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Scott P. Richert

The Lesser of Two Evils: The Definition of Insanity

By November 13, 2012

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No sooner had I posted A Catholic Agenda for the Next Four Years than the predictable comments started rolling in—e.g., "[T]here are many tenets of Catholicism that would forbid a Catholic to vote Romney. Single issue politics is shallow thinking"; "It is interesting that you think Mitt Romney and his Mormon beliefs are a reflection of my Catholic beliefs, or that the Republican Party is on the Catholic Church’s side."

Of course, my article had nothing to do with "single issue politics," nor did it suggest that "Mitt Romney and his Mormon beliefs are a reflection of my Catholic beliefs, or that the Republican Party is on the Catholic Church’s side." Indeed, quite the opposite: While I pointed out that President Obama's support for the intrinsic evil of abortion meant that no Catholic could vote for him in good conscience without having a proportionate reason to do so, I also stated bluntly that neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney "reflected (albeit in different ways) Catholic social and moral teaching," and suggested (as I have for years) that "the only way to change the political landscape in the long term is to break out of the mindset that we must vote for the lesser of two evils, and only cast our votes for candidates whom we can positively support." (I voted for neither Obama nor Romney, just as I voted for neither McCain nor Obama, because, on the basis of Catholic social and moral teaching, I could not positively support any of them.)

Since my words were perfectly clear, why did some commenters assume incorrectly that I had supported Mitt Romney and the Republicans? The answer may be that they simply did not bother to read the entire article before commenting. That, alas, is fairly common behavior on the World Wide Web. But I suspect the real answer lies deeper: that these commenters, like all too many Americans today, both Catholic and non-Catholic, are so caught up in the two-party system that they cannot begin to comprehend how anyone can choose not to vote for the lesser of two evils.

Before I continue, let me make one thing clear: My academic specialty is political theory, and I am the executive editor of a national magazine that spills a lot of ink discussing national politics. So I'm not someone who has convinced himself, in the face of all the evidence to the contrary, that a third party is going to come along and wipe one or both of the two current major parties from the political scene. It's been almost one and three-quarters centuries since that last happened; for good or ill (mostly ill), we're stuck with the Democratic and Republican parties for the foreseeable future.

So any political strategy designed to bring Catholic influence on U.S. national politics back in line with our numbers (25 percent of all votes in the 2012 presidential election were cast by Catholics, and 11 percent were cast by Catholics who attend Mass weekly) needs to acknowledge the fact that the Democrats and Republicans aren't going anywhere. But, I would argue (and have argued for years), we need to acknowledge another fact: Neither major party reflects Catholic social and moral teaching in its totality. Or, even, in significant part.

Whose fault is that? Simply look in the mirror. Catholics who understand the Church's teaching about cooperation with those who support an intrinsic moral evil such as abortion have voted, largely, for Republican presidential candidates who profess their support for pro-life principles but do nothing, once elected, to curtail abortion, much less revisit Roe v. Wade. (And who even, as both John McCain and Mitt Romney did, make it clear during the general election that they regard Roe v. Wade as "settled law.") Other Catholics, including some who do support the Church's teaching on abortion, recognize this deliberate Republican inaction and use it as an excuse to vote for pro-abortion Democratic candidates who say all the right things about torture (another intrinsic evil) and wars that two consecutive popes have opposed, yet, once elected, continue or even escalate those wars and renege on their campaign promises to end torture of prisoners.

And so it goes, election after election, with Catholic voters on both sides of the aisle becoming "sure votes" for either the Republican or Democratic Party, and both parties straying further and further every election from the sanity of Catholic social and moral teaching.

Albert Einstein, it is said (almost certainly incorrectly), once defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." That is a pretty good description of what Catholics who vote, every four years, for the "lesser of two evils" (however they may define evil) are engaged in.

And that is why I argued, in A Catholic Agenda for the Next Four Years (and in many other pieces over the last four years; see the links at the end of this article), that the only way for Catholics in the United States to begin once again to exert political influence in proportion to our numbers is for all of us to refuse to vote for the lesser of two evils, and only to vote for one of the two major-party candidates for president if one or both of them comes considerably closer than any have in decades to embracing Catholic social and moral teaching in its totality.

If you have no problem with the way American political life is developing—if 1.3 million abortions per year and unjust wars and torture are things you can live with—then keep voting as you have been, and we'll keep getting more dead and dying.

If, however, you're finally growing tired of "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results," then consider another way. Work hard over the next four years, in your family, your neighborhood, and your parish, to revitalize the culture, and, when the 2016 election comes around, if neither the Democratic nor Republican candidate conforms sufficiently to the totality of Catholic social and moral teaching, don't vote for either one of them. Reject the argument that you must vote for the "lesser of two evils"; refuse to do evil, that good may come of it (cf. Romans 3:8).

If enough American Catholics were to do that, it wouldn't take long for both parties to realize that Catholics are no longer "sure votes." And at 25 percent of the electorate, we would quickly become the most sought-after voting bloc in the United States.

But it won't happen unless we make it happen.

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November 13, 2012 at 2:17 pm
(1) Clete Purcell says:

Absolutely, Mr. Richert; you are right on the money with this article! We need to forget participating in the phony national election charades and get down to business with what Burke and Eliot called our “little platoons,” working to rescue this sick and dying kultur in our own families, households, neighborhoods, communities and states. We CAN make a difference at our local levels and we also need to evangelize our fellow Catholics, active and “lapsed” to bring them to the realizations you point out in your essay. And the first thing that has to go is the dead mind-set that we are simply Mundanes to pull the voting machine levers every two or four years for candidates picked out for us, like in the old Soviet Union, regardless of whether they reflect and embody our Catholic beliefs. Blessings upon you and yours, sir, as always, and belated thank-you for your service on this day after Veterans Day.

November 13, 2012 at 2:56 pm
(2) SCP Larry says:

Good article Scott. I have been telling people close to me that I think when politicians do not respond to their constituent needs that we should vote them out–whether Republican or Democrat. If things don’t improve, vote them. The one issue that I have voted straight is the abortion issue. No one gets my vote who is for abortion, but I can see your point about looking at things more broadly and determining whether a candidate meets is actually going to do something about the issue. Of course, we are talking politics and abortion is not the only issue that gets lip service in politics.
Here are two thoughts for you:
1. I think we need to do a better job of convincing people that abortion does not protect the ones who need the most protection. I think despite the fact that you hear a lot of people say they support abortion rights as a kind of issue of liberty, I think in reality too many people see abortion rights as something that protects those in society who have little protection. I think of this as a kind of Betty Ford focus. I think we need to convince people that it’s the babies that need protection not the mothers.
2. I think we need to help unify Catholics. We are not going to be much of a voting power, if politicians believe Catholics are split on many issues. My own angle on this would be to help people understand that Catholicism offers a practical way of life. I can go long on this one, but I believe that regardless of how Catholics are perceived, the faith leads to a much more meaningful, fruitful, joyful life than anything else that is out there. If Catholics can be more united and then show the rest of society that we are well grounded and at peace with our Christ-centered lives, it will fill up our churches and make politicians take a harder look at us.

November 13, 2012 at 3:33 pm
(3) John S says:

I like the idea. How I wish the church and the leaders could get this through everyone’s heads that attends church. I think its a lost cause with so called Catholics that don’t attend church…they obviously don’t listen anyway. Maybe, just maybe, through this HHS mandate and court cases that will be taking place….maybe the Catholics will see this as bullying from the federal government on Catholics….and actually open their eyes as to what is going on as it relates to religious freedom and liberty. Catholics are in huge need for some education of this kind from their individual churches. We have the avenues to reach every Church and every member that attends mass. We should be together 100%. God isn’t a democrat or a republican. Its time we vote for the God party.

November 13, 2012 at 3:44 pm
(4) Salvy says:

Great analysis again, Scott. But you know you’re still going to get a bunch of retarded feedback from people accusing you of things you never said.
As far as politics and abortion, I always tell people that the one thing above anything else that I want to know about that candidate is his or her record and views on abortion. Why is that most important to me? Because that speaks volumes about the overall character of that person. And, character is everything in my estimation.

November 13, 2012 at 3:56 pm
(5) Joanne S. says:

I voted for Romney because I think he and Paul Ryan did embrace Catholic values pretty fully. You may see it differently, but I still don’t see where the GOP is far from Catholic teaching socially or economically.

There is nothing in Catholic social teaching that says the government needs to be a nanny state. The GOP fully supports safety nets like Social Security, etc., believes capitalism is the best path to economic growth that benefits ALL classes (where the poor can move up, not stay stuck in their poverty), etc. . Catholics can disagree on prudential judgments.

I also think it is immoral to keep spending more than we have as a country and leaving the bill to our children.

On the social issues, I am as pro life as can be, respecting life from conception to natural death. Women deserve better than abortion, and their babies deserve the life God gave them. Furthermore, the child, once born, is not abandoned, despite the accusation from the left that we don’t care about women or babies after the baby is born. Hogwash!

The Dems are a godless party that embraces every evil under the sun! Abortion, gay marriage, euthanasia, pornography, socialism are the obvious ones. Forcing the Catholic Church to fund intrinsic evils threatens religious freedom. It’s an oxymoron to call yourself a Democrat and a Catholic.

The biggest thing to me is the Dems are pushing abortion across the world as never before, making taxpayers pay for it, etc. Obama wants to rescind every state law that restricts abortion through his Freedom of Choice Act, which he will no doubt push again now that he’s been re-elected. Countries receiving U.S. foreign aid must agree to contraceptives and abortion as a condition of receiving it.

These are not minor differences. We’re talking millions of lives here, so there’s no way I would be complicit in sentencing those millions to death by voting a third party or not at all.

November 13, 2012 at 4:15 pm
(6) James Bendell says:

Mr. Richert,

Thank you for reminding us Catholics where we should stand.

God Bless.

November 13, 2012 at 4:16 pm
(7) Stephanie says:

I think you are forgetting something important. Just because a President doesn’t overturn Roe v. Wade doesn’t mean he isn’t doing anything for the pro-life movement. Presidents are politicians and they want to get re-elected and have to the have support of their party, so cannot do anything that radical (as nice as that would be). What good they CAN do is appoint pro-life supreme court justices. These people will be there for life so they can have a big influence. Sadly, the Obama administration seems to choose justices who are radically pro-choice in all cases up until an hour after birth. Pro-life Presidents can also give funding to pro-life organizations and crisis pregnancy centers, rather than Planned Parenthood (which makes girls feel abortion is their only option, does NOT do mammograms, and has been known to cover sex abuse of minors).

I agree that neither party is 100% Catholic. But voting for a third party that has no chance of winning is wasting a vote. The time to campaign for a third party candidate is YEARS, not months or days before an election. Maybe some people think they’re making a huge statement by not voting at all, but people who don’t vote at all don’t influence the election. If you look at the breakdown, the voter turnout was only 60%… that means roughly 30% voted for Obama, 29% for Romney, 1% for “other” and 40% didn’t vote at all.

We need to start NOW and make our voices heard. Talk about non just the five non-negotiables, but also demand a reform in immigration, an end to unjust wars, and get more people to care for the poor and hire workers (if everyone was working there would be little to no need for a welfare system). Also the principle of subsidiarity: problems should be solved on the lowest level possible, and a group of 12 men should not decide the nation’s health care choices.

November 13, 2012 at 8:15 pm
(8) Patrick says:

Amen Brother!

November 13, 2012 at 8:52 pm
(9) Salvy says:

I voted for Romney, too, and I knew it was futile here in California where the democrats steal elections all the time wth all the union goons and illegal aliens.
It was all a vote against obummer for me, and I don’t even like Romney for a lot of reasons. But, I didn’t consider the guy a lesser evil because I don’t think Romney is evil in the first place. He’s a politician and he didn’t get this far by being a saint, either. A real saint, I believe, would have been assassinated in this political and cultural climate .
I don’t know if you shoved a big crucifix in Obama’s face if he’d start foaming at the mouth. I doesn’t matter, he joined the club a long time ago. People sell their souls left and right all the time. Especially these days.. What’s catastrophic here of course is that he’s president. He stole the election through all this voter fraud across the country and people were either dumb enough or evil enough or welfared enough–whatever–to want him back.So, we will see now just how bad this is going to get.

November 13, 2012 at 9:40 pm
(10) Debbie says:

I did not vote in this election ,why because i in good consience ,could not find anything in either candidate i liked. plus i did know enough about all the proposals to make a right decision,im pro-life totally.But wasent going to vote on a proposal, law etc.i did not know enough about just to say i voted.and believe me i knew people who did.you can call me with you want or say i wasted a vote,but my conscience is clear that i did not make a wrong pick,and voted for something bad.next election if with Gods grace im still here i will educate myself more on the issues.I wonder how many people who did vote knew what they were voting for,or did they vote just to elect Obama or Romney without thinking who or what else was the ballot?Did they voteJust to GET THIER GUY IN”?GOD BLESS YOU ALL

November 13, 2012 at 9:50 pm
(11) Andy e says:

Even by a secularist, Maslow, who in his heiarchy of needs, life was the foundation. According to Maslow, higher needs could not be met unless the base needs are assured. It is foolish to think the govenment is capable of charity as it has nothing to give except the ability to tax it’s constituancy. So social good by the government is suspect, at best it is inlaid with agenda. I grew up in the 60′s with a president (Dem) who wanted to form a great society. Fifty years later, more single parent house holds, more poverty, more out of wedlock births, more killing of inocent infants through abortion. A social engenering project that has failed, yet we keep tweaking the same old system. Truly the definition of insanity. Half of our Catholics are heritics at worst, poorly formed in the head at best.

November 13, 2012 at 11:08 pm
(12) Susan Zimbro says:

I am a 58 year-old woman, married for 37 years, mother of 3 grown sons, and grandmother of a beautiful little girl. I truly believe that the liberal media, pop culture and the break-down of the family info-structure……which all stems from turning away from God’s love and his truth are to blame. Talking with my sons, listening to several young people and older persons….we are all in agreement that young men and women need real role models, not the kardashians, vampires and super heros on inter-active games and cinema. Do not know the answers, but I hope through our prayers, God with his infinite love will shed his light ~

November 14, 2012 at 6:51 am
(13) K. Michael says:

Right on Scott!! God bless you!! You are the voice we need to wake up all Catholics, Republicans and Democrats alike! Your definition of Insanity is well applied in the past 50 years of elections that I have witnessed. Let’s forget about the 60′s and 70′s but can anyone remember the elections in the 80′s when the national debt was an atrocious 8 billion dollars!! I thought that was unbelievable back then! But low and behold, between both parties controlling the country, we are now currently 6 trillion in debt??!!! Insanity indeed!!!
I admit guilt for voting for some of these presidents in but no more.

I believe now that Republicans and Democrats are on opposite ends of the same ugly stick that continue beating the American people to death!! Is there a higher evil working here?? I think so. But God willing we can and will stop it by starting to not vote for any candidate, Republican or Democrat, who do not support Catholic moral and social teaching! Fight the good fight Scott, brothers and sisters!!
Let your love be your weapon! Let your faith be your shield!
God is with you!!

November 15, 2012 at 6:31 am
(14) Umberta Mesina says:

I suppose people being blackmailed by the ideas that in a democracy you have to do you duty (which is vote), that your rights come from doing your duty and the likes. Besides, I suppose they have some fear of behaving differently from other citizens. So, we could say that it is a problem of education and personal responsibility.

November 16, 2012 at 11:32 am
(15) Donna says:

Thank you for being a voice of sanity in these troubled times! I feel less distraught after reading your sound articles.

November 17, 2012 at 7:38 am
(16) Miss White says:

You write the most AWESOME EMAILS (in laments terms) Truly inspirational. God Be With You!

November 20, 2012 at 5:46 pm
(17) Alice S. says:

Very nice article! And I agree, we need to DO something, not just settle every 4 years. Nothing has changed has it, and nothing will until change until every one of us in our own way, live a Catholic life every day always in all ways! Difficult? I think not.

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