The National Catholic Review

Over the past few weeks I have had friends plead with me, Please don’t vote for Nader again. You will be giving the vote to Bush. You will be giving the vote to Kerry. There’s my problem: I don’t want to give my vote to either of them. Such words could infuriate readers as well as family and friends. But if one cannot speak from one’s conscience, from what stance may one begin?

I want to hear reasoned argument and evidence supporting either of these candidates. But that does not mean that I will accept vitriol. I have received too many letters calling me a Clinton toady or a Bush apologist. I am neither. Nor have I voted for these men. As I recall, my last five votes for president were for Carter, Casey, Casey, Dole and Nader. I would likely vote for John McCain if he ran for president, but I am not going to write him in. I want to vote for one of the two big shots in this imperfect and sometimes corrupt system. But I need some positive reasons. All I can think of are the negatives.

The now-discredited orchestration of the Iraq invasion and our present options fill me with revulsion. I am not saying the president is a bad or stupid man. Nor am I saying that if you disagree with me, you are the enemy. What I am saying is that my moral judgment, formed by the Gospel, tradition, magisterium, the nature of humans and the signs of the times, deems this war one of the more ethically deficient projects we have undertaken as a nation.

As I write this column, Henry Kissinger is once again pronouncing, this time on CNN’s Lou Dobbs: Iraq cannot become a black hole. Fallujah is the test case. But why are we faced with a black hole? Why is this city in Iraq now a test case? It is because of the judgments and decisions of the sitting president. And now, having been pushed to the edge of the black hole by his decisions, we are warned that we can never back away.

A year ago in this column I worried what our response might be if we were to lose 200 members of our military in a bombing. In fact, we have tragically lost more than 200, but the loss has been spread out over time. And if we do anything like leveling an Iraqi city in response to the murder and desecration of Americans, we will ride a vortex into that black hole. Some fanatically murderous enemies indeed have brought us to this bleak edge of moral questioning. If terror is the only thing terrorists understand, will we speak their language?

It should not be necessary to say that one is happy that the genocidal Saddam is unthroned. Yet those who are wedded to this war use the argument, Oh, you want Saddam back? Another ruse is the charge that one is against our heroic fighters. This is preposterous. One is against the judgment of the executive who put these often heroic and generous people in such a situation.

Now that we are at the brink of this deep hole, my strongest hope is that we will not once again abandon the Kurds, who were building a national life over the last 10 years while bosses were profiting from the oil for food myth. Pray that a churning civil war not arise in our wake.

The war in Iraq, consequently, is not some issue of lesser importance to me than abortion, even though I believe the right to life is the primary right. But abortion is not the only violation of that principle. Moreover, voting pro-life has done little to stop abortion. And it is not inconceivable that a politician could play the anti-abortion card and yet do nothing. What changes did former Presidents Reagan and Bush actually bring about, other than new rhetoric and a few judges? If the present president would promise to lead a movement to make abortions illegal after the first trimestersomething I suspect he would never doI would be tempted to support him. But even then, there would remain the question of the national will. If Roe v. Wade were reversed tomorrow, the matter would go back to the states; and our real taskreasoned debate, accurate information, and advocacy (the elements that will lead to any decline in abortion)would be upon us. We cannot expect to stop abortions simply by voting for a candidate.

John F. Kerry is, of course, an embarrassment on this issue. He cannot wait to vote against any legislation that might limit abortion. Almost everyone admits what abortion is, especially five or six weeks after conception. It is the termination of a human being’s life. That is why the recent pro-choice march in Washington could sport so many banners expressing the wish that the president had been aborted. None of the demonstrators seems to have realized that this wish makes no sense. If a fetus is not a human being, then there was no one present in the womb. There was no George Bush, but only a fetus, not a human being at all.

What I find most distressing is Kerry’s apparent devotion to abortion on demand. He is utterly unwilling to suggest how he will work to make abortion rare, as the Clinton mantra went. He wants it safe and legal but has nothing to say about how it might be made less frequent. He will not even say why he wants to make it rare. And we should not expect an answer from him. Kerry stonewalls on this as effectively as Bush stonewalls about his war.

The Catholic tradition affirms the supremacy of conscience, our moral judgment. It also calls for a willingness to inform that conscience. I am open to evidence and argument. But I do not accept the dictum that the sole moral issue of November’s election is either the war or abortion. For me it is an election, a choice, between two terribly deficient candidates. With the best evidence I can muster, by November, I will choose one.

For other articles on Catholic politicians, click here.

John F. Kavanaugh, S.J., is a professor of philosophy at St. Louis University in St. Louis, Mo.

Comments

William Behringer, S.M. | 5/7/2004 - 4:47pm
I think that John Kavanaugh expresses very well the dilema that many of us feel. How to choose the lesser of two evils. I appreciated his putting this into print.
John Butkis | 5/25/2004 - 8:41pm
Maybe I can help out Fr. Kavanaugh. The real political ruse these days is that there is no difference between the two parties. Involved deeply in environmental issues and battles, I can count the Republican Congressional supporters on one hand, whereas the Democrats are numerous. On the issues of fair(er) taxation, health care, the rights of workers, a just & livable wage, decent housing, concern for the poor--all basic, bedrock Catholic social teachings--I see the Democratic Party and its Presidential nominee. As for abortion, I must trust in an absolute need (in a world going mad with religious fundamentalism) for separation of church and state and I choose freedom of choice in a democratic society and the ultimate santity of conscience. So as a Catholic these days, I often find myself "a stranger in a strange land," as a democrat with a small "d" with a woman's right to choose and a gay person's rights. I trust these in fear of greater dangers to the Spirit and the mercy of God. But I was raised a good Catholic and I know those who are on the side of Social Justice and the poor any day, and so does Fr. Kavanaugh.
George Maybanks | 6/2/2004 - 3:17pm
I am a lifelong catholic and long-time reader of America. I am pro-life. I am going to work for and vote for John Kerry. I want to tell you why.

I believe that well-formed conscience is the proximate norm of morality, therefore, I believe that some people can be pro-abortion and consider themselves to be morally correct. At the same time, I realize that, in the case of abortion the Catholic church cannot make this distinction since such a distinction cannot be made in respect to an act that is considered to be intrinsically evil, comparable to or equivalent to murder.

So I would concede that fact and move on to "single issue voting". I don't think that we can expect any candidate's views and platform to be fully in accord with our own or with the church's. To be more specific, I would cite George Bush's views on: the death penalty, criteria for a just war, the role of big business in politics, the right to vote, the quality of the environment, tax policy, budget priorities and human rights, including those of immigrants, minorities and the poor.

As editors of the premier catholic theological magazine, I would hope and pray that you would use your position to promote a morally correct and just electoral policy for the catholics of America.

William Behringer, S.M. | 5/7/2004 - 4:47pm
I think that John Kavanaugh expresses very well the dilema that many of us feel. How to choose the lesser of two evils. I appreciated his putting this into print.
John Butkis | 5/25/2004 - 8:41pm
Maybe I can help out Fr. Kavanaugh. The real political ruse these days is that there is no difference between the two parties. Involved deeply in environmental issues and battles, I can count the Republican Congressional supporters on one hand, whereas the Democrats are numerous. On the issues of fair(er) taxation, health care, the rights of workers, a just & livable wage, decent housing, concern for the poor--all basic, bedrock Catholic social teachings--I see the Democratic Party and its Presidential nominee. As for abortion, I must trust in an absolute need (in a world going mad with religious fundamentalism) for separation of church and state and I choose freedom of choice in a democratic society and the ultimate santity of conscience. So as a Catholic these days, I often find myself "a stranger in a strange land," as a democrat with a small "d" with a woman's right to choose and a gay person's rights. I trust these in fear of greater dangers to the Spirit and the mercy of God. But I was raised a good Catholic and I know those who are on the side of Social Justice and the poor any day, and so does Fr. Kavanaugh.
George Maybanks | 6/2/2004 - 3:17pm
I am a lifelong catholic and long-time reader of America. I am pro-life. I am going to work for and vote for John Kerry. I want to tell you why.

I believe that well-formed conscience is the proximate norm of morality, therefore, I believe that some people can be pro-abortion and consider themselves to be morally correct. At the same time, I realize that, in the case of abortion the Catholic church cannot make this distinction since such a distinction cannot be made in respect to an act that is considered to be intrinsically evil, comparable to or equivalent to murder.

So I would concede that fact and move on to "single issue voting". I don't think that we can expect any candidate's views and platform to be fully in accord with our own or with the church's. To be more specific, I would cite George Bush's views on: the death penalty, criteria for a just war, the role of big business in politics, the right to vote, the quality of the environment, tax policy, budget priorities and human rights, including those of immigrants, minorities and the poor.

As editors of the premier catholic theological magazine, I would hope and pray that you would use your position to promote a morally correct and just electoral policy for the catholics of America.