Let’s face it, it’s a tough year for voters. Pundits are predicting a gloves-off, no-holds-bared, ugly fight for the White House. Even political party leaders are distancing themselves by adding disclaimers to their presidential candidate endorsements. Both major party candidates advocate policies in clear conflict with Catholic moral teaching. What’s a Catholic voter to do?
Unfortunately, opting out is not an option. Refusal to decide is a cowardly decision. Contributing to evil is sinful, and so is failure to work for justice. There’s no way out of this election, but there are ways to face up to it.
- Pray for wisdom. Pray for our nation. Pray for our world.
- Learn all you can about the candidates and their proposed policies. If you do this well, you will find the process uncomfortable – or even downright infuriating. News sources can be as polarized as the political parties themselves. It’s easy to choose sources that allow you to read and hear the news daily without ever having your opinions challenged. If you agree with every editorial comment you get from your news source, then you aren’t getting the whole story. Look for varied sources that slant the news across the whole political spectrum – and don’t kid yourself that any source is unbiased. If you let no one challenge your political opinions, you’ll never hone your political conscience.
- Check your facts. It’s charitable to assume that political candidates never deliberately lie, but it’s foolish to assume that everything they say is true. Even your favorite candidate can be mistaken. In this digitally dizzying age, misstatements can be reported, posted, tweeted, and otherwise disseminated so rapidly that before most of us have time to even wonder if a “fact” is, in fact, a fact, everyone is already commentating on it, arguing over what to do about it, and basing important decisions on it. You wouldn’t sign a contract without reading the fine print. Don’t vote for a candidate without looking for the loopholes in the rhetoric. Good places to start checking out the veracity of what you hear in the political arena are: factcheck.org and www.politifact.com.
- Read the U. S. Catholic Bishops’ document on Faithful Citizenship – or at the very least read the summary: http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/faithful-citizenship/upload/Forming-Consciences-Faithful-Citizenship-bulletin-insert.pdf. Make a list of all the issues that the U. S. bishops ask us to consider when voting, including but not limited to: abortion, genocide, torture, cloning, embryo research, direct and intentional targeting of noncombatants in war or through terrorism, the proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, euthanasia, just wages, defense of marriage, discrimination, structures of poverty, freedom of religion and conscience, the death penalty, sustainable agriculture and the elimination of global poverty and hunger, affordable and accessible health care, immigration reform, right to quality education, care of creation including steps to address climate change, etc. Note how the candidates measure up on each of these issues, not just one or two.
- Review the powers of the different branches of government and the impact that the candidates you’re considering are realistically likely to have in the areas the Catholic bishops ask us to consider. The president, for example, cannot outlaw abortion, but he or she can suggest Supreme Court justices who then in turn might find opportunities to rule on cases that impact this issue. A pro-life president, however, does not guarantee a pro-life justice’s appointment. Ronald Reagan who was staunchly pro-life, appointed Sandra Day O’Connor who was not. Currently five of the eight Supreme Court justices are Catholic, and prior to the death of Antonin Scalia it was six out of nine. Yet abortion is still legal in America. The president, however, has direct ability to order the targeting of noncombatants in war – even children, the use of torture against suspected terrorists, and the arming of nations with questionable human rights track records in exchange for economic or strategic favors. It’s important to weigh the issues themselves and to weigh the power of the office with regard to those issues.
When the election is over, the job of faithful citizenship will continue. Whoever wins will still not reflect the moral ideals of our Catholic faith. He or she will require our prayers and our active lobbying for justice. We will still need to stay informed and work hard. As I said, it's a tough year for voters, but when the going gets tough...