Asking the Wrong Question

M.Z. over at Vox Nova has a post up entitled “No you can’t wash your hands” about voting for flawed candidates. He makes a fair point insofar as both parties support policies that are in tension, if not contradiction, with Catholic Social Teaching. Voting is basically a binary choice in American politics, and in many cases voting for either candidate constitutes material cooperation with evil. However, his description of the choice facing Catholics this past election was very puzzling. Here it is:

I will not apologize for having interests besides those of the unborn. While it easy to make the claim that one is selfish for considering society’s other interests, a counterclaim can be made that it is perverse to ask people to die around the world so that abortion can be ended. Regrettably, the claim isn’t even that strong. The claim is more that we should have risked the deaths of hundreds of thousands around the world on the off chance that the courts might get around to reversing Roe and the State Legislatures might possibly prohibit it.

There are any number of valid ways to describe the differences between President-elect Obama and Senator McCain this past election, but this one struck me as, well, ridiculous. Ross Douthat, whom M.Z. quotes approvingly at the beginning of his post, remarked repeatedly during the election that the candidates were basically indistinguishable on foreign policy. Perhaps M.Z. is privy to information that I or Mr. Douthat was not, but did we really know that voting for McCain was risking the ‘deaths of hundreds of thousands around the world’? Did Obama acquire special foreign policy experience in the Ill. state senate that will make hundreds of thousands of people around the world safer? Is this type of speculation a sound basis for a prudential judgment? And is it comparable to an issue like abortion, where we can predict with near certainty what the candidates will do? I think a reasonable (if unsatisfying) case could be made that Obama was the lesser of two evils, but ungrounded speculation is a poor basis for prudential decision-making.

15 Responses to Asking the Wrong Question

  1. M.Z. says:

    Douthat was cribbing from Larison primarily, so yes I’m familiar. One of McCain’s first reactions to the tsunami in Myanmur was to state that we should send an invasionary force. Send troops is McCain’s hammer and every problem McCain sees is a nail. No, Obama isn’t a pacifist, and he may indeed have the most militaristic sympathies for a Democrat since Johnson, but he ain’t McCain.

  2. crankycon says:

    So M.Z. basically voted for a radical pro-abort because of an impression of McCain that is little more than a caricature. Meanwhile, President-Elect Infanticide has all but signaled a continuation of the “evil” Bush regime’s foreign policy, altering it in little more than rhetoric.

    Good to see one’s priorities in order.

  3. Send an invasionary force?

    As I recall, he said that we should use the Navy and Air Force to rush humanitarian aid to the area — as we have repeatedly done successfully in the past. The dictatorship in Burma didn’t want them, so basically no aid got through.

    To insist that a president McCain would have proceded to forcibly invade suggests that one is either intentionally exaggerating to the point of falsehood, or else very much carried away from reality by the hysteria of one’s new political bedfellows.

    Why the hyperbolic approach? Would “I think that the possibility of getting a few plums for union bosses and maybe even an infusion of federal cash into the Great Lakes states’ self inflicted economic black hole is plenty of reason to shelve the anti-abortion agenda” sound overly selfish?

  4. Phillip says:

    Thanks Darwin. I look forward to inflated rheotic from MZ and his ilk over at Vox Nova for the next four years.

  5. Phillip says:

    Looks like MZ responded while I was writing. Looks like he considers truth to be “cute.” Now that’s cute.

  6. j. christian says:

    Invading Myanmar? What a crock of s***! Is that the kind of ignorance that made Catholics vote for Obama?

  7. John Henry says:


    I do not think it is fair to make generalizations about everyone at VN. I wouldn’t link to them if I did not respect many (if not all) of the writers.


    No need to caricature M.Z. (even if he is caricaturing McCain). Whatever M.Z.’s reasons for supporting Obama, I think it is charitable (and probably correct) to assume they were more substantive than a desire to help union bosses.

  8. Look, MZ, I understand that you may consider that a rather unfair blow. But let’s be honest: Would you be any more likely to let me off if I’d spend six months actively trumpeting a rabidly pro-choice libertarian candidate (who proceeded to win, over an at least self proclaimedly anti-abortion progressive) and justified my choice by claiming that abortion wasn’t an active issue anyway and we desperately needed free trade and less regulation? And then when backed into a corner went over the top and claimed that the pacifism of the pro-life progressive would have resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths as a result of unforseen but doubtless inevitable circumstances in which our weakness resulted in new wars?

    Give me a break.

    While I’m willing to accept that you think that it will make very little difference who is president in regards to abortion, you can hardly be surprised at my thinking that your main motivation (discussed fairly honestly in the past) is the hope for lots of Keynsian help for your particular region — help which from my own economic perspective won’t even get you any benefit.

  9. Fair enough, John Henry. And it is your post.

    My apologies.

  10. Phillip says:

    John Henry,

    Agree. That’s why I said “…and his ilk.” Not all at VN are of his ilk. But those who are I expect will be using similar rhetoric for the next four years. And I will be correct.

  11. Well, here is McCain’s actual reflections on military intervention in Burma. He strikes me as being opposed to the idea:

    On the other hand Obama during the campaign made several statements that indicated a willingness to risk a potential military clash with Pakistan:

    How any of this justifies a vote for the most radical pro-abortion president this nation has ever had eludes me.

  12. Gerard E. says:

    My delicate eyes- and high blood pressure- compel me to avoid blogs like VN. Translations like those over here work well- sometimes the interpretations are more accurate than the original rants. So he dismisses McCain as warmonger. Oh- someone from four generations of men who have faced down war. His dad and grandpa were admirals. One son is among our heroic guys and gals in Iraq. Another son is months away from graduation at Annapolis- meaning, he may be facing battle shortly thereafter. And of course, the years of butt-kicking he underwent at the Hanoi Hilton. While Obama faced crises like oh dear I only earned a C on my law school paper. The folks who have faced down war tend to become the biggest pacifists. Because they want legit reasons for battle.

  13. jonathanjones02 says:

    Of all the VN contributers, my guess is about half supported Obama, but it may have been slightly less. I think it is indisputable that he is the most radical president or major party presidential nominee on the question of abortion in American history, and I hope he fails on any point related to it, if we may project based upon his rhetoric, promises, and supporters.

  14. Gents: It appears “M.Z.” took his ball and went home, a place where no one will bother to puncture his dorm-room fantasy world with facts or logic.

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