote.

Some of you people want "your" president to come running breathlessly down from the lectern after his inaugural address and yell "It's all over, no more abortions! I declare abortion over forever!" Impossible. He can't do it.

What did FDR do when the Supreme Court wouldn't pass his New Deal legislation, huh? He had the entire Congress in his pocket at the time. But the Supreme Court ruled them unconstitutional every single time. His only option was to increase the size of the Supreme Court to "pack" the Court with New Dealers , arguably the greatest constitutional crisis the nation faced in the last century. Short of doing this--not an option for ANY candidate--the President's only hope is to appoint a conservative justice to the Supreme Court. (Conservatives--of any stripe--don't read a privacy right into the Constitution.)

John McCain thanks you for your vote. (Or else Obama thanks you for your pompous "look at me agonizing on teh intertubes" scrupulosity.)

And has no one else thought of the incremental struggle to get an ideal candidate elected? First let's knock out abortion--and this is realistic in or shortly after the next four years, as it only takes four Supreme Court justices to decide to hear a case appealed from a federal circuit below, and a majority of five votes to alter the face of American law--and then we can make the next candidate kowtow on the ESCR, and then on the gay marriage, and then . . . You get the point. Abortion is KILLING American politics. Just look at us.


Thanks, SDG. I appreciate your good efforts here and look forward to the posts to come.

I don't understand why anyone believes a Democratic Congress would not send the FOCA to a President Obama. There will not be enough dissenters in the Senate to stop the bill from passing. Obama will sign it sanctimoniously, acting as if his action is consistent with "bringing us together", and, in a trice, all the incremental steps against the evil of Roe that have been won so laboriously over the last three decades will be gone, forever.

The prospect of that happening is at least as important as the SCOTUS appointments consideration as the justification I need to vote for the less problematic candidate.

The Masked Chicken

This entire mess indicates not so much a defect in the candidates, but a defect in the voters and the way candidates are proposed. Ultimately, candidates are (excepting a very good reason) supposed to be representative of the views of their constituents. Sadly. many people in this country accept abortion on demand without question. They accept contraception (including many Catholics), pre-marital sex, unmarried mothers, etc. Candidates are selected among people who can best support these people in their beliefs.

Candidates will not change until voters change.

The major problem here is that we have, for the most part, many voters who are moral ignoramuses or worse, have their views supported from the pulpit by preachers with poor formation. Until this changes, things will continue to be difficult.

How can things change? Well, consider the following: evengelicals used to support contraception as the more mainline liberal Protestant churches did. It was a chance meeting between bishop Fulton Sheen and Billy Graham in the late 1950's that caused Graham to change his mind about life issues and this led to a change in the views of evengelicals after Graham began to preach on it.

In other words, educate Catholic, first, then educate Protestants, then others. If most people had a similar view about certain fundamental issues, then the choice of candidates would become about on methods of solving problems, not whether or not something constitutes a problem.

I realize that having a country have a uniform religious view has not guaranteed a government that has held to those religious views (history is full of counterexamples) and such a thing is virtually impossible in a pluralistic society, but there may be a tipping point, where enough people hold a view to influence candidate selection. Certainly, if no one held that abortion were morally permissible, Obama would have been excluded early on.

The real problem is not the fight among the candidates, but between mutually exclusive moral viewpoints in society. Change that and choosing candidates will become easier.

Assuming that one can vote for either a less desirable major candidate or an impossible-to-elect third-party candidate, which strategy to take is, as CT points out, an exercise in game theory, but I doubt we can simplify the scenario so as to make it amenable to even simple analysis at the present time, so one must use ones best instincts.

Third-party candidates can have effects on elections (Ross Perot), but given the momentum keeping the present two-party system in place, unless people can come to see a third party as a distinct possibility, they have little hope of winning. Again, I think the major problem is in the voters and the selection process we use to decide on who to put up for election in the primaries and caucuses, not the candidates.

The Chicken

Tim J.

"Alan Keys: Stand in the middle of the road and say "I wish this car hadn't crashed." Then close your eyes and wish, wish, wish as hard as you can that it will all be better."

I assume you're basing this on something? Help me out, I don't know what you're talking about.

"Generally speaking, life kinda sucks."

Wow. Really? I mean... really?

Jeb -

"Speaking of Mark Shea, Catholics who link to his site should forever be prohibited from criticizing Martin Luther for ML's potty mouth.'

Don't worry. It's not M.L.'s sailor speech that bothers me.



Martin Luther had a potty mouth? Who knew? And who cares now...



Here is a question I hope you will address in future posts:

Is the decision to vote for Obama, McCain, an alternative candidate or to abstain from voting an area where Church teaching permits a diversity of opinion or do those who disagree with your conclusions (e.g. Douglas Kmiec) necessarily reject an authoritative teaching of the Church?

In this post, you seem to be suggesting that Church teaching does permit a diversity of opinion regarding whom to support in this election and that your disagreement with Kmiec and others is a disagreement regarding how principles should be applied, not a disagreement about principles which have been authoritatively taught by the Church. Specifically, it is a disagreement about whether a "proportionate reason" exists to justify a vote for Obama, a third-party canddiate, or to abstain entirely. You have your reasons for concluding that no such reason exists, but they are based on your evaluation of the circumstances of this election, not some authoritative teaching regarding wheher such a reason exists in this election. Am I understanding you correctly?

Dave Mueller

What the Bishops have said comes awfully close to saying that a Catholic cannot vote for Obama, but it is still possible with some torturous reasoning to get around that.

For example, one may say that even though Obama is committed full speed ahead to the abortion agenda, that he may actually cause the abortion rate to decline. This seems to be against what the bishops said, but there's a small window through which an ideologue can thread his needle.

west coast catholic

Great post SDG (aka Not Jimmy)

I've read through some of the post of Mark Shea,(I am a fan of Mark and his work with Carl Olsen over at InsighScoop) and have walked away a little confused and perplexed with Marks reasoning.

Now let me just say that Mark is far more knowledgeable than I am, and that's one of the reasons I frequent his blog, however I totally disagree with his logic in this matter.

I haven't read through much of the above comments but I did want to add my 2 cents.

As far as not voting at all for either of the candidates or even voting for a write-in or such, I believe the best route is to vote for the candidate that's least problematic to our faith values.

I say this for two reasons. I'll try to be brief.

1. Not voting at all or for a write-in is like not voting at all. One is actually leaving the decision to everyone else. In my opinion it's like 'playing it safe'. Which ever one makes it into office I can legitly say "I didn't vote for him". And presumably take the high road to criticize his policies.

By choosing one of the candidates to vote for, one can at least approaching it from a critical thinking point of view. "I've thought about this selection and I want my vote to be counted. I'm taking a stake in my decision (right/wrong) and with an informed conscience and prayer I believe this candidate is the best candidate that reflects my faith values.

Now yes there maybe some instances where voting would be futile, let's say a Hitler and Stalin type were running against each other... I mean what's the point right?

2. I did some reflection on the the reading of Matthew 19:10-27

1 As they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately.
12 He said therefore, "A nobleman went into a far country to receive a kingdom and then return.
13 Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten pounds, and said to them, `Trade with these till I come.'
14 But his citizens hated him and sent an embassy after him, saying, `We do not want this man to reign over us.'
15 When he returned, having received the kingdom, he commanded these servants, to whom he had given the money, to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by trading.
16 The first came before him, saying, `Lord, your pound has made ten pounds more.'
17 And he said to him, `Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.'
18 And the second came, saying, `Lord, your pound has made five pounds.'
19 And he said to him, `And you are to be over five cities.'
20 Then another came, saying, `Lord, here is your pound, which I kept laid away in a napkin;
21 for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man; you take up what you did not lay down, and reap what you did not sow.'
22 He said to him, `I will condemn you out of your own mouth, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking up what I did not lay down and reaping what I did not sow?
23 Why then did you not put my money into the bank, and at my coming I should have collected it with interest?'
24 And he said to those who stood by, `Take the pound from him, and give it to him who has the ten pounds.'
25 (And they said to him, `Lord, he has ten pounds!')
26 `I tell you, that to every one who has will more be given; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.
27 But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them before me.'"

...sorry for the long bible quote.

Anyway, I was reflecting on this passage and how it relates to my point. I don't mean to twist the scriptures meaning, but these are my thoughts.

The nobleman give his servants a part of his riches to invest. I reflected on the nobleman being Christ and his church. The riches of our faith he wants us to invest, share and give out. In the end if done to his liking our faith investment will multiply (sorry for the money terminology). If kept and not given out, shared, invested we reap nothing.

So if we are afraid or convince ourselves not to vote our faith, investing in one candidate or the other through prayer and an informed conscience we earn or lose nothing. We are like that servant who thought it best to hold on to what was given to him to share. What was given to him was taken away.

We are not called to be 'lukewarm'. Christ spits out 'lukewarm'. We are called to be the salt of the earth. Salt without flavor is thrownout.

So will our vote if it's left blank!

Bill Tingley

Jason Petty wrote: Short of doing [court-packing]--not an option for ANY candidate--the President's only hope is to appoint a conservative justice to the Supreme Court.

It's not as hopeless as that, Jason. Although we have become during the past sixty years inured to judicial supremacy, each branch of the government has an equal authority and obligation to defend the Constitution.

As practical matter that means no president is obligated to enforce an unconstitutional decision by the Supreme Court, such as Roe v. Wade. He can declared it a dead letter and allow the states to decide legality of abortion. Of course, his successor could decide otherwise.

The president also has regulatory authority he can use to shut down abortion clinics that do not meet federal health, professional, or other regulatory standards. Similarly he has the prosecutorial discretion to target abortion clinics that are concealing evidence of rape and other crimes. While doing such doesn't directly challenge the legality of abortion, it would have the practical effect of reducing access to an abortion.

Also, Congress has the authority to restrict the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and the lower federal courts. While it probably cannot eliminate the Supreme Court's authority to review matters of constituional law, it can prohibit the lower courts from hearing abortion cases, which would eliminate most of the judicial law-making that has sustain the current abortion-on-demand regime. A president truly committed to the culture of life could promise to make this part of his legislative agenda.

There is MUCH a president could do to eliminate the scourge of abortion if he had the political will to do so. We are not dependent upon a decades-long wait to get the right judges in place.

Regards, Bill Tingley


It seems fairly straightforward that if advocating for Obama were objectively wrong, then a failure to advocate against Obama would be equally wrong. Why does the church not advocate against Obama?

Tim J.

Those who maintain that an Obama presidency would have no effect on abortion rates (or even see them improve) are fooling themselves.

If Obama wins the presidency, it will be a clear signal to the GOP that the pro-life vote is irrelevant.

It will also signal to millions of voters in the "mushy middle" that, well (as Obama has said) the culture wars are over and abortion is just a fact of life. Get over it, pro-lifers.

The bully pulpit influence of the presidency WILL have its effect, in addition to whatever happens legislatively. Not to mention that favored pro-abortion groups will enjoy increased status and funding... an even bigger seat at the table.

An Obama administration will be of great help and encouragement to pro-abortion forces, period. Then you have plainly evil realities like the Freedom of Choice Act.


>Candidates will not change until voters change.

No, candidates will not changes because the two parties collude with each other. They send forward the worst candidates they can because they know we really don't have a choice.

Just how many times do orthodox Catholics have to hold their nose and vote?

I support a None of the Above law, to give a real choice to voters. You know the duopoly won't allow that choice.

Gene Branaman

Excellent work, SGD! I very much look forward to the next installment!

E61 - FF

Tim J –

Let me try again. I was trying to illustrate the abject uselessness of voting for Alan Keyes…unless one’s purpose is to cast a vote that will be wasted (a link to various definitions of the word “wasted” http://wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=wasted)

When we arrive on scene, and this happens more often than not, there is a fraction of a nanosecond where I blink and hope that I’m not seeing what I am seeing. I can hope or I can start doing my job.

Please – I beg of you – engage me on this point: What would be the outcome if the rest of my engine company and I stood out in the middle of the highway and simply wished for the situation to be what we wanted it to be? It would be truthful and accurate to say that I was doing something. And (most importantly in today’s world) it would make me feel good. To heck with the ugliness of an extrication and subsequent treatment of the patient (which often ends up being inadequate to save their life)…we should “take a stand,” click our heels together three times and wish for improvement.

I’m sorry but I have grown weary of all the chatter and the childish refusal to make adult choices. And by “adult choice” I mean that when a person is given a choice between A and B, they shouldn’t whine and moan like a child, and stubbornly maintain that they are choosing C. And after they have punted their responsibility to make a decision, they feel that they have the right to moan about the choice that was made by default. They gripe about the outcome and they gripe about how their voice wasn’t heard.

And yes, I do think life “kinda sucks.” It isn’t an unbearable, unrelenting torrent of savage pain and misery. I am not saying there aren’t beauty, happiness, joy, love, friendships, good food, good music, and myriad wonderful things in this world. But I don’t believe that God intended life to be great. In fact, (at the risk of offending some) let’s just get right down to it: If it were God’s intention that life here on Earth be great, he has failed miserably. And I don’t think God fails. I point you to a Catholic prayer – Hail Holy Queen.

…To thee do we cry, poor banished
children of Eve, to thee do we send
up our sighs, mourning and weeping
in this valley, of tears…

… and after this our exile…

These are words of someone who, at least it seems to me, might also think that life kinda sucks.

You will, I hope, forgive what might have come across as a somewhat acerbic tone in this post. I have a great amount of respect for you, Tim, and I guess I am just not terribly adept at making myself clear in an arena such as this where brevity is necessary.

Thank you St. Florian…

Tim J.

"Let me try again. I was trying to illustrate the abject uselessness of voting for Alan Keyes…"

Okay, I get that. It sounded like you might be describing Keyes' policies themselves. Not that I'm especially quick on the draw. Just speak slowly and use short words and I do fine.

Re: life sucking, and all... so much depends on how you look at things and where you stand (or with whom you stand). I can't claim to have faced a lot of misery and trials, but I still hold (strongly) that life is lopsidedly benevolent.

In fact (and it seems to me I read some saint who said something similar lately) there are times when my trials seem like some kind of - I don't know - practical joke on God's part. The weird thing is that, more and more, I get the joke.

That's not to make light of people with real problems. I'm just saying that there are struggles and hard times that seem almost intolerable at the time that can be laughed about later on. That's what I love about the Blues.


This seems to be against what the bishops said, but there's a small window through which an ideologue can thread his needle.

Kmiec isn't an ideologue in the way you supppose. He worked for the Reagan administration. His "defection" surprised not only Catholics but also his political bedfellows.

Dave Mueller

Kmiec isn't an ideologue in the way you supppose.

I wasn't really targeting Kmiec so to speak. Kmiec has lost his marbles, but I'm not exactly sure how or why. Perhaps he was snowed over at one of Obama's speeches where the teleprompter was in fine working condition.


I can see why one would advocate not voting for either candidate in order to hold parties responsible. Some demographic groups in both parties right now are starting to question whether their loyalty is deserved or if they are being taken advantage of.

But we are not in that position yet. To react as if the Republican party has been lax in keeping true to its pro-life charter is to ignore some really positive things the party and especially President Bush has done. They have taken it upon themselves to earn yet more "righteous" indignation from the pro-embryonic stem cell research lobby and others by lobbying against them and exercising the almighty veto pen.

Those who would equivocate between Barry Obama and John McCain reveal themselves as uninformed on the issues and thus, unqualified to advocate in the guise of Catholic experts. Their talking privileges are henceforth revoked.

As more myself, the "Catholics for McCain" bumpersticker stays.


As for Kmiec, it does not surprise me one bit that a Romneyite would go for the pro-abort.


Remember, the Electoral College chooses the president. So if you live in CA, MA, HI, OR, or DC, go ahead and make your protest vote - the Obamanation will win those electoral votes no matter whom you vote for. But if you live in a swing state, please don't cut off your nose to spite your face (and our faces) by improving Barack the Babykiller's chances.


I think betting on "ambient economic conditions" resulting in a lower than otherwise abortion count is at least as sure a bet as betting on McCain to nominate justices likely to overturn Roe that would have to be confirmed by the Democratic Senate. Suppose an Obama presidency would result in 100,000 less abortions than under a McCain presidency, over the course of the the influence of the presidency. Suppose the overturning of Roe would last 20 years before being restablished and during those 20 years, a few States have restrictions on abortion that result in 500,000 less abortions over the course of the influence of these events. If an Obama presidency is neutral in its effect on the probability of Roe being overturned in the future and a McCain presidency increases the probability by an absolute figure of 10%, then in terms of the abortion count and an expected value calculus based solely on it, an Obama presidency would be the clear pro-life choice.

Personally, I would urge voting for third parties. A broken political system is a more systemic problem than any one issue, including abortion since it is the broken political system itself that is one of the sources of bad political outcomes. Voting for a third party in this election would indeed be a waste in terms of this election *in isolation*. But over many election cycles, assuming there is a cumulative slowly emerging "snowball" effect, as increased success leads to increased coverage and increased interest and motivation to vote third party, the initial sacrifice will be well worth it. The benefit may not be obtained with our life times but true patriotism puts the country as a whole extended in time first, not merely the country of this present generation first.

The Masked Chicken

One possible problem with hoping that a third party will snowball is that often times, third parties are based on the candidate and not an enduring platform. A classic example is Ross Perot. Once he stopped running, that third party collapsed. There are some stable third parties, such as the Libertarian party, but few people either know about or like their platform.

Third parties could work. I just don't know how many people are needed to keep them stable and attract enough attention to merit serious consideration. It probably depends on such things as the size of the voting pool, how diverse and strongly held the various opinions are, how much difference between opinions are perceived as differences, etc. This is probably a very nonlinear problem to model. Depending on the values of the variable, a third party could snowball; in some situations it could die, quickly; in some cases, it could linger with little effect. It is a very difficult problem to make any conclusions about.

The Chicken

Eileen R

Jeb Protestant:
Speaking of Mark Shea, Catholics who link to his site should forever be prohibited from criticizing Martin Luther for ML's potty mouth.

I'm fairly sure Mark's language isn't quite as bad as Luther's, or even approaching it. On the other hand, I've always been amused by that line of attack on Luther, since St. Thomas More's language *was* quite as bad. The tracts written between Luther and More are one long parade of what we'd now call bathroom humour.

Different era, different ways. The 16th century was a lot earthier than ours.


Mark has said to me that he's not voting for McCain because he feels he can't; if he felt he could vote for McCain, he would do so.

Feelings. Nothing more than . . . feelings . . .

If Mr. Shea's stance is reasoned, you'll have a chance of convincing him through reason and logic as you're attempting here. But if not, you're wasting your breath.

I can't help but sympathise with those who are disgusted and fed up with the Republicans, who have done so much to earn our disgust and their minority status, and I'll shed no tears when the Republican Party withers away like the Whigs. But come Nov. 4, we'll be faced with the choice of whether or not we will do something to oppose the election of someone who we all know will be an utter calamity for this nation and the world. Voting third party or staying home are morally defensible, but practically speaking will amount of just stepping aside and letting Obama take power. McCain is far from ideal, just remember that we could have been spare eight shameful and sordid years last decade if folks hadn't tossed away their angry votes on that eccentric Texas millionaire in 1992. Let's not make that mistake again. Please.


Addressing a point which was brought up in a comment: When I argue that the effect of voting on the outcome of a national election is negligible next to the effect on the voter himself, folks tend to lop off the "negligible to the outcome" component and argue against it as a stand alone proposition.

But doing that doesn't confront my argument, it ignores my argument.


In other words, Zippy, you're comparing apples and oranges.


...you're comparing apples and oranges.

No, I'm discussing the different effects of an act of voting. The whole point of the principle of double effect is that one act can have multiple effects, so if discussing multiple effects is an invalid comparison of apples to oranges then there is no sense discussing double-effect at all, and you might as well forget about trying to justify remote material cooperation with evil.


Discussing multiple effects is not an invalid comparison of apples to oranges. Comparing the effect of voting on the outcome of a national election with the effect on the voter himself is an invalid comparison of apples to oranges. It simply doesn't make any difference how great or negligible an effect a vote has on the outcome of an election if that vote is cast sinfully. Double effect is not a justification for doing evil that good may come of it, nor does an unintended evil effect render a good action sinful.

In other words, you can't justify inaction, or evil action, simply by saying, "The effect of my vote is negligible anyway, so it doesn't matter." You actually have to come up with a valid reason to abstain from voting, or to vote third party, or to cast a vote for a candidate who supports an intrinsic evil.



I won't ignore your argument. :-)

Hang tight a bit. Next up in Part 2 (very soon now): The Kmiec/Morning's Minion/Catholics-for-Obama folks and why they don't make any sense.

Part 3 (assuming I can get it all into one part) will establish the moral validity of voting for McCain and why contrary arguments from double effect fail.

The Masked Chicken

Double effect - is that one effect for each party :)

The Chicken



The snowball I was thinking of was actually not specific to one third party but to third parties in general. If third parties as a whole got a surprising or significantly higher popular vote, they would get increased exposure and interest and so goes the snowball. It is of note that Ron Paul, pro-life, has come out to support all the third party candidates, probably using a similar rationale as I have (which I am sure is totally unoriginal)


I haven't read the broader discussion but the issue of one man's vote being neglible, Florida recounts nothwithstanding, has mathematical validity to it. As a policy matter I think it better that voting (assuming it is to be done democratically) be an allotted task to a randomized statistically sound subpopulation who could much as jurors on jury duty, devote the time and resources to adequately studying the matter.

Traditional or orthodox understandings of game theory would not be able to say that one man's vote is all that significant, even taking into account its potential influence over the course of election cycles. I suppose if one man has thousands of friends and his decision to vote and whom to vote for has influence on these thousands (or hundreds), then it may be significant. Unorthodox understandings of game theory would allow one to say that one man's vote is significant, but that is beyond the scope of this comment. I make an allusion to such an unorthodox understanding in a recent blog post of mine



You may be interested in a comment left by Catholic philosopher Alexander Pruss on that initial blog post you had expressed interest in:


Pruss also includes a link to a paper he wrote there that may also interest you.

Jeb Protestant


In an era when people lived closer to their waste, I wonder if scatological comments were more common.

Martin Luther had his flaws, but what percentage of people read the Bible before and after Luther? I think Luther did a lot of good.

I was raised a Catholic and the first time I heard that Jesus is the only way to God and that I should read the Bible was at a Prot event. Most of the members of my ecclesial community are former Catholics and they tell the same story.

-J Prot


The Kmiec/Morning's Minion/Catholics-for-Obama folks and why they don't make any sense.

Heh. We'll find a lot to agree upon there, no doubt.

I'm thinking of putting up a post describing what I see as the potential weak spots in my own argument. Mostly (from my perspective) they revolve around facts about the nature of the election 'game' and the nature of the act of voting. I don't think I am wrong about them, mind you; but a lot of the criticisms I've received have boiled down to misstatements of my argument, and the actual potentially contentious facts remain largely untouched so far.

Unfortunately, I'm going to have less time available for blogging and such in the coming weeks; but if I have the chance I'll stop in and comment.


"I was raised a Catholic and the first time I heard that Jesus is the only way to God and that I should read the Bible was at a Prot event. Most of the members of my ecclesial community are former Catholics and they tell the same story."

Jeb, I said the exact same thing, only I was raised Lutheran, not Catholic, and blamed Lutheranism (the ELCA version of it)when I began really learning about Jesus and practicing the faith as a Nazarene. Then I became a Catholic.

Yes, Protestant preachers are louder and bolder about proclaiming Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life than a Catholic priest during his Sunday homiliy, but it doesn't make Catholicism false.

Sleeping Beastly


Sorry for the lag time in my response. I've been packing, driving, unloading, and setting up in a new state. Big move, no internet, no time for online debate. I'm back now, and hope you don't think I just blew you off.

I appreciate your story, but I don't think the analogy holds for a couple of reasons:

First, I am not convinced that a McCain presidency will really be any different from an Obama presidency in terms of the effects on actual abortions performed. If I really believed there would be a substantive difference, I would hold my nose and vote for him.

It's not just that a vote for McCain is ugly but effective (like saving a child from a car wreck.) If I thought that, I'd vote for him in a heartbeat, since we don't elect presidents to be pretty. What I am saying is that I don't believe a vote for McCain would actually have the effect of reducing abortions.

Second, I object to the idea that voting for third-party candidates is irresponsible. I think it's my duty to insist that my representatives at the very least do everything they can to protect the lives of innocent children. I see no reason to think that McCain takes this issue seriously, and I don't see the Republican party in general pursuing this agenda unless we give them a kick in the rear. My vote is the only leverage I have to use against the Republican party, and giving my vote to Alan Keyes is the best way I can think of to use this leverage.

It's not (as some commenters have suggested) just a matter of me being childish and wanting to avoid my duties as a citizen. In fact, I am more than a little annoyed at the many well-meaning Catholics and others of good will who are willing to accept a candidate like McCain. The only reason third-party candidates aren't viable is that people like you have accepted the line that they aren't, and so won't give them the time of day. Your willingness to accept candidates like McCain is part of what gets us into the kind of mess we're in. His quasi-anti-abortion stand (if you can even call it a stand) is only acceptable because the voting public accepts it. We can change that by insisting on a genuinely pro-life candidate.

Sleeping Beastly

Jeb Protestant,
You wrote:
Martin Luther had his flaws, but what percentage of people read the Bible before and after Luther? I think Luther did a lot of good.

Perhaps you're thinking of Johannes Gutenberg. Luther's objections didn't spread literacy and affordable Bibles; the printing press did.


For a counter to Mr. Shea's argument on the unsuitability of either candidate and the moral imperitive to not vote for either, see EWTN's http://www.ewtn.com/vote/brief_catechism.htm
>"A Guide to Catholic Teaching and Voting" which comes to a different conclusion.

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