Four months ago I wrote in this column that I needed some reasons to vote for one of the two big shots in this election. I had voted for a menagerie of candidates in the past 20 years, none of whom won, Ralph Nader being the last. Sensing my implicit request, many readers of America sent me challenging and often inspiring letters and e-mail. Those who supported President George W. Bush gravitated toward two reasons. The first is the war in Iraq and the war against terrorists. We must see this thing through. We must support the men and women who have given their lives and labors on our behalf. In the face of terror, we cannot expect negotiation or any show of weakness to protect our children and our civilization. The second reason is abortion and its relative, embryonic stem cell research. Bush is against it, and Kerry promises its continued legal protection.
Kerry supporters, oddly enough, gravitate to the same issues. This war, they say, would never have happened if he and Edwards had been in the White House rather than Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld. This pre-emptive war of choice is immoral not only because of the 1,000 and more American lives lost, the estimated 7,000 maimed and the 10,000 Iraqi civilians dead, but also because of the future terrors it will invite. As for the pro-life issue, even though Kerry is woefully deficient in his mantra about a woman’s right to choose, he would generate health care, educational and economic programs that will make abortion less frequent.
The Acceptance of Honest Difference
Divisions deep and troubling pull us apart: in the electorate, among believers, within the Catholic Church, and even among friends and family. My brother is an admirable and thoughtful man. But we no longer debate about this election because we respect our friendship and brotherhood too much. That’s how deep the divisions can go. He received e-mail from his best friend since high school. His friend broke a longstanding mutual silence about politics, because he felt he had to tell my brother how much he feared the president and his policies. I suggested to my brother that he not react too fast or harshly: his friend had honored their friendship by telling him. Among friends and family, most of us know our differences. There are issues that argument will not resolve. Some demons are cast out only by prayer and fasting and by the example we give in living true.
There are people, even some who, like me, are against all forms of abortion, who do not realize how profoundly appalled others are at a culture of abortion on demand. They are outraged by the Democratic Party’s embrace of abortion as part of its identity. They may also believe that a conciliatory approach to world conflict will doom our civilization.
On the other hand, there are sincere and thoughtful people who believe that the war in Iraq is more than deeply immoral; it is a reckless insult to the following of Christ, and this in a country that calls itself Judeo-Christian, led by a president whose political inspiration is Jesus himself. They adhere to a Gospel that reveals the sacredness of all human life, not just unborn or innocent life, a Gospel that announces good news to the poor and warns against the danger of riches.
An honest case can be made for both positions. Unfortunately, in most quarters, such a case will not be made nor would it be heard if it were made.
The Quandary of This Catholic Voter
It is said that President Bush is pro-life. The fact is this: he is pro-life with respect to unborn human beings; and even in that case, he makes exceptions. Though he uses pro-life language, he has not done much to restrict abortions other than encourage legislation that late-term abortions be performed within the darkness of the womb, and not half outside the womb. That legislation does not stop any abortions.
It has also been said that the right to life or to be born is the primary right upon which all other rights rest. I agree. But that does not mean that any candidate who is against all abortions is morally preferable to all other candidates who have compromised positions on abortion, even to a pro-choice candidate. Surely we would not have an obligation to vote for a Saddam Hussein (if he promised to eliminate all abortion) over George Bush, who would allow some abortions and has done very little to stop them.
I will not be voting for the man who is likely to win this election. The pro-life rhetoric that I do not believe and the pro-war prodding of our own fears will probably give President Bush another four years. Let us hope that fewer innocent human beings die during his second term, especially in Iraq, since he will not cause one fewer abortion here. It has come down to this for me: either Kerry or another write-in. If only Kerry were half as bad (or good, depending on your perspective) as Bush portrays him. If only he would promise to roll back the tax cut for the super-rich, who benefit most from this country’s infrastructure, airline system and military forces. If only he would demand a health care system that protects our born and unborn. If only he would be against the war in Iraq, instead of trying to prove that he is just as eager to kill the enemy as his opponent is. If only he offered even a paltry idea to reduce abortions. Alas.
Do indeed vote. Vote your conscience. And make sure your conscience, the only moral judgment you have, is sound and well informed. For that you will surely have this voter’s respect, if not agreement.