We are pleased to post this guest blog from Anna Nussbaum Keating:
Though Catholics make up 27% of the electorate, there is no such thing as “the Catholic vote.” The Democrats are closer to the Catholic position on immigration and the environment; the Republicans are closer to the Catholic position on abortion and religious liberty. Neither party reflects Just War views on foreign policy, as both support, among other things, the extrajudicial assassination of American citizens and the use of nuclear weapons.
Catholics hash it out issue by issue, and are more or less equally divided along party lines. And the political divisions continue long after the election is over, in some ways defining us more than our shared commitments do. As such, any potentially unified Catholic voice in the United States is effectively stifled by the two-party system. Our views as Catholics, which should make us neither left nor right, are thus, never a threat to the status quo. They’re not even a part of the conversation. What’s more, with two Catholic vice-presidential candidates in 2012, one who reluctantly supports abortion on demand and the other who is an Ayn Rand enthusiast, whose proposed cuts to food aid for poor families have to be seen along objectivist lines, and were condemned by the U.S. Catholic Bishops as “unjustified and wrong,” we are the status quo.
We are an assimilated people trying not to think too much about what the Catholic novelist Walker Percy once referred to as the “banal atrocities” of our age. The only prophetic element of the Catholic vote may be our ability to pick a winner. In every presidential election since 1972 the candidate who won the popular vote, also won the majority of Catholic voters.
Is there another way? After all, in a country that prides itself on choice, there are only two viable options for president. At what point is the question we need to be asking, not whether we should be voting for Romney or Obama, but whether we should be voting at all? What would it take for committed Democrats and Republicans not to vote the party line?
Ideally there would be room for a range of opinions within each party, for an actual debate, and those with a consistent ethic of life could work from within to make progress on pro-life issues (from abortion and euthanasia to gun-control and protecting the environment) but that doesn’t seem to be the case, especially at the federal level. Politicians advance within their respective parties by strictly adhering to the party platform, rather than by representing their constituent’s views, and since we, their constituents, vote for either party, we mistakenly reinforce the impression that each party’s platform is representative of our views. The Republican party is further to the right than it used to be, the Democrats are further to the left, and engaged voters have gone along with things, adopting positions more extreme than their previous ones, for fear of losing their voice by not casting a vote.
Is it time for American Catholics and others with a consistent ethic of life to take a prophetic stand and abstain from voting for either candidate, like Dorothy Day who once wrote, “Our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system”? Or is it time for a third party candidate?
In his 2004 essay “The Only Vote Worth Casting in November” the Catholic moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre agreed with Day in rejecting the either-or fallacy. He wrote, “When offered a choice between two politically intolerable alternatives, it is important to choose neither.”
MacIntyre recognizes, that voting is a good, and not voting for either candidate in a presidential election, even as a principled act of protest will be perceived as an abrogation of one’s civic duty. Nevertheless, he argues that continuing to vote for a morally bankrupt party, which needs the other morally bankrupt party as its counterpart, may in fact be ensuring that nothing will ever change, even, that gross human rights abuses continue. MacIntyre agrees with Catholic Worker co-founder Peter Maurin that we need to create a society in which it is “easier to be good.” It’s not enough to not be against abortion, we must be for children and families.
We need to have a discussion about which party’s policies best reflect the Catholic understanding, shared by many non-Catholics as well, that all human life should be protected by law. Of course this would mean being pro-life about everything: no unjust war, no abortion on demand, no capital punishment, no indefinite detainment, no assisted suicide, no nuclear weapons, no torture, access to education and healthcare, immigration policies which respect human dignity and family unity, protection of the environment, and economic programs that create justice for the greatest number of people.
Something must be done in order to challenge the euphemisms and untruths promulgated by both parties. To call those who rush in to offer aid at the scene of a drone strike and are then fired on by the CIA “collateral damage” is misleading and duplicitous. To call a viable fetus legally aborted “a woman’s right to make decisions regarding her own body” is to traffic in half-truths. To call those who offer charity to illegal immigrants “criminals” is absurd. You don’t need to be religious in order to see that.
I don’t know if we as Catholics should vote or not vote for President on November 6th, I’m torn, but I do know that we need to discuss these painful issues instead of glossing over them in an effort to ensure our party wins.
Anna Nussbaum Keating