I can't wait for this election to be over. This is sort of a rehash of a post I already got rid of before…
I'm voting for Barack Obama next Tuesday.
Tonight I'm meeting some old friends for dinner and a trivia competition for charity. I know how the conversation is going to go, and I know they'll be shocked and disappointed over my decision. In a way, I'm dreading having to go, because I'll be taking quite a bit of heat over it.
The Sunday morning before last, my wife and I had a huge fight over this election. Colossal. Thunderous. Epic. Legendary.
I've voted for the GOP ticket in every presidential election since 1984, but for reasons that I have documented here extensively, after a serious and arduous examination of my conscience, I am going back to my Democratic home this time. Anne is going with McCain. She's convinced that any new taxes are going to wind up on the middle class somehow, as they always seem to do, and the abortion issue is really heating up the Catholic web and a lot of households like ours, I'm sure.
It makes me wonder why I continue to blog. I can't even convince my own wife and my 12-year old son to see things my way. I don't have much better luck on blogs either.
I guess what frustrates me is the lack of personal and internal struggle I see out there. There's a lot of talk about people following their consciences, even informed consciences, but when I look at the level of polarization out there, it tends to fall along traditionally political partisan lines in a predictable fashion. A handful of high profile bishops have come out and basically told people how they must vote. The argument seems to be, "Sure, you have a conscience, but if your conscience if fully informed, you'll obey us." I get the impression that some of these bishops have the notion that the loss of credibility they suffered as a result of the sexual abuse scandal is far behind them, and it is by no means the case. Once again, in tin-eared fashion, they squander their moral authority with high-handedness.
On the one hand, I see those who are comfortably on the right telling others that they must vote in accord with a single issue, yet I have the feeling that most are not wrestling themselves with the social justice issues. They’re just fine, thanks very much, with the rest of the Republican platform.
On the other hand, I see those who are comfortably on the left feeling as if the bishops and centuries of Church teaching on the life issues can be ignored or simply set aside if they conflict with political and cultural views already held. I ask my progressive friends here (and you truly are wonderful and valued friends to me), do you truly wrestle with these things? Is it hard? Is it difficult?
In the runup to this election, things are getting irritable and tense. One thing I think we Catholics and other people of faith need to ask ourselves, myself included most certainly, is this…
Is our faith informed and shaped by our politics or is our politics shaped and informed by our faith? There are certainly things to be cautious about with the latter, but the former is certainly never a good thing.
One of the best articles I’ve seen on this was by J. Peter Nixon on the dotCommonweal blog - Feedback from the Ecclesia Discens - It sort of sums up how I feel. His post in full:
I’ve been reading and reflecting on a number of the public statements made by bishops about the upcoming election. While some of this writing rises to genuine eloquence at times, much of it comes across as pro-forma: “Hello, election time is upon us, there are many important issues, abortion is the most important, and while I’m not telling you how to vote, you should take this very, very seriously. Goodbye and good luck.”
With all due respect to the ecclesia docens, I need more than this.
The problem is that I–like a lot of people I know–am genuinely angry about the direction my country has been heading in for the past eight years. I’m angry about an unjust war fought on false pretenses that has cost tens of thousands of lives and billions of dollars. I’m angry about my own government detaining people indefinitely without trial, establishing secret prisons overseas, and using torture. I’m angry about the firing of federal prosecutors who refused to become tools of a partisan political agenda. I’m angry about tax policy that has disproportionately rewarded the wealthy while blowing a hole in the federal budget at a time when we are fighting not one but two wars. I’m angry about the incompetence that characterized the federal government’s response to Katrina. I’m angry about how the current administration has bungled virtually ever major foreign policy challenge it has faced, from Iraq to dealing with the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea to the relationship with Russia.
I want these people gone. I want them and everyone who supported them–including their current candidate for president–exiled into the political wilderness for the next 40 years where they can dine on locusts and re-learn some fundamental lessons about governing a country. In my world at least, this level of incompetence and ideological blindness gets you fired.
And I’m not even going to talk about Sarah Palin.
If all you can say in the face of all this is “well, these aren’t intrinsic evils,” then you’ve lost me. I cannot imagine a circumstance in which I would walk into that voting booth and vote as if none of this had happened. It would feel grossly irresponsible.
I can imagine somebody saying to me “Pete, I hear you. I’m angry at these things too. Really angry. I’m frustrated at the choices the system gives us. But I can’t break faith with the unborn, I just can’t. They have no voice. They need ours.”
It’s an argument that continues to ricochet around my brain, because I’m angry about this too. I’m angry that so many in my own party can get passionate about children dying violently in Detroit or Darfur, but want to change the subject when we talk of children dying violently in the womb. I’m angry that so many Catholic elected officials have sacrificed the unborn on the altar of their political ambition and then presume to instruct us on Church teaching. I’m angry that an overwhelming Democratic victory in 11 days could well lead to a rollback of the few legislative protections for the unborn that currently exist.
It’s because of these facts that I can imagine a situation in which the argument I outlined above would convince me to simply walk away from the voting booth in disgust. But the argument would have to come from someone with a degree of credibility, someone capable of outrage over things that should outrage us, not merely as Catholics but as citizens. It’s certainly not going to come from those who have spent the last eight years making excuses for the current administration.
The best thing I’ve read on the election so far this year was an essay in America written by theologian Fr. Brian Bransfield, the incoming executive director of the USCCB’s Secretariat on Evangelization and Catechesis. Reflecting on a passage of Faithful Citizenship that has received a great deal of attention, Bransfield writes:
The application of conscience is often difficult: “There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil” (No. 35). It should be exceedingly rare that a person discerns, after continued guidance, “grave moral reasons” to vote for a candidate who holds an unacceptable position. Evidence of “grave moral reasons” to vote for such a candidate must be overwhelming. To resort to such a measure means that the voting booth itself becomes an agony, reflective of society in no small way, and is left moist with the tears of one who could otherwise find no way through.Bransfield’s understanding of the “agony” of the voting booth is what I find missing from the other statements on the election that I have read. He seems to understand how truly difficult and even soul-rending this decision-making process can be. He is able to enter imaginatively into that situation and offer counsel that connects with the individual’s struggle to understand the truth. That is what good teaching does. We need more of it.