National Catholic Register

Opinion

What Kind of Voter Are You?

BY The Editors

October 26-November 1, 2008 Issue | Posted 10/21/08 at 11:02 AM

 

The time approaches when we must vote again. That means that pro-lifers are once again receiving two pointed criticisms: “You shouldn’t be a single-issue voter” and “What’s the point in voting pro-life when neither party is going to change the legality of abortion, anyway?”

They are both fair questions. We would like to address both by examining the alternatives. What other kinds of voters are there, and what are their track records of success?

1. The No-Issue Voter

Many voters, truth be told, aren’t single-issue voters or multi-issue voters. They are “no-issue” voters. They may vote for the candidate who seems most “presidential.” Some of these will vote for John McCain’s military service. Others will vote for Barack Obama to show pride in, and encourage, racial diversity. Some will choose McCain for being a “maverick.” Others will appreciate Obama for being a charismatic leader.

But this approach amounts to choosing the most likeable of the two, and history is rife with examples of likeable personalities who made for disastrous leaders.

2. The Partisan Voter

Americans tend to pick, and cheer for, our party affiliations in much the way we pick our favorite teams. We may be Yankees fans because our favorite uncle loved them, even though we live in Seattle. Or we may remain Cowboys fans because we identify with a certain sensibility that’s associated with them, even if we don’t like Dallas.

But political parties aren’t like teams. They embrace policy positions on matters of life and death.

Today’s Republican Party is strongly associated with a “pre-emptive” military strategy that Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have strongly opposed. Catholics in the party have an obligation to work strenuously to change that. As the Catechism puts it: “All citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war” (No. 2308).

That said, shortly before he became Pope Benedict XVI, in a letter to the archbishop of Washington, D.C., Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote: “There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.”

Today’s Democratic Party platform, heartbreakingly, calls abortion “a fundamental constitutional liberty.” Whatever the party’s strengths elsewhere, this posture is frightening and antithetical to America’s founding principles.

Instead of being loyal to parents’ party preference, we should rediscover what principles led them to embrace a political party. Those principles might be worth our loyalty, even if the party no longer is.

3. The Single-Issue Economic Voter

Often, when someone says, “Don’t be a single-issue voter,” what they really mean is: “Make the economy, not abortion, your single issue.”

To be fair, not all economic voters are concerned about their own wallets. Some want their votes to help the poor. But the problem with both is that economic issues are more complex than our votes make them out to be.

Take the last two presidents, for example. George W. Bush drew votes from “cut spending” voters, but spending skyrocketed during his time in office. Bill Clinton got votes from “higher taxes, more spending” voters, but taxes and entitlement spending were both cut while he was president.

The difference? The Congress. George W. Bush had a spending-happy Congress. He cooperated with them. Bill Clinton had a “Contract With America” Congress that pledged to balance the budget. He cooperated, too.

If the federal budget is largely out of the president’s hands, the economy at large is even less controllable. That’s not to say a president’s economic stance is unimportant — it’s just that you won’t get much return on your voting investment if the economy is your single issue.

Even if you’re voting to fight poverty, your vote might not do what you want it to. Those who voted for Lyndon Johnson because they liked his war on poverty saw poverty rise (according to the Census Bureau) during his presidency, while those who voted against Ronald Reagan because they thought he would hurt the poor, saw poverty fall.

4. The Single-Issue Right-to-Life Voter

And so we come to the single-issue abortion voter.

If we tend to over-simplify the economy to justify our vote for a candidate, we tend to over-complicate the right to life. We would never vote for someone who was pro-slavery, simply because slavery is wrong, no matter what. Abortion is like that.

And, while voting for a president based on his view of the economy will have unpredictable results, we know what we’ll avoid if we vote for the more pro-life candidate. Voting for a president who favors abortion would give us:

• At least two more Supreme Court justices who consider abortion a right, plus more than a hundred federal court appointments to foul our justice system for another 50 years,

• federally funded cloning and “chimera” research,

• federally funded abortion on demand,

• abortion in military hospitals,

• federally funded abortion overseas,

• “the Freedom of Choice Act” (FOCA), wiping all state pro-life laws off the books,

• some form of nationalized health care that would allow the government, not individuals, to decide which high-risk pregnancies or humane end-of-life care decisions are worth covering.

Some make the argument here that we made about the economic voter above: They say Washington isn’t the place to fight for the right to life: our own neighborhoods are.

That’s an excellent point, and one pro-lifers have taken seriously. Today, it is the pro-lifers who staff crisis-pregnancy centers across the country, serving women in trouble. That’s a job pro-lifers should take up every day.

Voting the right to life is a job they need to take up on Nov. 4.

See also: "McCain and Obama on 'Catholic' Issues"