Sunday, October 26, 2008

Single-issue voting

Some people act as though it's horrible to vote based on a single issue, especially if it's abortion. But let's consider that idea carefully.

Suppose there is a candidate whose views and policies you agree with almost 100%. On practically every issue, this candidate is perfect. However, the candidate believes that all Jews (Blacks, Asians, handicapped people, whatever) should be deported or shot. Do you still vote for that candidate?

If you would, then you're like a lot of people, even self-proclaimed Christians, who will vote for someone they supposedly disagree with on a major issue because they believe that the good outweights the bad. But in some cases, a single evil can--must--outweight any amount of good.

I expect some will cry foul, however. After all, how likely is it that a candidate will agree with you on every issue but still have one extremely odious view?

But that's my point--at least partly. You see, if someone is able to justify killing an unborn child, he can justify a lot of other things. Ideas do not exist in a vacuum; one evil will lead to another. So while abortion is a single issue, it touches on other fundamental issues.

You may say, as double-minded voters often do, that the pro-abortion candidate is anti-war and probably anti-capital punishment. But war and capital punishment do not take nearly as many lives in any given year as abortion does--and the lives taken by abortion are easily the most innocent and deserving of protection. Is it reasonable to save a hundred thousand hypothetical lives--those who may be killed in a war--at the cost of a million actual lives?


Robert Treskillard said...

Amen, Steve!

bria said...

Thank you for that.

I've had several loooonnnggg conversations about voting for a person by their beliefs and morals and putting faith that those people will struggle to make good decisions across the board.

Karina Fabian said...

Brilliantly explained, Steve. I wish more people would apply logic like you do.

Karina Fabian

DB said...

Hi, Steve. I'm not of voting age, so I didn't have to consider the question of election too thoroughly; all the same, I'm not convinced by your argument.

Whether or not the "single evil" really trumps the good is up to the judgment of each individual voter, and I stand by the cogency of anyone who chose to vote based on a set of criteria that expanded beyond just abortion and its peripheral evils.

See what Pope Benedict has to say on the subject, where he makes a distinction between formal cooperation (voting for a candidate precisely for their morally egregious stance) and remote material cooperation (voting for a candidate in spite of their pro-culture-of-death stance, in lieu of other policies that would promote a culture of life). The following is a quotation from his Cardinal Ratzinger days.

“A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, [and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion], if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia. When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favor of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.”

I do not know who I would have voted for. I do not know who the Pope would have voted for. However, based on the statement above, you would have to include Pope Benedict among the "double minded," "self-proclaimed Christians" who would consider voting for a candidate with whom they disagree on abortion "because they believe that the good outweighs the bad."

Outside of that, there's the question of how anti-abortion the other candidate is. There's room for doubt here, too. McCain's record on pro-life voting was spotty at best.

It's certainly not horrible to vote based on a single issue. But even with an issue as important as abortion, single-issue voting is not the only valid way to go.

Steve said...

I admit that I find the reference to Pope Benedict's views peculiar. (I should mention that I'm not Catholic but do respect the views involved.)

The question turns on proportionality: is there something that can outweigh being pro-abortion, for example? Theoretically, yes. Someone could technically be opposed to abortion and yet in favor of nuking some country based on its nuisance value. But this goes back to my remark about the connectedness of ideas: someone who values life in one context is more likely to value it in another, especially if the life is actual (there really are unborn children dying every day from abortion) versus potential (however many people might be killed in a war that may not be waged).

So again, are there factors that could outweigh abortion? Technically, yes. Realistically, no. There is virtually no position that a pro-lifer is likely to hold that will negate his pro-life views. Conversely, it is extremely unlikely that a "pro-choice" candidate will have a unique position (better than his opponent's by a few orders of magnitude) that negates his pro-abortion views. (As I undertand it, Obama is in favor of stem-cell research, a pointless sacrifice and cheapening of human life, but one that coordinates well with his general view that abortion should be allowed always and for any reason.)

So in the real world, I do not see a real chance that proportionality can be used as a defense. Abortion really is happening, and it really does take more lives than anything else that is really happening or even likely to happen. It also cheapens our view of life, allowing other evils (such as stem-cell research) to occur: JPII wasn't joking about the "culture of death" business.

Steve said...

Another point: While McCain isn't perfect, he is generally recognized as a reliable pro-life vote. And unlike Obama, he now acknowledges that killing the unborn for stem cells is pointless: the only workable therapies thus far come from adult stem cells, and recent advances have made the embryocidal method obsolete.

Yet Obama wants to pursue it anyway. Why? Isn't it because the logic of his position pushes him toward promoting death?

DB said...

I would agree that policies are not created in a bubble, and that a candidate with an egregious view would be likely to hold egregious views in other areas, but I still find that less convincing than when someone has examined all those views in actuality and determined the "good to outweigh the bad," so to speak. Not saying that you haven't done so--just the argument you pose here centers on probability, which is not a defeater for an examination of real policy, IMO.

FWIW, Obama stated in Christianity Today that he would be in favor of prohibitions on late-term abortions, with exceptions in favor of a mother's health; the provisions he voted against typically lacked the exceptional clause.

I guess that's as far as I can go with this politics stuff. I'm not well read on stem-cell research. Good for McCain, though I guess he belies his old track record in saying that.

P.S. I'm not Catholic either, though like you I respect Catholic views, and I thought it funny that the Pope might fall under your umbrella of double-minded voters. :P

Steve said...

Probability enters into everything. Theoretically, it's possible that you could put a kettle of water on a really hot fire only to have the water freeze. But in the real world, the probability of some outcomes is so remote that it may be ignored. Given that in the last fifty years there hasn't been a war with a death toll comparable to abortion in the US, I'd like to see what policy could be used to justify someone who supports abortion.

As to McCain's and Obama's stands on abortion, McCain has been forthrightly opposed to abortion, but he did stand for stem-cell research in the hope that it would produce cures for various conditions. Having realized that this is not likely to be the case and that non-embryocidal methods actually work better, he has removed this equivocation.

Meanwhile, as I understand it, not all versions of the bill Obama vetoed lacked the boilerplate about the mother's life, and that's a crock anyway: the vast majority of abortions are completely elective. Further, he voted against a ban on partial-birth abortion, which by its very nature is late-term and cannot conceivably save the mother's life as it is essentially the same as regular delivery only without the baby's survival. So this is simply another lie, and an appallingly transparent one.

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