Saturday, March 08, 2008

On the Necessity of Voting for the Candidate Who is the "Lesser of Two Evils"

Edits: A few small edits for clarity and the addition of two paragraphs before the concluding one. (And an edit to this disclaimer so I could clarify which two paragraphs were the ones I added.)

In the current race for the next President of the United States it is almost certain that John McCain will be the Republican candidate, while it is certain that either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic candidate. I will not vote for any of these candidates. I do not believe that any of them will do what is necessary to protect the unborn. (McCain supports some forms of embryonic stem cell research and I do not trust him to appoint the kind of judges necessary.1 The problems with both Democratic candidates are, I trust, obvious.) I think all three candidates will use their influence and authority over foreign policy in imprudent and unjust ways. I think all three candidates will use their influence and authority over domestic policy in imprudent and unjust ways.

Now, some would argue that I have a duty to vote for McCain because he is the "lesser of two evils." I think this is false. I think it would be false even if we could adequately agree on a way to quantify the evil of the positions of all three candidates--and I am not at all certain that this is possible. To examine this, let us examine how my vote can effect the outcome of the election

1) Not voting for McCain is not the same thing as voting for the Democrat. If I vote for McCain, I add one vote to his total. If I vote for the Democrat I add one vote to his total. If I vote for neither candidate, I do not add a vote to either candidate's total. Thus, if I do not vote, then neither McCain nor the Democrat's lead or lack thereof is effected in any way. This is not the same outcome as my voting for the Democrat. If I voted for the Democrat, then I would lessen McCain's lead or increase McCain's trailing by one vote.

2) If my vote is the vote that costs McCain the election, then it is impossible for my vote to have been the one to give him the election. If my vote were the single vote that cost McCain the election, then it would be necessary for McCain to have the lost by only one vote. If this is so, then voting for McCain would not give him victory but would only give him a tie with the Democrat. In the same way, if my vote would have won the election for McCain, then my not voting for him will not result in a Democratic victory. It will instead result in a tie. In either case the tie would have to be broken in accordance with the law, something that may or may not be in McCain's favor for any number of reasons. Moreover, the likelihood of such a situation is extremely improbable. It is extremely improbable that my vote will be either the one that failed to give McCain victory or the one that allowed him to be defeated.

3) The national popular vote is not what matters anyway. In truth, the worst my not voting for McCain could do is give the Democratic candidate Pennsylvania's Electoral votes. Pennsylvania currently has 21 votes in the Electoral College. This is certainly not a completely insignificant number, as it is one of the largest number of Electoral votes for a state. But neither does the loss of Pennsylvania mean the loss of the Electoral vote. President Bush failed to win Pennsylvania in both his successful Presidential elections. Thus, everything I said in point 2 still holds, but for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania rather than for the country as a whole.2 For my vote to be responsible for McCain's loss of the Presidential election, it would not only have to be true that McCain lost Pennsylvania by only one vote--which, again, is completely improbable--but you would have to prove that is was specifically Pennsylvania's Electoral votes that cost him the Electoral College. But this would seem to be impossible to do, since all the Electors vote at the same time and it is no guarantee that any of the Electors will be faithful. The best chance you would have for arguing that Pennsylvania's Electoral votes were the deciding ones would be if the Democrat won Pennsylvania and won the Electoral College by 21 votes. But for the strongest case, the Democrat would also have to not win any other states whose total electoral votes can be added up to 21. This would include, first and foremost, losing Illinois, which also has 21 electoral votes. And the Democrats have won Illinois in the last two Presidential elections.

Now, since nothing about my choosing to vote for a third party candidate, a write-in candidate or to abstain from voting would require that I will the victory of the Democratic Presidential candidate, let alone require that I will said candidate's evil policy, there is no way that it is formal cooperation with evil. I can, in fact, guarantee that it will not be formal cooperation with evil, since I will not will the victory of the Democratic Presidential candidate--let alone their evil policies--for any reason. Thus, I cannot be said to formally cooperate with evil.

It is also true that my action cannot be said to be immediate material cooperation with evil. For it to be immediate material cooperation evil I would have to act in a way that is necessary for the implementation of the Democratic candidates evil policies. But even if McCain loses Pennsylvania's Electoral votes by one popular vote, and loses the vote in the Electoral College by 21 votes, and the situation is such that it is only Pennsylvania's Electoral votes could be responsible for McCain's loss in the Electoral College, it would still not be true that it is my vote specifically that was necessary for the victory of the Democratic candidate and thus responsible for the implementation of their evil policies. This is because the situation that exists during an election is fluid and one where no particular voter can know all circumstances and variables at the time of his vote, so his vote, when it is cast, cannot be called the exact vote that necessitates the victory of one candidate or the other. But to say that my vote was the one that gave victory to the Democratic candidate would be to treat all other votes as a static existing situation that I can know, which would be false. Moreover, even in the improbable situation outlined above, it would be just as true to say that one of the people who voted for the Democratic candidate was the one whose vote necessitated said candidates victory. And which one would this be? The last one to vote in the entire state? How could any voter know if that was the situation? Thus there is no way to say that my vote or any vote could be immediate material cooperation with evil.

Thus, my vote--or any vote were the voter does not will both the election of the candidate they vote for and the candidates evil policies--can at worst be considered remote material cooperation with evil. And remote material cooperation can be licit if there is a proportionately serious reason for the cooperation, and the importance of the reason for cooperation is proportionate to the causal proximity of the cooperator’s action to the action of the principal agent and there is no danger of scandal. As to the first, I am seeking to avoid the grave evils I believe the other candidates will commit by not supporting them with a vote and--in the case of voting for a third party or write-in candidate--by voting for a candidate who I believe will not be responsible for any evil policies, but will rather work to end of evil policies that are already in place and work to implement policies that will work in favor of the common good. As to the second, with all that has previously been stated it should be obvious that my particular vote is causally remote from the actual election of any particular candidate. As to the third, no one has a right to know how I voted and in talking about it here I have stated explicitly that I will in no way be willing the evil policies of any Presidential candidate when I cast my vote. I do not will any of their immoral policies on abortion, embryonic stem cell research, homosexual "marriage" and adoption, waging an unjust war &c. Because of this, I cannot see how my vote would cause the danger of scandal--inciting or tempting another to commit a morally wrongful act--since I in no way make any excuses for the only action that can be considered immoral and sinful without a doubt, viz. formally cooperating with evil by willing the implementation of a candidates evil policies.

All these considerations have been in light of my understanding of the principles involved in determining whether or not an act is formal or material cooperation with evil. My conclusion is especially influenced by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger's 2004 letter to Theodore Cardinal McCarrick on the general principles involved in determining whether or not a Catholic is worthy to receive Holy Communion under canon 915. In a final note, former Cardinal Ratzinger state the following:
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.
If a Catholic can vote for a candidate with such serious flaws and not be considered to have committed a grave evil as long as they did so with proportionate reasons, then one should be able to vote for a good candidate who seems unlikely to win or to abstain from voting for either candidate and not be guilty of committing a grave evil for the same reasons. In fact, since the reasons for remote material cooperation have to be proportionate to the evil one is cooperating with, one would be less likely to be guilty of a grave evil by voting for a good candidate who seems unlikely to win or to abstain from voting for either candidate than one would be if one voted for a candidate with evil policies without willing the implementation of said policies.

Keeping all that in mind, I do not think that voting for a third party/write-in candidate or abstaining from voting can even be considered remote material cooperation with evil. Here is why. Those who argue that one who votes or a third party/write-in candidate or abstains from voting is cooperating with evil say that one is doing this because by one's action one divides the vote for the candidate who is the "lesser of two evils." In so doing, the one who votes for a third party/write-in candidate or abstains from voting makes it easier for the worse candidate to win. But this argument assumes that one has the duty to vote for the "lesser of two evils" in the first place. Thus, those who argue that one has the duty to vote for the candidate who us the "lesser of two evils" assume as a premise the point they are arguing for. This is the fallacy of begging the question. And indeed, to even set up an election as a choice between only two candidates--which is what is assumed by anyone who argues that one has the duty to vote for the candidate who us the "lesser of two evil"--is to be guilty of the fallacy of the false dilemma. This should be obvious, since those arguing that one has the duty to vote for the candidate who is the "lesser of two evil" are, at least in part, arguing against those who would vote for a third party/write-in candidate or abstains from voting. Thus the argument is fallacious from the very beginning.

As a final thought, it has been my experience that all those who argue that one must vote for McCain as the "lesser of two evils" do so because "he is better than either of the two possible Democratic candidates and he is the only viable alternative." This is the same kind of thinking that got us John McCain as the (almost certain) Republican Presidential candidate in the first place. Viability is bullplop. If you listen to the talking heads of the media and the punditry and vote for the "only viable candidate," then you are the one who helps make him the only viable candidate by voting for him instead of another candidate who you actually favor. Vote for the person you think is best for the job, even if they are from a third party or need to be written in. If more people did that, then perhaps we would get better elected officials.


1. As an aside, the cry of "The judges! We need the judges!" as necessitating pro-lifers to rally around the Republican party is laughable. Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution gives Congress the authority to regulate the Supreme Court's jurisdiction. A Republican Congress could easily remove the Court's jurisdiction to rule on cases of abortion, embryonic stem cell research, &c. This would leave us with the same situation that we would be left with if Roe v Wade were overturned: fighting out the legality of abortion on a state by state basis. If you don't think the pro-life cause would win a number of important victories, I can only say I believe that you are mistaken. And nothing about such a solution would require pro-lifers to stop attempting to get an amendment respecting the personhood and right to life of human embryos added to the Constitution.

The fact that the Republican's have not tried strenuously to pass such legislation leads my to believe that they are either incompetent or they do not take the pro-life cause as seriously as they seem to imply they so. Such legislation has been put forward: HR 300, sponsored by Congressman Ron Paul. He also sponsored HR 1094, which would define life as beginning at conception. For more on Ron Paul on life, go here.

2. If there is a tie in the Electoral College or no candidate has a majority, then the President and Vice President are chosen by the House of Representatives and the Senate respectively. I have been unable to find any information on what the law is in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in the case of a tie in the Presidential popular vote.

1 comment:

Pauli said...

It may be looked upon as voting for the better of two imperfect choices rather than choosing an evil. Voting does not equal marriage or some type of deal in blood. It's outcome-based.