Politics by definition cannot be based on absolutes. When a voter or a group of voters decides to vote based on absolute principle on a single issue, the consequences can be disastrous and almost never makes sense.
A few weeks ago, a large group of evangelical Christian leaders led by James Dobson of Focus on the Family fame congregated in Salt Lake City and discussed the upcoming Presidential election. What emerged from that meeting was very disconcerting.
The group decided that they could not support a pro-abortion candidate by any means, and that if Rudy Guiliani was the Republican candidate, they could not vote for him and would consider throwing their support to a third-party candidate. In all my years of listening to and respecting Dr. Dobson this is the rare disagreement I have had with him.
Their position on abortion is completely understandable considering this country was founded on the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The most fundamental function of a government is to protect life, especially those most innocent; those who cannot protect themselves. As Michael Vick could testify, dogs in this country have more legal protection than unborn humans. Yet, as fundamental as this principle is, it is still not sufficient to eclipse all other issues in the selection of a president.
Ronald Reagan said many times that those who agree with him 80% of the time are not his enemies, they are his friends. Interestingly, he didnâ€™t make a distinction on what constituted the 20% of disagreement, or for that matter, what issues constituted the 80% agreement.
When we vote for President, it is not the same as voting for a pastor. Their theology doesnâ€™t have to match ours and their personal lives may not reflect our fundamental values. But on major issues, if I agree with someone on 80% of my key issues, even though I may disagree on one big issue, why would I then vote for someone who has no chance of winning from a third party thereby handing the election to someone that I may only agree with on 20% of the issues? There is no logic to that.
Some say that itâ€™s a matter of conscience, that they cannot support someone who agrees with taking innocent life. Frankly, the President doesnâ€™t decide that issue. The only role the President has in that regard is through his judicial appointments, primarily to the Supreme Court.
Realizing that, do I want a president who is much more likely to appoint judges that would reverse Roe v. Wade and return the issue of abortion to the states? Or do I, by casting a vote for a third party candidate, want to hand the presidency to someone who is more likely to load the courts with jurists who will support abortion? Since the next President will probably appoint two more Justices to the Supreme Court, do I want more jurists like Ginsburg, or Roberts? And ultimately, do I think Judeo-Christian values will more likely be supported by a Democrat or by a Republican, considering the candidates being considered for the job.
Even an absolutist on anti-abortion should recognize the folly in supporting a third party candidate thereby turning the presidency over to an absolutist on abortion rights. After all, much in politics is incremental in nature. Tax policy is changed incrementally, health-care issues are changed incrementally, and entitlements are incremental in nature. So a step in the right direction is better than trying and failing to take four steps in the right direction, thereby handing the presidency to someone who takes four steps in the wrong direction.
In the primaries, if conscience so demands it, we can be much more single-issue oriented. Vote for your pro-life candidate, vote your conscience. But from a practical standpoint, we canâ€™t afford to be single-issue driven when it comes to the general election. At that point, we need to be thinking of the next best option.
Conscience is to be applied in absolute fashion when it comes to our private lives. But practicality and realism must be the rule of the day when it comes to politics. Since this is directed to those who think their vote should be a matter of conscience and not practicality, how do you explain King David? It seems God is not a purist in selection of leaders, and I donâ€™t think He expects us to be either. Think about it. Youâ€™re not compromising your conscience, but rather doing what God would expect of you, to do the right thing based on pragmatism. In our personal lives, we should not compromise our principles. In politics, itâ€™s all about compromise if you want to get something done.
Historically, third-party candidacies have proven to be spoilers for major party candidates who lost races because of siphoned off votes to the minor candidates. For example, Ralph Nader may well have cost Al Gore the election in 2000, as well as John Kerry in 2004.
In 1992 and 1996, Ross Perot may not have made a difference in the outcome, but he did prevent Clinton from receiving a majority of votes, allowing him to win with a plurality of less than 50% both years. Even Teddy Roosevelt couldnâ€™t be elected as a third party candidate (U.S. Progressive Party), and may well have handed the 1912 election to Woodrow Wilson.
In politics it is rare to find candidates with whom we are in total agreement on key issues. Some may say itâ€™s then a process of voting for the lesser of two evils. In my estimation, it should be viewed as a process of voting for someone who comes most closely to my deeply held values. In other words, itâ€™s a matter of electoral pragmatism, not absolutism.
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