Does the right's support of Brown mean an end to the "non-negotiable" framework of voting?

Brown won and now everyone gives their opinion on what this means. Usually their opinion can be summarized as “See! I was right all along! Victory shall soon be mine!…er, ours!”

How to interpret events is a tricky business, especially when they’re so unexpected. I was very surprised to see my facebook page light up with many congratulations and celebrations from pro-lifers, despite the fact that Brown is pro-abortion.

Presumably this celebration can be explained because of what Brown’s election will mean to the pro-life movement: namely, the probable death of the health care bill (though in truth, I’m kind of disappointed that it may die now instead of putting the pro-life Democrats to the test to see if they would be strong enough to kill it. Then again, they still may be put to that test and I should just be glad that the Planned Parenthood Stimulus bill seems destined to the oblivion of nothingness it so richly deserves). But still we have to ask the question: what to make of so many pro-lifers supporting Brown?

There are a few ideas, I’ll toss out a few of them with their names (names I just gave them, to take a cue from Russell inUp

Theory 1: the Pessimist. This reveals how closely wedded Catholics & pro-lifers are to the Republican party. They are willing to abandon their ideals in favor of party politics; preferring no health care in pursuit of fiscal conservativism rather than a true pro-life agenda.

Theory 2: The Apologist. This election just shows that pro-lifers can be prudent and can be pragmatic. (I think our own Matt Bowman gives us this position in his post).

Theory 3: The Liberal-This election shows that Catholics can put aside their abortion opposition, so hopefully this will lead to more a left-leaning and left voting Catholicism.

Now, it’s hard to sort out which of these is true, in part b/c I think a little of each is true. There are certainly many pro-lifers who have sold out to the Republican party, believing the party line that abortion will end only w/ Republican victory, and so Republican victory is the goal. But I tend to think that this is a small group (and the 08 election and the lack of enthusiasm for McCain may validate that). And the apologist is true; the pro-life movement did show prudence in holding their noses and cheering, supporting, and even voting for a pro-abort in order to make sure Coakley went down. But this is a different line from what we are used to hearing (which gives “The Liberal” some hope and grain of truth).

We used to hear that abortion was a “non-negotiable” and that any candidate who favored abortion rights shouldn’t be voted for. There wasn’t any exceptions for if both candidates had abortion; instead the argument was that if you voted for the candidate you voted for the abortion policies.

That’s going to be a much harder argument to make now that the pro-life movement just supported Brown (and I do agree with those criticizing pro-life groups for pushing Brown; attack Coakley but don’t support Brown that way you can not be entangled and try to get a pro-lifer next time). I think it may be fair to say that from the Catholic angle, that Catholics are ditching the “non-negotiable” approach.

So this isn’t merely “how we’ve always worked” as the Apologist might say. Is this a bad thing though? Will this mean more GOP loyalty as the Pessimist thinks or a chance for Democrats as the Liberal hopes?

I don’t think either. Instead, it’s about time this framework vanished. It’s unworkable in modern politics. When the GOP was pro-life and the Dems were pro-abort, then sure. But now we have too many Republicans merely paying lip service to abortion and family values; pro-lifers competing in red states in different parties and pro-aborts competing against each other in blue states, not to mention the left’s (rather astute) observation that Republicans post 9/11 are very much into the intrinsically evil stuff as well (see Bay, Guantanamo).

Indeed, this is exactly the kind of framework that Cardinal Ratzinger was encouraging in his famous letter addressing in part voting on abortion. The relevant part

[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.]

I think many Catholics have been wary of applying this b/c of the gross abuse it has received by the left to justify voting for terrible candidates (including Coakley). “Proportionate reasons” is a much more difficult test than say “non-negotiable” in forming and defending a voting decision.

But it’s a test that pro-lifers need to embrace. We should be eager to demonstrate that abortion is so damaging that there exists almost no issues that outweigh its damage, hence making the “proportionate reasons” that Benedict calls for impossible. Besides the liberty of not being beholden to a candidate if they merely lip the words “against abortion,” it allows us to argue why abortion is THE political issue of our time. Saying it’s the most important issue b/c it’s intrinsically evil or b/c it kills so many is true but lazy. The destruction abortion has wrought in such areas as racism, sexism, the family unit, homosexuality, poverty, etc are areas that desperately need to be explored, explained and defended by every pro-lifer. Benedict XVI has given us a great example in his latest encyclical Caritas in Veritate, which connects so many issues to the loss of human dignity, a loss reinforced so much by abortion.

This moment is then a great opportunity for the pro-life movement to embrace an intellectual rigorous and prosperous approach to defending the pro-life vote, and approach that I think will help broaden our appeal, untie our fortunes from that of the GOP, and ultimately achieve our goals of an end to legal abortion and a pro-life culture.



5 thoughts on “Does the right's support of Brown mean an end to the "non-negotiable" framework of voting?

  1. warm-hearted answers i like it

  2. JonM says:

    As a (traditional, not neo) conservative, it was truly devastating to see the enthusiasm heaped on Mr. Brown’s campaign.
    Any disinterested party could clearly see that this was an example of many in the pro-life movement committing blatant hypocrisy. After years of correctly criticizing dissident Catholics for supporting pro-abortion candidates, abortion foes endorsed a non-apologetic supporter of the most evil practice.
    Some of those who indicated support for Mr. Brown shocked me.
    The mental gymnastics involved to explain away support for Mr. Brown are even worse than the silliness involved in circumventing clearly defined Just War Doctrine.
    In the end, this will only have the effect of our adversaries charging us with total hypocrisy (and sadly they are right), a pro-death senator, future compromise if the candidate has a capital R in front of his name, and of course chastisement from God.
    What moral ground does a Brown supporter have to demand excommunication of someone like Mrs. Pelosi or Mr. Biden? A Brown supporter, who knew he was pro-abortion and supported him anyway, committed a grievous act against the faith for a stupid temporal measure of increasing Republicans in the Senate.
    Please read Dante to understand how serious placing politics ahead of God is.

  3. Donald R. McClarey says:

    In regard to abortion, Coakley was manifestly worse than Brown in opposing parental notification laws, supporting partial birth abortion and supporting federal funding of abortion. She also charmingly suggested that faithful Catholics should not work in ERs for fear that emergeny “contraception” would not be given to rape victims. It would definitely have been for me, if I had lived in Massachusetts, a hold my nose vote for Brown, but it would have been a two fisted vote against Coakley.

  4. Jay Anderson says:

    Good post, Michael.

    However, I’m not sure the “non-negotiable” approach is necessarily as described (although I think some people pushing the non-negotiable approach seem to argue that). What the Holy Father has stated regarding issues that are “not negotiable”, and what the Bishops seemed to confirm in Faithful Citizenship, is that issues like abortion, marriage, and the right of parents to control their children’s education (to name 3 items that the Pope has stated are “not negotiable”) can’t be treated as just some important items amongside a lot of other important items. When we vote, these items must be forefront in our minds and command priority. They can’t be swept aside because someone thinks a candidate is better overall on other important issues to Catholics (such as war, health care, welfare programs, etc.). In that sense, abortion, marriage, etc. can’t be “negotiated away” because we might prefer a candidate’s position on those other issue.

    If the “non negotiable” position meant that Catholics could NEVER vote for a candidate who countenance abortion, we would rarely be able to participate in the political process since even allegedly “pro-life” candidates generally allow for some exceptions to banning abortion. Unfortunately, there are very few “perfect” pro-life candidates out there. So, to some extent, even the non-negotiable position encompasses some level of pragmatism and prudence.

    Faithful Citizenship even explicitly provides guidance for these situations:

    “36. When all candidates hold a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, the conscientious voter faces a dilemma. The voter may decide to take the extraordinary step of not voting for any candidate or, after careful deliberation, may decide to vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods.
    37. In making these decisions, it is essential for Catholics to be guided by a well-formed conscience that recognizes that all issues do not carry the same moral weight and that the moral obligation to oppose intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions. These decisions should take into account a candidate’s commitments, character, integrity, and ability to influence a given issue.”

    And, as Tom Kreitzberg from the Disputations blog pointed out yesterday in a comment at Vox Nova, even the 2004 “Voter’s Guide for Serious Catholics” that popularized the “five non-negotioable issues” included this paragraph:

    “In some political races, each candidate takes a wrong position on one or more of the five non-negotiables. 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.”

    So, I think there’s some nuance even in the “non-negotiable” approach that allows for pragmatism when neither candidate is “perfect” on the issues of primary importance to Catholics

  5. Matt Bowman says:

    Thanks for the shout-out Michael, although I want to add a nuance. Certainly I relied on Pope Benedict’s comment in my column, so to that extent I offered a *potential* justification for supporting Brown. However, I think the apologist category falls more to our own Justin Aquila than to me. My column, and my opinion, does not embrace the Scott Browns of the world, but neither is as Justin calls it an “all or nothing” view. I think a fourth category might be called “the Specialist,” one who goes into a pro-abortion vs. pro-abortion situation and neither endorses Brown as the Pessimist or Apologist would do, nor endorses Coakley as the liberal Catholic, but simply opposes Coakley’s extremism without positively supporting Brown. I think our own CVA took a stance with this description, as did many pro-life leaders. In the realm of ideas, I might put it this way. There are people who think “you can never vote for a pro-abortion candidate” even if he is running against his clone but is different on a significant issue. I think Pope B’s quote above excludes this view. There are liberals who think that because you cah sometimes vote for the pro-abortion candidate, you can always vote for him, even if his opponent is pro-life–this violates proportionality and gravity. There are people (the Apologist? but not necessarily Justin) who think that because you *can* sometimes vote for the better pro-abortion v, worse pro-abortion candidate, you *should* usually or always do so–forgetting that even if you are in the realm of *possibility*, the mere scandal of a pro-life group endorsing a pro-abortion candidate and the potential long term effects of that itself also has to be added to the moral calculus and may well carry the day. I advocate a fourth category, that says yes “you can never vote for a pro-abortion candidate” IF he is running against a viable pro-lifer, because of proportionality, AND even if you *can* vote for one against another pro-abortion candidate, you might get the same bang for your buck (while reducing scandal) if you simply stay quiet and refrain from supporting the better pro-abortion candidate while publicly opposing the worse pro-abortion candidate. So all that is to say, I am with you in saying we need to embrace proportionality, but you have to realize that the analysis isn’t pure proportionality or pure non-negotiability: it is a two step approach, first on non-negotiability and only then, as a tiebreaker between two pro-abortion candidates, proportionality, but which itself includes the full range of options like working to oppose the greater evil even while not endorsing the lesser.

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