Inattentive Catholics For Obama

A curtsy to Prof. K. for sending me another Prof. K's (Kmiec) response to the responses to his Reaganites for Obama op-ed. Kmiec does one good thing in the new article, which is quarrel with the view --held by frustratingly many practicing Catholics-- that in Catholic teaching one must never, never, ever, ever, never, never, ever cast a vote for a "pro-choice" candidate. That is not Church teaching. The relevant documentation for what I assert following is here (#72-74); here and here.

Church teaching is that the defense of life from conception to natural death is the pre-eminent issue, for the obvious reason that the right to life is the premise of any other rights or programs we care to speak of. However, the Church also preaches the exercise of the virtue of prudence, which means Catholics are expected to vote in the way that will best advance the culture of life in the best case scenario, or protect it from harm in a worse case. It is a fault against prudence to cast a vote for a pro-life candidate blindly, merely because of the label. One is not obligated to vote for Stalin because he's anti-abortion (which he was), even if he runs against a pro-choice candidate. One is not obligated to cast no vote as between Stalin and a pro-choice candidate because the other guy's pro-choice. One is not obligated to vote for a 3rd party with the likely effect of electing Stalin. The obligation is to cast the vote that will best advance, or when advancement isn't possible protect, or when protection isn't possible, do least harm to the culture of life. You can't vote for Mussolini to make the trains run on time, but it might be obligatory to vote for him if the other choice is Hitler.

Catholics are, however, expected to form their consciences according to a hierarchy of truths --again, with the defense of life being the most important issue. A second time in this new piece, Kmiec treats the death penalty as equal in importance to abortion, a thing the Pope explicitly denies. How many times must we point it out?
Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia....There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.
Here as in his original piece Kmiec goes through a litany of issues that can only be of secondary importance to Catholics --the death penalty explicitly so-- and I stand by my original argument that the litany favors McCain more than Obama anyway, especially if one takes the non-negotiable Catholic doctrine of subsidiarity into account (and B-16 has written eloquently on this principle in both of his encyclicals).

The only argument that cuts is the question of the war, because that's the only issue serious enough to potentially overcome the obligation to vote pro-life (Obama as President would be a disaster on the life issues, as I describe here, far beyond his personally being the most radical pro-abortion candidate for President we've ever had). Kmiec takes --or toys with --the view that McCain's support for the war makes him a non-starter, and if one is convinced that the continued conduct of the war in Iraq is an intrinsic evil and seriously harmful to the good of the country, that would probably constitute a legitimate reason in Catholic teaching to vote Obama instead of McCain.

I would only point out that the war-trumps-abortion in conscience argument cuts both ways, since there can be "legitimate diversity of opinion" on the matter. The seriousness of the threat and the advisability of waging war are matters of judgment on which people who agree on the principles involved may look at facts and reach different conclusions (see this debate, eg). Many pro-life, orthodox, pope-loving Catholics were prepared in the early days to consider a Giuliani campaign not because they were any less pro-life, but precisely because of the seriousness of the threat of jihadism. These Catholics weren't throwing over their Catholic identity, but making a Lincolnesque judgment that the existence of the country was a question prior to the laws of the country --as Lincoln defended the Union first, and liberated the slaves secondarily.

Furthermore, as I pointed out in my original post, the Pope & the US bishops are not calling for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq as Mr. Obama is.
The grave moral concerns we and others raised prior to the war now give way to new moral questions. In the current situation the traditional principles of “noncombatant immunity” and “probability of success” suggest these questions: How can we minimize the further loss of human lives? What actions will do the most good and least harm? What elements of a responsible transition are attainable? How can they be achieved? What actions should be avoided? How can decision makers take into account both the realities and setbacks in Iraq and the likely human consequences of rapid withdrawal?
Mr. Obama, by contrast, has said he will bring the troops home right away and that possible genocide shouldn't be any part of our considerations there --does Kmiec care to argue that squares with Catholic teaching or Vatican policy? So Kmiec is correct about what the Church requires of voters, but in my view making a terrible misapplication of it in order to lead others into error. He cannot be serious.

Update: Any analysis of candidates' foreign policy has, as the US Bishops rightly point out, to take account of the facts on the ground now --see this wonderful CNN piece (curtsy: NRO) on Fallujah-- and not be a re-fighting of the argument about whether the war should have begun in the first place. We're there: the question is what is moral to do now.