Something that I have struggled to make clear, even in my own speech and writing, but which is actually fairly urgent in this year:
Voting is not precisely the same as supporting, and that distinction does not take the edge off your obligations.
What do I mean? Well, consider the case of “tactical voting.” One of the most obvious instances is sabotaging an open primary by voting for a weak or absurd candidate in another party’s race, when one’s preferred party has an uncontested race or one that makes little difference. This probably undermines public debate, which is a good argument for closed primaries; but it is the sort of “gamesmanship” that can advance preferred outcomes from time to time.
Would my “vote” in that case indicate “support” for that candidate? Manifestly not. And would that “vote” justify my going out and pretending to advocate for that candidate, in order to ensure that my sabotage was effective? No. That would be just plain lying. (Not even “undercover investigation” deception, or other possibly justified-in-a-crisis deceptions, but the kind you need to go confess to stay out of Hell.)
And obviously my tactical-voting-as-sabotage would not be legitimately construed as “support” for that candidate by anyone I happened to tell about it.
Would it be “participation” in the outcome? Yes, yes it would. I would clearly need to consider that. To take a ridiculous example, let us imagine that some folks boosted the execrable David Duke in a primary just to “rattle” the local party, or to “shake up” some unconscious racists by putting a real Klucker in front of them, or just to make that party toxic to voters. And then let us imagine that this effort “succeeded” in putting that…words fail…in office.
So it is important to realize that “vote” does not equal “support,” but it does equal “participation,” and therefore considering what outcomes are reasonably foreseeable is important, even though your primary obligation to support what is good and to resist what is wicked in policies, approaches, parties, candidates remains primary and constant.
So then consider why “There may technically be a situation in which my best option is to vote for otherwise unacceptable candidate X” simply does not let you off the hook for in any way, to any extent, supporting candidate X or aligning with such a candidate in public discourse, campaign affiliation, etc.
I may not be able to actually support a candidate, because not only on matters where I think there is misjudgment about priorities or methods, or about understanding when a thing is acceptable and when it tends to undermine the common good, or about line-drawing in use of force–not only on these proper matters of political debate, but in matters where there can be no reasonable debate, like killing babies or using terroristic tactics when conventional force is available but politically undesireable, the candidate is unacceptable.
But let us imagine a close race between two utterly unacceptable candidates. Or maybe three or four utterly unacceptable candidates.
You know, just hypothetically. Because it would be crazy to think a thing like that could happen in ‘Murica.
I may well decide, after considering stable realities as well as changing efforts to apply those–for example, the generally consistent teaching (obviously committee-written and thus sometimes oscillating paragraph-by-paragraph in emphasis) of the USCCB, which is not the sum of all wisdom but is still your nearest high-ranking point of reference if you are a Catholic engaged with American poltiics–that my best option, when I enter the voting booth and the crisis of decision is upon me, is to use my very limited power to nudge the contest between those two candidates in a fractionally less unacceptable direction.
Perhaps I think one candidate’s sanity in one area of governance will provide more breathing room for the nation to recover from the madness, or perhaps I hope that one candidate will cooperate with a party that at least has some sane debate about top-shelf issues, or perhaps I fear that one candidate will discredit a movement I hoped would succeed, or…or…or…
You can see how this is all highly speculative. In fact, the basic reality here is that my vote almost certainly does not matter enough to influence any such highly specific outcome. My participation remains severely undermotivated and overdetermined.
(Which is why you ought to treat the devolution of power to lower levels as the chief structural political need of our time.)
For that reason, my steadfast and sincere advice to you is never forget that you do not have to vote and even that you should treat not voting as your default option when candidates are dead wrong on top-shelf issues.
But many folks are still conditioned by the “you must vote” and “least-worst” habit that keeps us all in chains to the enthralling obscenities of mass-market democracy. And when that mentality rules, then the mere fact that, under some circumstances, I may have to “nudge the process” through a tactical vote between unacceptable options tempts them to urge others to consider themselves “free” to vote for utterly abhorrent candidates–like Hillary Clinton or that Trumpery fool–just because the other candidate is “just as bad” on the top-shelf issues.
Again, it may be necessary to vote tactically. But that necessity is very limited, and it is a consequence of your bondage–it is not liberty.
And in no way does it justify supporting an unacceptable candidate with your voice, blogging, social media, signs, money, etc.
To say “I may feel compelled, when it is all said and done, to make a tactical vote in support of the least-worst outcome” may well justify discussing what the most effective tactic for resisting all the evil options will be.
But it cannot translate into support.
There is no excuse for supporting an abomination like Hilary Clinton, like the Trumpery candidate, or even an unlikely character like Gary Johnson. There may be a situation in which voting for one of them becomes necessary, at least to you within your limited sphere of options. I, too, contemplate that. (I will probably refuse.)
But I will continue to resist all the wicked options, because my integrity and fidelity are worth more than the foul stew they are trying to pass off as Jacob’s “mess of pottage.”