Fr. Pavone on the Permissability of "Voting for the Better of Two Bad Candidates"
Last month, Michae Iafrate (Catholic Anarchist) noted his disapproval of Fr. Frank Pavone's response to the question of what to do when the two major parties’ candidates are pro-choice, but a third party candidate is anti-abortion?? (More “Republicatholic” hypocrisy, courtesy of Frank Pavone May 13, 2007) -- In response to which, Fr. Pavone maintains that Catholics must distinguish between "choosing evil" and "limiting evil":
. . . just ask a simple question: Which of the two candidates will do less harm to unborn children if elected?Michael omits from his post the fact that Fr. Pavone was taking a cue from Cardinal John O'Connor (no slouch on the pro-life front, he). Pavone continues, citing from the Cardinal himself:
For example, is either of the candidates willing at least to ban partial-birth abortion? Is either of them willing to put up some roadblocks to free and easy abortion? Will either support parental notification, or parental consent, or waiting periods? Has either of them expressed a desire to ban late-term abortion, or to support pregnancy assistance centers? How about stricter regulation of abortion facilities? Has either candidate expressed support for that idea? Nobody is saying that's the final goal. But ask these questions just to see whether you can see any benefit of one of the candidates above the other.
One of the two of them will be elected; there is no question about that. So you are not free right now, in this race, to really choose the candidate you want. Forces beyond your control have already limited your choices. Whichever way the election goes, the one elected will not have the position we want elected officials to have on abortion.
In this case, it is morally acceptable to vote for the candidate who will do less harm. This is not "choosing the lesser of two evils." We may never choose evil. But in the case described above, you would not be choosing evil. Why? Because in choosing to limit an evil, you are choosing a good. . . . by your vote, you can keep the worse person out. And trying to do that is not only legitimate, but good. Some may think it's not the best strategy. But if your question is whether it is morally permissible to vote for the better of two bad candidates, the answer -- in the case described above -- is yes.
Cardinal John O’Connor, in a special booklet on abortion, once wrote about this problem,Michael Iafrate's reaction to Pavone is to brand him a hypocrite, although he has not actually established this to be the case. In fact, Fr. Pavone has held this same position (with respect to voting when faced with two leading "bad' candidates) back in 2000:
“Suppose all candidates support ‘abortion rights’? … One could try to determine whether the position of one candidate is less supportive of abortion than that of another. Other things being equal, one might then morally vote for a less supportive position. If all candidates support "abortion rights" equally, one might vote for the candidate who seems best in regard to other issues” (1990, “Abortion: Questions and Answers”).
In this context, the question also arises as to whether one is required to vote for a third candidate who does not have a strong base of support but does have the right position. The answer is, no, you are not required to vote for this candidate. The reason is that your vote is not a canonization of a candidate. It is a transfer of power. You have to look concretely at where the power is really going to be transferred, and use your vote not to make a statement but to help bring about the most acceptable results under the circumstances.
Of course, our conscience may be telling us, “Don’t say it’s impossible to elect the candidate who doesn’t have a strong base of support.” Of course, it is possible to elect almost anyone if the necessary work is done within the necessary time. God doesn’t ask us to base our choices on “the possibility of miracles,” but rather on solid human reason. The point is that if there’s a relatively unknown but excellent candidate, the time to begin building up support for that person’s candidacy is several years before the election, not several months. What you have to ask as Election Day draws near is whether your vote is needed to keep the worse candidate (of the two, less acceptable but more realistic choices) out of office.
“Because voting is not a canonization,” he continued, “we may morally vote for a less perfect candidate who is actually electable at the present moment, rather than a better candidate who does not have the base of support to actually get into office. Our vote is our way of participating in actually moving our society forward, rather than a forum for ‘making statements.’ Statements can be made in a thousand other ways. But there is only one way to elect people to offices in which they can make a difference.”I believe Fr. Pavone makes an important observation here about the viability of a given candidate -- a principled vote for the 'better' third party candidate with no political viability will result in the election of one or another candidate (and party) who will set the agenda and policies for the country. Last month I had devoted a post to exploring this very decision ("To Vote or Not to Vote?" Catholics in the Public Square April 21, 2007) and the ramifications of voting for a candidate with no realistic chance of success or even abstaining from voting altogether.
Moving on, Michael Iafrate's assertion that Catholic Answers teaches that "Catholics are obligated to vote for pro-life/anti-abortion candidates (typically Republicans) and may not vote for pro-choice/pro-abortion candidates (typically Democrats)" is not exactly true. A look at Catholic Answers' Voting Guide for Serious Catholics reveals an answer that is very much along the lines of Fr. Pavone's and Cardinal O'Connor's:
In some political races, each candidate takes a wrong position on one or more issues involving non-negotiable moral principles. In such a case you may vote for the candidate who takes the fewest such positions or who seems least likely to be able to advance immoral legislation, or you may choose to vote for no one.Senator Brownback - Consistently Pro-Life or Sell-Out?
A vote cast in such a situation is not morally the same as a positive endorsement for candidates, laws, or programs that promote intrinsic evils: It is only tolerating a lesser evil to avoid an even greater evil. As Pope John Paul II indicated regarding a situation where it is not possible to overturn or completely defeat a law allowing abortion, "an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality"(EV 73; also CPL 4).
Catholics must strive to put in place candidates, laws, and political programs that are in full accord with non-negotiable moral values. Where a perfect candidate, law, or program is not on the table, we are to choose the best option, the one that promotes the greatest good and entails the least evil. Not voting may sometimes be the only moral course of action, but we must consider whether not voting actually promotes good and limits evil in a specific instance. The role of citizens and elected officials is to promote intrinsic moral values as much as possible today while continuing to work toward better candidates, laws, and programs in the future.
In the third debate among GOP candidates, Wolf Blitzer posed the question to Senator Sam Brownback of whether he would be able to vote for a pro-choice GOP candidate. Here is the exchange in full:
SEN. BROWNBACK: [...] I am pro-life and I’m whole life. And one of the things I’m the most, the proudest about our party about is that we’ve stood for life. We’ve been a party that has stood for a culture of life, and it was in our platform in 1980 and it continues today.Michael Joseph of Vox Nova / Evangelica-Catholicism expressed his disapproval of Senator Sam Brownback, characterizing the Senator's response as a compromise of his moral principles, at the same time asserting that the "more Catholic and more democratic action" would be to vote for a third-party candidate (Brownback Backpedals Vox Nova June 6, 2007):
And with that respect — and I have respect for my other colleagues — that’s why I don’t think we can nominate somebody that’s not pro-life in this party because it is at our core. We believe that every life is beautiful, is sacred, is a child of a loving God, from natural — from conception to natural death, and that applies not only here and in the womb, it applies to somebody that’s in poverty, it applies to the child in Darfur.
And that philosophy, being pro-life and whole life, is something I think can really help move us forward as a country and as a party.
MR. BLITZER: Senator, if Rudy Giuliani got the Republican presidential nomination, would you be able to support him?
SEN. BROWNBACK: I — that question came up at the first debate, and I stated that this is something that we as a party have struggled with. I have great respect for the mayor. I don’t think we’re going to nominate somebody that’s not pro-life.
MR. BLITZER: Would you be able to support him?
SEN. BROWNBACK: I can support and will support the nominee of our party, but our party has stood on principles. It’s a party of principles, it’s not a party of personalities.
. . . All of Fr. Pavone's talk about ending abortion definitively in America by consolidating the pro-life vote ends here. He introduces a manufactured category to the matter: "realistic choice." So as a Catholic, I do not need to vote pro-life as long as that vote goes toward a "realistic" candidate? Is "realistic" an emergency moral category whose glass is broken in the event that a Republican nominee for president is pro-choice? "Realistic" releases me from any moral obligation to vote pro-life? I should not feel compelled to find a pro-life third-party candidate for whom I can vote in good conscience? I should not do the more Catholic and the more democratic action of voting for a third-party? I should allow practical politics to trump pro-life principles? Why, then, can I not just vote for a "realistic" pro-choice candidate anytime, even if there is a "realistic" pro-life candidate in the race?
Fr. Pavone exacerbates his double-talk by suggesting that a pro-choice candidate could be an "acceptable" candidate. If both candidates are pro-choice, one may be more "acceptable" than the other. Really, Fr. Pavone? And how so? Is there another behemoth non-negotiable issue that can overshadow a candidate's public desire to protect right to the murder the unborn? Perhaps socialized medicine? Perhaps tax-cuts? Perhaps immigration reform?
In "Worthiness to Receive Communion, General Principles", Cardinal Ratzinger noted:
[N.B. 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 favour 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.](Cardinal Ratzinger's position -- not to be distinguished with proportionalism -- is explored and defended by Catholic Apologist Jimmy Akin: What Ratzinger Said Sept. 9, 2004). I think that the collective voice of Vox Nova are rather too hasty in their rush to castigate Senator Brownback and Fr. Pavone as hypocrites guilty of "pro-life backpedalling" whose only desire is that Catholics vote Republican. Based on a closer analysis of Brownback and Pavone's own words and stated reasoning, this is simply not the case.
Steve Dillard and Catholics Against Rudy
Responding to an piece on Catholics Against Rudy on Vox Nova this week (Catholics Against Rudy: All the Way?, by Michael Joseph Vox Nova June 12, 2007), Steve Dillard conveys the position of his organization Catholics Against Rudy (formally launching in July 2007):
(1) My comment that, "You cannot, in good conscience as a faithful Catholic, vote for Rudy Giuliani," is limited to the GOP presidential primary. . . . I certainly believe that there would be "proportionate reasons" to vote for Mayor Giuliani in the general election against a pro-abortion democratic candidate (e.g., Clinton).
(2) Yes, if Giuliani "were to earn the Republican nomination," which I agree is "a very likely scenario," Catholics Against Rudy will "continue its campaign beyond the Republican primaries" That having been said, for the reasons noted above, our arguments against his candidacy will have to shift gears a bit. While there clearly are not "proportionate reasons" that would permit a Catholic to vote for Giuliani in the GOP primary, the same cannot be said for the general election, and, as such, our arguments will shift from the theological to the prudential (e.g., that Catholics should not vote for Giuliani because of the long-term harm that would result from having a pro-abortion leader as the head of the only pro-life political party).
(3) For all of the reasons noted above, Catholics Against Rudy "will . . . make good on its campaign and advise Catholics to choose a pro-life third-party candidate," while at the same time respecting those Catholics who, for other prudential reasons (e.g., supreme-court vacancies), elect to choose the lesser of two evils.
Before I go on, I would like to publicly commend Steve Dillard for his patience and Christian charity, having been the recipient of a great deal of verbal abuse and unjust accusations in Vox Nova's combox. The accusation that Catholics Against Rudy would be an organization "utterly beholden to the Republican Party" is unjustifiable and patently ridiculous on its face. Thanks to Michael Joseph for displaying the courtesy of amending his post.
Like Senator Brownback, I hope and pray it will never come to pass that Giuliani will be the GOP presidential nominee. Unfortunately, I fear that Brownback is far more optimistic about the integrity and conviction of the Republican Party than I at this time. While the Giuliani campaign has been met with increasing opposition among conservative Catholics, the amount of attention bestowed upon him by other Republicans is disconcerting, not to mention what one would describe as fawning adulation from the likes of FoxNews pundit Sean Hannity and Rich Lowry of the National Review (in what Jay Anderson appropriately described as a "Rudygasm").
A conscientious vote for Giuliani against, say, Hillary or Obama is perhaps defensible from a Catholic point of view (or at least not prohibited). I honestly can't predict my decision come November 2008. For the moment, I think it is clear that we as Catholics should collectively put our effort into opposing the nomination of Rudy Giuliani -- not only for the sake of accurately presenting Catholic teaching in the public square, but for the sake of maintaining the integrity of the Republican party in future elections.
The Republican Party has recognized in its platform that "the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed." Would it be worth it to elect a "pro-choice" politician at the cost of sacrificing or making a mockery of that very position? Would it not be a slippery slope, in fact "widening the Republican tent" to allow for the election of more "pro-choice" politicians in the future? -- The Democrats have worn the "pro-choice" mantle for decades. Let's curb this headlong rush to join them.
This post is written in the attempt to work out my thoughts on the issue and a clarification of the positions of Senator Brownback and Fr. Pavone; I welcome the feedback of my colleagues and readers and their reactions. Let the discussion begin.
- Anti-Rudy Catholics Plan Their Assault, by Rebecca Sinderbrand. New York Observer May 27, 2007.
- The Failure of Catholic Political Leadership, by Robert P. George and William L. Saunders. Crisis 18 no. 4 (April 2000): 17-22.
Responses to This Post
- Fr. Pavone, Senator Brownback and Rudy Giuliani by Jay Anderson (Pro Ecclesia June 13, 2007).
- Response from Morning's Minion [see also: "Can Catholics Vote for Pro-Abortion Politicians?", by Morning's Minion. Vox Nova May 23, 2007].
- Does Voting for Giuliani Make You a Pro-Life Fraud?, by Michael Denton. For the Greater Glory June 13, 2007.