Single Issue Voter

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Jeremy has on occasion written about being one of the few conservatives in his very liberal academic world. My situation is just the reverse. I'm one of the few liberals in my very conservative academic world.

On Wednesday, I was in class telling my studens when a certain assignment was due: Nov 5th. On student said out loud "Nov 5th, Nov 5th. And we vote Nov 2nd." I joked "Only if you're voting for Kerry. If you're voting for Bush, your supposed to vote on the 3rd. Makes it easier to count the votes that way." (Yes, a very old and very lame joke. So sue me.) Only one person laughed. I think the rest immediately started praying for my salvation. Or maybe that I might get struck down.

After class, one of my students wanted to know why I was voting for Kerry. I started telling him all the reasons I was dissatisfied with Bush. He said "But you're just attacking Bush. You haven't said why you like Kerry." I explained that "In a two party system like this, if you don't like one candidate enough, then you either vote for the other one, or don't vote at all. I'm choosing the first option." He persisted: "But you're just attacking his record. That's not a good enough reason not to vote for him(!)." I stared at him goggle eyed, "Are you saying that if I disagree with his performance as President, I should reward him with a second term?" He said, "No. You shouldn't vote based on his record(!), you should vote for him because he shares the same morals as you(!!)."

(So much for an elctorate that votes based on issues, records and facts. Heck, we're not even voting based on character traits, charisma, or style. Now we're reduced to voting based on shared morals?)

Now it is a bit presumptuous to assume that Bush shares the same morals as I do and that Kerry doesn't. All three of us are Christian (one Methodist, one Catholic, one Baptist), and though there is a common morality we share in Christianity, there is a wide range of morality that is held to under the very large umbrella that is Christianity. But as it turns out, my confronter was only concerned about one matter of morality: abortion.

Abortion trumped all else for him. He agreed with my assesment of Bush's performance. It didn't matter. Bush is the only pro-life candidate in the race. He is voting for him. And so should I.

I told him that I just couldn't value that single issue so highly that it would outweigh the rest. But he could. He held to the following convictions: 1) The unborn are rights-bearing persons. 2) The more helpless a person is, the more imperative or necessary are the laws to protect them. 3) The unborn are the most helpless of all possible persons. Therefore, outlawing abortion is the single most important issue ever. He went so far as to say that if Hitler was the only pro-life candidate in the race, he would vote for him without hesitation.

He's certainly consistent if nothing else. I had to admire him for that.

I've long wondered if there were any pro-lifers who would take their axioms to its logical conclusion to support a theoretical pro-life Hitler. Turns out that there is at least one.

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An Encouraged Read. from Honzo, knowing that I know that I do not know anything worthwhile. on November 1, 2004 2:14 AM

I would recomend everyone going over and giving a good read-over to Jeremy and Wink's posts over at Parableman. One is for Bush, the other is for Kerry. Kerry's Legislation of Morality Single Issue Voter Why I'm not voting for... Read More


Your last sentence is ambiguous in its reference. I assume you mean there's at least one such pro-life voter and not that there's at least one pro-life Hitler.

Shared morals seems much better as a basis of a vote than character traits, charisma, or style, which really is why many voters choose someone.

I don't think Kerry deserves the name Christian. The religious group he's part of is arguably Catholic, but its belief system is closer to Shirley McClain than the Pope. He's made it clear over and over again by his misquotes and misapplications of the Bible that he doesn't read it the way a Christian should, but then many people who consider themselves evangelicals are in the same camp. (So much the worse for them. It doesn't make it any better for him. It's one thing to be just not very mature spiritually, but I don't see any recent conversion in his life from which he's still at the early stages of growth.) I'm not going to question whether someone has a genuine relationship with God in the sense of asserting otherwise without clear demonstration, but I don't see any evidence at all that Kerry does. I don't see this as a central issue the way a lot of Bush supporters do (though it's a reason I like Bush more), but I don't think I can put Kerry in the same category as Bush when it comes to Christianity.

I plan to address the weight of the abortion issue and what other factors this guy should have mentioned when I get to my post on why I'm voting for Bush. I think abortion is one of the most important issues of this election, though I agree with you that it doesn't trump the some total of every other issue to the point of electing an anti-abortion Nazi (I wouldn't call Hitler pro-life even if he opposed abortion).

I'm glad to see that no one would call Hitler pro-life. Consensus is a beautiful thing, no?

I don't want to enter into an in-house debate, but I'm just curious. Has Bush really done anything in the previous four years to advance the pro-life cause? I understand that this time around with the supreme court hanging in the balance there is some rationale for a pro-life candidate to vote Bush (so long as they endorse the axioms mentioned above--it seems that when it comes to human life in general, Kerry does better, but that's for a different occassion), but there seems to be enthusiasm from the pro-life movement that Bush has been a champion of the cause and I see nothing in his record that supports this.

In fact, I've read some Christian moralists complain that many of the social programs that have been traditional targets of Republicans have, as perhaps as unintended side effect, a decrease in the rates of unwanted pregnancy. A writer from Fuller Theological Seminary whose name I can't recall had made some evidence that supported this and I was wondering what the two of you thought about this. Has Bush earned the praise some lavish on him or does the support stem entirely from the assumption that once he has the chance, he'll appoint someone to the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade? If that's the case, shouldn't there be some criticism for his sins of omissions over the past four years? I mean, besides appointing someone to the Supreme Court, surely there is something he could have been doing to reduce the rates of abortion and from what I've heard, abortion rates rose since 2000.

Clayton, the people you're talking about are often the sort who will say that anything short of reversing Roe v. Wade is not enough, which of course reveals how little they know about what a president is constitutionally allowed to do. Their evidence is that when he was running in 2000 he said that he would favor a reversal of Roe v. Wade but didn't think the country was ready for it and wasn't going to urge moving in that direction until the people were ready to do so. For that he was deemed a pragmatist who doesn't really care about abortion and dismissed as a liberal on the issue.

Some people who say this sort of thing are basing it on the fact that he was willing to support the partial-birth abortion ban. They say that supporting something that only limits one procedure is therefore turning a blind eye to all the other abortions. The truth of the matter is that Bush is willing to do what he can to limit abortions in whatever way might succeed. Given the opposition from Democrats and pro-choice Republicans even to this measure, it's surprising even to see someone suggesting that Bush might have been able to do more.

The other issue they like to pick on him for is his stance on embryonic stem cell research. His pro-life stance requires him not to endorse killing embryos for research purposes, so he refused to allow federal funding for that research, though he didn't make it illegal. They think he should have banned it outright, though I don't think separation of powers would allow that. They think he shouldn't have alllowed use of federal funds for research on dead embryos, even though they're already dead, and we have no problem using cadavers for medical school training. It's not even as if he's allowed destroying dead embryos. That happened beforehand. The lines of stem-cells were already in existence and being used when he agreed to allow federal funding on the research.

So all the arguments against what he's done are pretty lame. He's endorsed and even pushed a number of things that pro-lifers really should like, so I just don't understand the opposition. For a list of what Bush has done, see this post. I don't know what Bush might have done that might have increased abortions, but trends on that scale may have nothing directly to do with presidents. I don't understand how anything Clinton did could have been directly behind the decrease of abortions in his eight years. I just can't see a strong argument that Bush's policies are behind the increase in abortions without a careful study, and I don't think anyone has done such a thing.

J. Budziszewski has a recent article which talks about aboortion as it relates to other issues in the election :

I've highly considered the abortion argument, and concluded that, even from an anti-abortion standpoint, the general "value of life" argument for each candidate weighs out evenly. Obviously, Kerry wins no points for being pro-choice. However, Bush wins no points either on the war arena, another area where death is the primary repurcussion. We talk casually about things like stopping the terrorists, and protecting freedom, but do not as often acknowledge the very literal death toll that results from engaging in direct war, especially that of the other side. Given that both involve an activity that results in the willful death of innocents, I throw up my hands and declare it a moral draw.

There's are some important differences, though. One is allowing killing of innocents for convenience. The other is doing something deliberately for moral purposes but with the known consequence that innocents will die as a result, often at the hands of enemies. In general, it seems pretty clear that allowing innocents to die for morally insigificant reasons is much worse than allowing them to die for morally important reasons. Yet it also seems pretty clear that deliberately doing something that leads to innocents' deaths but not intending them is worse than allowing those deaths but not intending them. You may think it comes out as a draw, but when you put the two together one important moral theory that I'm attracted to favors the combination true of Bush, and that's Thomas Aquinas' law of double effect.

Aquinas says that when you have two effects of an action, and one of them is bad, even very bad, but the other is very good, then it might be ok to do the action, even knowing the consequences. This starts to sound like utilitarianism, but I'm not sure he really intended it that way. I don't myself think that horrific actions are justified by their good effects. Yet I do think some moral principles trump others, and war seems to me to be one such area. War is bad. There's no question about that. I don't like it, and I wish it didn't need to happen. The very justification of war to begin with requires some principle like this, then. For it ever to be good to do something, knowing that it will lead to as much harm as war ever does, you have to have a pretty good moral reason for doing it.

I happen to think Bush agrees with me on this, and I happen to agree with him that there was a pretty good moral reason (more than one, really) for invading Iraq. It's far less controversial with Afghanistan. This is especially true if you go just on what Bush and the international community thought at the outset, not all of which they still believe. I don't think you can say anything like this with abortion, at least not with most convenience abortions in the United States, which is most abortions in the United States. That's why I think the comparison doesn't lead to a draw. It favors Bush, provided you make the moves I've just made.

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