At the outset, let me declare that I take seriously the Church’s teaching to be actively involved in civic life. Emily’s recent post demonstrates this movingly. We all need to do our part to inject Catholic morality into our secular culture, especially in our laws and politics. Even though I can’t proselytize in my classroom, one of the main reasons I became an economics professor was to help students (e.g., future citizens) understand the importance of free markets and political liberty (in the classical liberal sense) to a nation’s health. It is clear that Catholics need to engage secular society, to stress not only the moral importance of particular policies (and the candidates who support them), but also the importance of morality itself. These messages are carried in our conversations with family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers, and in our civic activities.
Voting has always been considered a, if not the most, noble and significant form of civic engagement. However, it always seemed odd to me that casting a ballot for a particular person, especially one who rules several hundred miles away, was given more honor than, say, convincing some of your family members about the horrors of abortion. So, even though I vote, I’ve never considered it high on the list of “important political activities.”
We have a moral obligation to vote, though, as spelled out in the Catechism (2240). But why should we vote for a particular candidate? There seem to be positive and negative reasons: either our candidate will do certain things that we like, or our candidate will not do certain things that we don’t like. I think it is much safer and more constitutionally and fiscally sound to vote for negative reasons than for positive.
I was reminded of this when reading Russ Robert’s take on Romney’s memorable line from his convention speech:
President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. MY promise…is to help you and your family.
My only problem with it is that I don’t want or expect the President of the United States to help me or my family. Or other people and their families…My view that I don’t want the President (or the government) to help me or my family often gets twisted by the left (as Ryan’s libertarian moments in his speech also were) as some kind of anarchism or rugged individualism.God forbid, if something bad happens to me, I don’t want to be on my own. I want help from family and friends and my religious community…Being against government help is not the same as being against any kind of help. Why is this so hard for people to understand? Is the misunderstanding deliberate and malicious or does it just reflect a lack of imagination?But what about people without friends or family? If government got out of the way, there would be more organizations to help people without friends and family. And we’d be better friends and better family members if government was less paternalistic.
So, I’ll be voting for Romney. Not because he’s a nice guy; I’m sure he is. Not because he is a strong leader; I’m sure he is. I’m sure Obama would probably be a decent guy if I chatted with him in my living room about our kids, and I bet he has some decent leadership qualities.
But Presidents have immensely more power to do wrong than to do right. Voting for Romney won’t make people more pro-life in their convictions; that is our job as a Church. But voting for Romney certainly will put the brakes on our blood-soaked abortion free-for-all that Obama and the Democrats have no problem with encouraging. Voting for Romney won’t make people more charitable toward their neighbor; that is our job as a Church. But voting for Romney hopefully will reduce the xenophobia and racism that manifests itself in protectionist trade policies, as evidenced in this ridiculous Obama anti-China ad which fails on multiple economic and moral dimensions.
So I’m voting for Romney. Not because he’s the lesser of two evils, but because I believe he will do the least evil. If I want someone to do good, I have only to look in the mirror to find the best candidate for that job.