Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Vote: Pragmatism, Principle, or Petulance?

On Tuesday, November 4th, there will be an election for the American Presidency--and, more importantly, for the future of the nation itself.

Looking back on recent history, it is obvious that we as a nation survived the Clinton administration, and are surviving the administration of George W. Bush. With the dark times of the Clinton era and the vacillations of the GWB era as reference points, I believe that the United States would've survived a Kerry administration. Or a Dukakis administration. Or even (and these are frightening words to type) a Gore administration.

I do not believe that the United States of America will survive a Barack Obama administration. That is to say, survive an Obama administration as a representative republic guided by the United States Constitution.

Barack Obama is that most dangerous of individuals--a dilettante. Some time at a pseudo-Christian church and, suddenly, he's a theologian. A trip to Europe, and he's a foreign policy expert. Less than six months' actual experience in the U.S. Senate, and he's Presidential.

An Obama administration, it is clear, would attack fundamental Constitutional rights, as his recent Second Amendment comments made clear. With his selection of renowned plagiarist (stealing from RFK and Kinnock), bigot (remember "clean" and "articulate"?), and comedian Joe Biden as running mate, Obama has shown that "Change we can believe in" starts with suggesting a denizen of the seamier portions of the Beltway would make a dandy Vice-President.

(Yes, I referred to Joe Biden as a "comedian." Don't you remember his favorite joke about Rudy Giuliani? "There's only three things he mentions in a sentence--a noun, and a verb, and 9/11. I mean, there's nothing else." Bah-dum-bump. Get it? Terrorist attacks are punch lines to Biden.)

Obama has developed, and is developing, a cult of personality. In the literal, technical sense. Problem is, apart from a TelePrompTer, he doesn't have much personality, or terribly much to say. The nation cannot afford the devastation that will come from giving Barack Obama real political power.

But what of John McCain? As a Christian, I am stopped short by a man who declares he's a Christian, yet specifically insists he is not "born again." Even some non-Christians are familiar with Christ's own words in John 3:7, "Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again." No option there. While George W. Bush has erased any theological sophistication we might have hoped for him by suggesting that Islam is a viable religion, McCain has gone a step further. He is as guilty of cherry-picking the Bible as is Barack Obama.

Now, I understand that there were many "Christian" moments during McCain's imprisonment in a North Vietnamese P.O.W. camp, but here's the question. If they were transcendent examples of personal faith in Jesus Christ, rather than episodes that were exclusively emotional, would McCain not adhere to the teachings of Christ as revealed in Scripture?

McCain attends a Baptist church, yet refused to be baptized by immersion. He considers Islam "honorable." He generally avoids discussing personal faith in Christ, defaulting to mentions of a "higher power" rather than specifically mentioning Christ or Christianity.

One of the motivating factors in George W. Bush's election, and re-election, was the notion that Christians could vote for a fellow Christian to serve in the office of President. As with the miserable administration of Jimmy Carter, we have seen that candidates' professions of faith in Christ have failed to consistently translate into solid leadership. But in the 2008 election, neither of the two major-party candidates gives any tangible evidence of being a Bible-believing, Christ-honoring, twice-born child of God.

So how should we vote?

There are three popular answers. First, there is the notion of "pragmatism"--that we vote for the "lesser of the two evils." Or, more properly, we vote for the major-party candidate whose victory would prevent the less desirable major-party candidate from being elected. Second, there is the notion of "principle"--that we vote for a candidate regardless of that candidate's chances of being elected; this notion opens up the potential of casting votes for individuals such as Bob Barr and Ralph Nader. And third, there is what I call (and which works for alliterative purposes) the notion of "petulance"--that we refuse to vote for any candidate who fails to meet a remarkably high standard for the office of the Presidency.

For a good while, I have considered that the third option might be the best; after much prayer, thought, and research, I have concluded that the third option is, indeed, petulance. Books are being written that, at face value, suggest that refusing to vote in this election is a reasoned, supposedly Biblical stand. It is the civic equivalent of holding one's breath until one's face turns blue; it mistakenly presumes that there can be, or will be, a "perfect" candidate.

It has been widely proclaimed that a vote for John McCain will dilute the Republican Party, and that those who might normally vote Republican should abstain, in the hopes that the party can regroup for the 2012 election. Unfortunately, this is a partisan line of thinking, one as bad as the standard Democrat mindset of "party over country." Realistically, the Republican Party was diluted in 2000 with so-called "compassionate conservatism," in 1996 with "owing" a nomination to an unelectable candidate, and even in 1990 with the abandonment of a no-new-taxes vow. The Republican Party was heavily damaged long before John McCain backed into the nomination, and it is hubris to think that abstention from voting will translate into persuasion of the G.O.P. power structure.

Considering a principled vote is not, on its face, a bad idea. That is, until you consider what principle is actually at play. If the goal is influence, then the principle of influencing a vote requires a vote for a presidential candidate with a realistic chance to win an election--providing that candidate doesn't have destroying the country as a chief end. When a principled vote becomes a Quixotic one, then it is ultimately wasted.

So what are we left with? Pragmatism? Well, it isn't as though we're left with it, since we never strayed from it in the first place. Votes, as a matter of course, are exercises in pragmatism. We vote on things every day, though perhaps not generally with the import of a vote for President. But we do vote, on everything from clothing choices to commuting routes to what we'll have for lunch. Rarely, if ever, is there a perfect choice in any vote; it is pretense to suggest otherwise. When we vote, we make the best available choice from a given field of possibilities. Why should the vote for President be viewed any differently?

The most succinct expression of this line of thought is from radio commentator, author, and cultural activist Janet Folger. With regard to voting for the lesser of two evils, I quote her thusly and like so, "Until Jesus Christ's name appears on the ballot, that's exactly what we do in every vote."

Please, when Tuesday, November 4th arrives, do not be petulant. Please do not believe yourself to be voting on principle by wasting your vote's influence. Take the time to make the best choice from the available field.

The best available choice is John McCain.


EDITED TO ADD: The addition, on the morning of August 29th, of Sarah Palin as John McCain's running mate was, simply, brilliant. It makes voting for McCain a much, much easier prospect.