The Lesser Of Evils?

Randy Alcorn has an excellent series of blog posts on the choices faced by Christians in this election. I don’t endorse all of his conclusions, but he has thoughtfully addressed some very divisive issues with a spirit of charity that is too often missing in political writing, mine included.

Reading through the series, I’ve found myself emphatically agreeing with some points, like the religious freedom/abortifacient issue and our individual responsibility to help the poor – and as emphatically disagreeing with others, like the justification of legal plunder for charitable purposes. The debater in me wants to post a fifty point response that no one but my sweetheart will take the time to read. The cynic in me wants to shrug and go do something else because most voters, Christians included, have a bit of a herd mentality and their minds are already made up. But another side of me hopes against hope that as the Republican Party (my party, by the way) abandons the last of its moral principles, the opportunity for evangelical Christians to rethink their perspective on morality and government will not be wasted. That side of me hopefully can respond to Alcorn’s most recent post with the same charity it reflects.

Alcorn asks the question, “Is it wrong to vote for the lesser of evils?” Although I’ve made that argument in the past, I agree with his conclusion. He correctly notes that “to vote for the lesser of two evils is to vote for less evil.” That’s certainly true, and it may even be the duty of a Christian in some cases. His basic objections to third party candidates are also legitimate. What is missing for me, and some other Christians I know, is the conviction that Romney is indeed the lesser evil.

To be sure, on the issues Alcorn has identified as critical there is little or no room for argument. The candidates’ rhetoric on abortion, religious freedom, and (to a lesser extent) welfare issues is widely different. Even if their past records show less of a distinction, Alcorn rightly notes that, given the choices, there is at least good reason to hope that electoral pressures and maturity would make Romney, on these issues, a better President.

So what’s wrong with the conclusion? It seems to take for granted that the issues Christians on the right and left argue about the most are the only issues that matter. But not all of us think so. As I’ve written elsewhere, there are many places where innocent human life is threatened besides in the womb. Alcorn makes the argument that “pro-life” refers specifically to the protection of unborn children. That’s fine, but it doesn’t change the reality that civilians, women and children in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran are equally innocent human lives and, when they are being recklessly killed at our expense by our public servants, have an equal claim on our responsibility.

I don’t like the fact that my tax dollars go to organizations that kill unborn children either. But reinstating the Mexico City policy won’t really help me to sleep better at night, because my tax dollars will still be paying for things like this, and this, and this. And while Obama has been appallingly indifferent to the lives lost in the pursuit of money and power, Romney has promised to double down, accusing Obama of being weak and timid when it comes to killing those who get in our way.

In that light, the choice between Romney and Obama becomes muddled to the point of insignificance. I’ve said for some time that if I vote for Romney (and I still may) it will be a consequence of Obama’s attack on religious freedom, because honestly, I don’t see a meaningful difference when it comes to life. And as a Christian, I’m not willing to limit my concern for innocent human life to the unborn.

By the way, Alcorn partially addressed this particular criticism in an earlier post, where he objected that “… every time I say something about the unborn, those people ask me why I’m not addressing war.” He is absolutely right that many on the “left” raise the issue of war to avoid talking about infanticide. I’m not objecting, however, to advocating for the unborn without simultaneously advocating for others. Obviously different Christians are called to different areas of ministry or feel especially burdened by different aspects of this broken world, and their focus will (and should) reflect that. But I am objecting to the argument that a candidate’s position on abortion should matter more than his position on just war.

I appreciate Randy Alcorn’s willingness to go on the record and his thoughtful approach to this question. But if we judge our standards of evil by all of God’s Word, the answer is not so clear-cut in my mind as it seems to be in his.

Advertisements

What About Those Horses And Bayonets?

Ignoring countless legitimate problems with the Bush/Obama foreign policy, Mitt Romney criticized Obama last night for what he apparently feels is an insufficiently muscular and ostentatious military presence in the world. He didn’t mention the number of military bases worldwide (close to 800 in around 140 countries), or the nations we’ve bombed during the last 4 years (Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq, Libya, Somalia … am I forgetting one or two?), or the amount we spend on our military each year (over 42% of the entire world’s military spending and more than Russia, China, Britain, France, Japan and the next 6 countries combined). But he did express particular concern for the shrinking size of our Navy, which, he says, is down to 285 ships from whatever numerical strength he thinks should have been maintained. Obama’s comeback (horses and bayonets) was necessarily superficial, because neither he nor Romney have anything to gain by honestly addressing the size and cost of our military.

Even if we suppose the number of ships to be a meaningful standard, Romney’s charge demonstrates ignorance and/or shameless opportunism. According to the Naval History and Heritage Command, George W. Bush presided over the smallest navy since the 19th century (278 ships in 2007). But seriously, does any sane person believe that the United States Navy is less capable by any imaginable standard than it was in 1917? Is it less able to project power? Can it operate simultaneously in fewer places? Is there a navy out there somewhere that poses a greater threat to ours than Germany’s navy in 1917 or Japan’s navy in 1942?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, then I’m not addressing you. The rest of us would do well to ask ourselves what it is Mitt Romney hopes to accomplish by such utterly meritless fear mongering. Does he really think that the comparative strength of our navy leaves us vulnerable militarily? Or was he just whistling to the dogs, trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator of nationalist sentiment? If the former, he is absolutely unfit to lead the already monstrous war fighting machine he aspires to command; if the latter, he is a deceptive scoundrel and Republican voters should be ashamed of themselves.

Facts or Propaganda?

As the final debate between Obamney approaches, I am bracing for what will likely be the undoing of the warm feelings I have been dutifully nuturing toward our candidate. Governor Romney’s blissful ignorance of America’s place in the world, constitutionally and in reality, remains the biggest obstacle to this conservative’s support. And his efforts to reassure voters by promising to defer to his military advisers are anything but comforting. The only thing the founders feared more than an executive with unchecked war-making powers was an autonomous military. James Madison must be digging out of his grave by now.

Not only does Romney fail to understand both the mess that is the American empire and the relevant constitutional law, he doesn’t even seem to have a coherent position of his own. In his much hyped VMI speech two weeks ago, Romney identified the “bedrock principles” of the Romney doctrine: “America must have confidence in our cause, clarity in our purpose and resolve in our might.” But as Gene Healy points out in an excellent piece in the Washington Examiner, “…those are attitudes, not principles. And if jut-jawed self-assurance that we know what we’re doing in the Middle East was the key to victory, we’d have a little more to show from the last 11 years of war. Hope is not a strategy, but hubris isn’t either.”

Worse than the over-confident and under-informed arrogance, however, is the deliberate deception and propaganda constantly peddled by both campaigns and the war lobbyists they work for. Nonsense about Muslims hating us because we’re free, idolization of Syrian “freedom fighters” with no acknowledgement of their terrorist connections, and fearmongering that borders on psychosis with regard to Iran are all examples of the schizophrenic foreign policy jumble that both candidates embrace. And the voting public seems tragically complacent about the utter lack of meaningful distinctions between Team A and Team B.

Several days ago I was reading a Foreign Policy article about the radicalization of rural Pakistani youth, and specifically the techniques employed by terrorist groups in recruiting teenage boys for suicide attacks. I was stunned by the sickening methods used to convince these uneducated and ignorant boys to kill and die. Without repeating the claims made in the article, I will only say that one cannot help seeing even a suicide attacker in a different light after the author’s description of their indoctrination.

As my wife and I were discussing the article, my oldest son arrived home from school. He greeted me with, “Hi dad, Mrs. – says Iranians are dangerous people, is that true?”

Oh boy, I thought, here we go. “Why does Mrs. – say so?” I inquired.

“She says they are building a nuclear bomb to launch at us.”

“And why does she think they would want to launch a nuclear bomb at us?” I persisted.

“Because they don’t like that we’re over there defending our oil.”

Now, in fairness to Mrs. -, who I genuinely like and admire, I’m reasonably certain that she wasn’t quoted verbatim. It is entirely possible that my son’s impression of her comments differed substantially from her intent. Be that as it may, the timing of his question, coming as it did while the deceptive propaganda of Islamic jihadists was fresh in my mind, was an uncomfortable, but inescapable, reminder that both sides are equally guilty of using rank propaganda and deception to motivate and gain the support of the masses.

The problems with such ridiculous claims (which, regardless of whether my son’s impression was accurate, are widely believed by rank-and-file conservative voters) ought to be obvious. First of all, to describe “Iranians” (or any other ethnic group) in such sweeping terms demonstrates a pitifully two-dimensional view of the world, not to say of human nature. Secondly, our own intelligence agencies have been unanimous in their opinion that Iran is not, at present, building a nuclear weapon. Nor are they enriching uranium to the level required for such a weapon. Thirdly, if Iran did succeed in building a nuclear weapon, they are clearly unable to deploy it via ballistic missiles that would threaten the US. Fourthly, if Iran ever did develop intercontinental nuclear capabilities, what motive could they possibly have for a first strike? And lastly, while it is undoubtedly the height of insolence for Muslims in general and Iranians in particular to live on top of our oil, the evidence does not favor our appetite for oil as a pat explanation for Iranian animosity toward the US.

But its been a long time since evidence was last allowed to get in the way of the military-industrial complex. I expect Romney to differ from the President tonight only in the violence of his rhetoric. I would love to see him advocate a more humble and constitutional foreign policy, one that would present voters with a real choice to deal with the national debt, stop alienating allies and manufacturing enemies, and put James Madison back to bed. He has changed his position on most other issues, so perhaps there is reason to hope.

But, alas, hope is not a strategy.

A Vote For Whom?

Leaving church last Sunday I found a handwritten note on our car. Some well-intentioned but misguided soul apparently was distressed by the Ron Paul bumper sticker and took the time to warn me that “a vote for Ron Paul is a vote for Obama.” The author lacked the courage to add their John Hancock, so I have no way to enlighten them. It was only the fiftieth time or so that I’ve been on the receiving end of such nonsense, but the anonymity of the warning nettled me enough to post a response here. So for anyone out there who might be similarly confused, here are three indisputable reasons why a vote for Ron Paul would NOT be a vote for Obama:

1 – Because it would be a vote for Ron Paul.

2 – Because Ron Paul has never had the chance to run against Obama and, at this point, will never appear on the ballot as an alternative to him.

3 – Because even if Ron Paul would have chosen to run independently this November (something that was never going to happen), any votes he received would be equally lost to all four of his opponents, including Obama.

This last would appear to be basic arithmetic. That it eludes so many otherwise intelligent conservatives is an indication of arrogance born of denial.

See, people say foolish things like the above because of faulty reasoning. Reduced to a syllogism, their logic runs like this: (a) If a person supports Ron Paul they most likely support smaller government, lower taxes and/or Christian values; (b) Mitt Romney is the most viable (or legitimate) candidate who stands for these things; therefore (c) if this person had not been led astray by Ron Paul they would instead be voting for Mitt Romney, right?

Nope.

The devil, obviously, is in (b) above; most Ron Paul supporters don’t agree that Mitt Romney stands for anything at all, unless it’s the Federal Reserve.

Of course, most conservatives agreed with us a few months ago; the difference now is that the RINO of all RINOs has been anointed Leader of the Party of God and Country (and Israel), the Standard-Bearer of Freedom, Responsibility and Judeo-Christianity Against Islamo-Fascist Marxists and Terrorists (who we know are trying every day to kill us all and also to end women’s suffrage). In other words, he’s now officially the Republican presidential nominee; to these dear people, therefore, he is The Savior. Therein lies the arrogance.

This arrogance is possible because these conservatives live in a fantasy world, in denial of certain facts the rest of us have by now accepted. The most important of these facts is that the GOP and its national candidates can not be counted on to stand up for anything good under even the most favorable circumstances. They do not stand for limited government, for individual liberty or responsibility, for the sanctity of innocent human life, or for anything that even remotely resembles Christian values (at least if that word “Christian” refers to the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ). I call these facts advisedly, and I challenge anyone who believes otherwise to remind me of any meaningful efforts by the GOP to limit government, promote freedom, protect innocent human life or exemplify the values of biblical Christianity in the last two decades.

So if the premise is false, the conclusion is faulty. Ron Paul supporters are not denying Romney votes he could otherwise take for granted. The shocking truth is that many Ron Paul supporters, if forced to choose between Romney and Obama, would choose Obama. Don’t shoot, pardner; I’m not one of them. But a good friend who has been a registered Republican voter and activist for decades recently said this: “… there is no more than a dimes worth of difference between the R and the D. And if non-interventionism or ending the Fed are your most important issues, Obama has that ten cents. Not that a liberty minded person could ever vote for him …”

I can hear someone at the Huffington Post gasping (or puffing?), “But a vote for Ron Paul is a vote for Romney!”

Personally, I never expected Paul to win the nomination. My support for Paul was a matter of principle; I believe in the same things he believes in. In my view, a wasted vote is one cast for a candidate who does not represent my beliefs. Been there, done that, not sure I’m willing to do it again. No candidate on the ballot this November comes close to representing my beliefs. I haven’t decided what to do now. My Ron Paul bumper sticker doesn’t represent an intention to write Paul in next month. Nor does it reflect a conspiracy to punish the GOP by taking votes from Romney, who would need to earn my vote whether Paul had ever existed or not. (So far he isn’t even trying.) It remains on my car as a reminder to my fellow Republicans that our party has betrayed our country again, and as a disclaimer to my fellow Americans that, though a Republican, I am not complicit in that betrayal.