Conservatives Electing Hillary

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There's a debate going on about whether conservatives who refuse to vote for Rudy Giuliani to prevent a Hillary Clinton president are responsible if, because of that refusal, Hillary Clinton becomes president. I would have thought that the answer to this question is an obvious yes. But Joe Carter presents a contrary argument. His argument is basically as follows:

1. Only those who positively vote for someone could be responsible for that person winning.
2. People not voting or voting for a third-party candidate are not positively voting for Hillary Clinton.
3. Therefore, people not voting or voting for a third-party candidate could not be responsible if Hillary Clinton wins.

The first premise is flatly false. If a large enough voting bloc en masse decides not to prevent someone they see as the worse of two evils from being elected, and their influence prevents the lesser of two evils from being elected, then they are indeed responsible for the election of the worse of two evils. They might argue that it's still wrong to vote for the lesser of two evils. They might insist that being responsible for the worse of two evils winning is ok, since it would require doing something they believe to be immoral to achieve a different outcome. But the one position that Jop does actually say is just plain untenable.

Here is, according to the hypothetical, a group who could put Giuliani over the top to win, but because they didn't vote or voted for a third candidate Hillary Clinton wins. In that hypothetical, their not voting or voting third-party does indeed cause the Clinton victory. They are indeed responsible as a group, because the group did have the power to prevent that outcome and didn't use it.

Now it seems the rest of Joe's post is dedicated to defending the following claim. The people really to blame are GOP primary voters who put people like him in a position where both parties have candidates he won't vote for. If they had voted differently in the primary, then that wouldn't happen. Joe is correct, but that doesn't mean that the subsequent act of social conservatives to refuse to do what's now in their power to prevent a Hillary Clinton presidency is free from the same moral evaluation. Just because someone puts you in a tough position doesn't mean you don't have to do what's right in that tough position. You still have to make a moral choice, and you are responsible for your choice and its foreseeable consequences.

10 Comments

Ahh, yes. Here we are faced with a system of logic that justifies the compromise of absolute principles on the basis of blame (responsibility). According to that writer, it's best to compromise personal values to keep the worse of two evils out.

What's the agenda here? Is this really about keeping Hilary out, or is it about getting the Democrat in Repiblican clothing in? Is this about keeping the libertarian party from gaining more power in Congress?

I would say that each individual should continue along the track of voting one's conscience. If your conscience has no qualms with compromising absolute values of honesty and morality, then that's exactly what you'll do.

When the bad things arrive from the bad policies of the likes of Clinton, et al, then I can walk forward with the confidence that I did indeed vote for the candidate who would have best represented God's values. The idea that I shoulder partial blame for Clinton getting into office is absurd, given that my vote was cast in favor of a truly good candidate. The two major parties don't play any part in casting the blame upon my shoulders. Both parties are suspect for many wrongs and evil compromises.

It took both the Republicans and the Democrats to get this country into the mess we currently face. Beyond that fact, the blame has no power nor target.

Romans 3:8 -- 8 "And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just."

You say that the first premise is "flatly false." But how far should we take it? If we were given the choice between Stalin and Hitler, would we have to choose one because the other would be worse? If we didn't would we be responsible for that person being elected?

There are a lot of things that people can do to prevent an evil from occurring. Are you saying that by not doing so they are always responsible for that evil occurring?

Ahh, yes. Here we are faced with a system of logic that justifies the compromise of absolute principles on the basis of blame (responsibility). According to that writer, it's best to compromise personal values to keep the worse of two evils out.

Ahh, no. Thanks for playing, but I've already done that one.

Joe, I think the above link in my response to Darrel also deals with your concern, but I'll say a couple things here anyway. As I argued in that post, it depends entirely on how bad the bad is and how much different the two unfortunate consequences are. I don't see a huge amount of difference between Hitler and Stalin, because they're both really, really bad. In fact, they're both much, much worse than any candidate from either party this time around, even Ron Paul.

I'd gladly vote for Mike Gravel or Dennis Kucinich to prevent a Hitler or Stalin becoming president, and I think anyone who wouldn't is committing a gravely (no pun intended) immoral act. Those guys stand against a lot of things that I think are right and for a lot of things that I think are wrong, but they frankly wouldn't be disastrous in the same way that it would be disastrous for the country to elect someone like Hitler or Stalin.

I think one of the problems is that we need to distinguish two kinds of responsibility. You said that social conservatives refusing to vote wouldn't be responsible for Hillary being elect, but there's a plain sense in which they would be. They would be causally responsible in the sense that if they had voted for Giuliani she would have lost.

A better response would be to argue that, while this sort of reason for not voting makes one partly causally responsible for electing Clinton, it is nonetheless wrong to do so, and thus we should excuse such an act or justify it based on the moral wrongness of voting for Giuliani. That sort of view doesn't succumb to my objection (at least not the one I'm giving in this post). In other words, what you should be trying to argue for is the conclusion that being causally responsible doesn't make one morally responsible. I don't think this is such a case, but that's what you need to argue. I don't think saying that there's no responsibility is really a plausible claim.

There are a lot of things that people can do to prevent an evil from occurring. Are you saying that by not doing so they are always responsible for that evil occurring?

Causally, yes. Morally, it depends on whether the things they can do are morally justifiable in the situation. I don't think voting for Giuliani in the primary is as easily going to count as justifiable, but I do think voting for him over Clinton in the general election will be if he gets the GOP nod. The main moral view behind what I'm saying is outlined in the link above in a much better way than I could hope to do in a comment.

***They would be causally responsible in the sense that if they had voted for Giuliani she would have lost.***

Okay, to some extent I can see that. The problem I think is that it is saying that social conservatives are to blame if they vote for him and they're to blame if they don't vote for him. That's a peculiar dilemma.

social conservatives are to blame if they vote for him and they're to blame if they don't vote for him.

I'm not suggesting that anyone should believe both those things. What I'm suggesting is that you'll need an argument for the first thesis if you want to undermine the second and vice versa. I've tried to argue for the second. You should want to argue for the first.

However, that's not what your argument was. You were arguing instead that someone else is responsible for social conservatives' not voting for him, which is compatible with social conservatives' also being responsible for their not voting for him. The fact that A is responsible for X doesn't mean B isn't also responsible for X. To argue that B is not responsible for X, you need to say more than that A is responsible for X. That's my point in this post.

A social conservative might believe that causing the election of Hillary is better in the long-term than giving up their principles and voting for a bad Republican candidate.

Social conservatives could rightly believe that Rudy Giuliani could cause more long-term damage to Republican and social conservative causes than Hillary.

If so than staying out or voting for a third party would be a blameless act.

Yes, those would all satisfy what I'm asking for. I think those beliefs would all be false, but any of them would at least be an argument rather than what seems to me to be a dodge.

Similarly, social conservatives could believe that the damage done to pro-life causes by Hillary Clinton would be enough worse than one president from a largely pro-life party who happens not to be pro-life, which would go the other way. Social conservatives could also believe that the pro-life cause is one important issue among many and that some of the other ones are also important enough that having a president who is much worse on the other issues and only a little worse on social conservative issues would be enough worse that it's better even in the long run to have another instance of a pro-choice politician occupying a position in a largely pro-life party. (It would almost certainly remain largely pro-life over the course of that pro-choice president's tenure. It's not as if the GOP has ceased to be against the kind of thing Bush has been pushing with immigration simply because the president holds idiosyncratic views on that issue.)

Both kinds of arguments discuss the moral implications of voting a certain way, taking into account the consequences of one's vote. That's what I don't think Joe's argument includes. It's merely structural, and it's a structure that dodges the blame, pushing it off on someone else who does also cause the consequence, someone else who also causes the consequence non-deliberately, I must add. I disagree with the stronger argument, as I've explained several times in the past, but it's at least an argument. This game theory point that Joe is making just seems to me to sidestep the important issues by discounting one's responsibility to consider the consequences of one's choices as at least a moral factor.

Another implicit assumption is that voting is a duty and not just a right.

If voting is a duty than not voting is wrong in and of itself.

If voting is a right than seeing no acceptable candidates, you could withdraw from the voting process until a good candidate was presented again.

Is voting for an immoral candidate a sin?
If it is than the consequences of not voting are irrelevant.

Yes, I would argue (and have argued) that voting is a duty. But that is one of the assumptions here.

I think what I'd argue is that Giuliani is an acceptable but not an ideal candidate. I'd say the same of Hillary Clinton. No one is perfectly ideal, and some are more ideal than others. These two are less ideal than my favored candidates. Giuliani is the more ideal of the two. But neither is ideal, and either is acceptable. So it would be wrong not to vote at all and morally obligatory to vote for one of them over someone worse.

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