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Tim ReidySeptember 17, 2012

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


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ed gleason
9 years 9 months ago
I'm sorry but in your first paragraph you have 'the extra judicial assassination of American citizens'... after this, all the rest becomes blurred . You, I assume reject the strike against an American born terrorist riding in an armored car in the desert of Yemen with other terrorists and calling it a crime. A stumbling argument takes down all following points.. 15 thousand French citizens were bombed to death in the Normandy invasion June 6th 1944,. A war crime?
William Marvel
9 years 9 months ago
I will probably vote this time around - with gritted teeth. Without question neither party represents a happy choice for those who take the Church's teaching seriously.
But I doubt if withdrawing our vote or even throwing it away on some third-party candidate will affect the system one way or another. The problem lies with those Catholics who have come to see themselves as Democrats or Republicans (or "conservatives" or "liberals") first, Cathlics second. How can they have been raised as Catholics, received a Catholic education (some of them, anyway), sat in church sunday after sunday, and reach such a conclusion?
David Smith
9 years 9 months ago
If there was ever a time when Rome and bishops told Catholics how to vote, it's long gone. So, please, remove the ''should'' from the question. Make it, rather, something like: How Might Catholics, as Catholics, Best Decide How to Participate in the November Elections?

Pluralistic democracies require intelligent compromise. Getting along means allowing the other fellow to do things that you'd never do. But, ideally, you'd never be obliged either to choose between only seriously flawed candidates for the top leadership post or not vote. There are at least two ways to avoid such a scenario. The first is to set up your own candidate. The second is to change the political system so that there are multiple leaders at the top - a leadership committee, rather than a single leader - with each leader representing one set of interests. Coalition government.

In fact, though, rather than in theory, no matter how government is constructed, leaders are always going to be chosen by the push and pull of power politics. Human beings are only marginally rational, thoughtful creatures. In the end, we almost always settle disagreements through power struggles of one sort or another. This is, perhaps regrettably, probably inevitable, because of the way our minds work. There's no objective way of proving the superior value of any important option, let alone all possible options. It all comes down finally to feelings, emotions.

Perhaps the best we can do is to set up non-confrontational forums for the discussion of the issues, so that, hopefully, whatever leadership choices voters make, they make them thoughtfully, after mature reflection, rather than in the heat of partisan enthusiasm.
Jim McCrea
9 years 9 months ago
The consequences of not voting for Obama/Biden are too disgusting to contemplate.


Sometimes "in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king" is as good a reason as any.
Amy Ho-Ohn
9 years 9 months ago
Oddly, I think I agree with David Smith.

Compromising in the voting booth is what almost every citizen in a democracy has to do. And yet, every four years we hear this same lament, that Catholics are "politically homeless" because, outrageously, neither party tailors their platform specifically to Catholics' desires.

Catholics are about one fourth of the electorate, mass-attending Catholics are about one third of that, and mass-attending Catholics who let the Church influence their votes are probably about half of that. That's four percent. Why are we perennially shocked to discover that neither party caters to our wishes?

Many libertarians support Republican fiscal policy but prefer Democratic policies on drug enforcement and preemptive wars. Many Jews like Democratic social policy but prefer Republican policy on the question of whether Iran should be permitted to wipe Israel off the map. Many immigrants like Democratic policy on immigration but much prefer Republican policies on family values issues. Many young people like Democratic policies on student loan forgiveness and consequence-free sex, but would like the Republicans to rein in spending on Medicare.

Almost nobody gets everything he wants. Deal with it.
JR Cosgrove
9 years 9 months ago
''I do know that we need to discuss these painful issues instead of glossing over them in an effort to ensure our party wins.''

That should be an objective for America, both the country and the the magazine.
Stanley Kopacz
9 years 9 months ago
Political parties' platforms and what they do in office are loosely coupled.  You have to look at what they have been doing.  I'm not enthusiastic for either of tge main parties.  I'd vote green if it had an effect.  Also, why aren't the libertarian and green parties in on the presidential debates?  For the reason that the windbags would have to answer questions from someone like Ralph Nader.
Eugene Pagano
9 years 9 months ago
It has been decades since parochial school, but my recollection is that the Baltimore Catechism taught that it was a duty to vote.
Jim McCrea
9 years 9 months ago
The consequences of not voting for Obama/Biden are too disgusting to contemplate.


Sometimes "in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king" is as good a reason as any.
Charles Camosy
9 years 9 months ago
Fantastic piece!  Couldn't be more right on the money.  It is not clear that support of the State via voting is the most important priority for a Catholic, nor is it clear that the best way to support the flourishing of our State is by voting. Perhaps-given the radical, overhwhelming, and horrific injustice for which both parties and candidates stand-the best thing that can be done is to "fast" from voting this year.  This does not mean retreating from political engagement-far from it.  One of the ways to be political is to explain to as many people as you can why one is not voting-and this blog post as an excellent example of doing just this.

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