Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Why I Cannot Vote for John McCain

As a Catholic, I believe that all our actions have a moral dimension to which we are held to account. This, of course, includes the actions we take in the voting booth. In this election cycle, we are facing a cornucopia of challenges and I wish to write out some of my thoughts with respect to John McCain and Barack Obama.

First, a disclaimer. In my next two posts, I will explain why I cannot vote for McCain or Obama. I am not making the claim I hold the divining rod and everyone should conform to my viewpoint. I make my decision based upon my erstwhile effort to interpret and apply Catholic Social Teaching to these two candidates. Admittedly, I am focusing on the negatives over their positives. I am not sure if that is borne out of my pessimism or my idealism.

So, the main reasons why I cannot, in good conscience, vote for John McCain are as follows. And yes, the issues descend from more important to less important.

1) Embryonic Stem Cell Research. McCain has a solid record of supporting the dignity of the human person in the womb, but fails on biomedical research using embryonic stem cells and fetal tissue. This is unacceptable.

2) Torture. McCain clearly stated early in the primary season that waterboarding is torture and that it should not be used by the military or intelligence community. He is to be applauded for that stance. The problem: when McCain had the chance to have his words direct his actions, he chose to vote against a bill that would have banned the use of waterboarding and other "aggressive" techniques by the CIA. Like support for ESCR, this is unacceptable.

3) Iraq War. First, I argue that the Iraq War is unjust as it violates the first condition layed out in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2309. The first condition is that the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave and certain. As Iraq has never attacked or cooperated with an attack on the United States proper, we have no basis for calling them aggressor. Any attacks perpetrated by Iraq against the American military during the no-fly zone period cannot be defined as lasting, grave or certain. It seems to me that each condition is predicated on the condition it precedes, so since the first condition is not met, then the war is not justifed. I will give McCain credit for being a good military strategist post-invasion, but his good judgment in military tactics does not make up for the bad judgment on the policy question. The invasion of Iraq was sold to the American people on the falsehood of WMD. After that argument crumbled, the Bush administration seemed to wander in the desert with the mission in Iraq changing from day to day. McCain has never questioned the administration on the faulty rationale of the invasion and seems to refuse to acknowledge that, knowing what we know now, the invasion was wrong. And with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki flexing his political muscle by calling for no permanent American military presence and publicly expressing that he is more than comfortable with a timetable for withdrawal, we see the Bush administration and McCain a little ticked off that Maliki no longer wants to play ball. I do not trust McCain's neo-con inspired foreign policy.

4) Neo-conservative Ideology. I view the neo-con project as having two wings, one of which is political while the other is economic. The basic goal of the neo-con is straight out of the playbook of the Warsaw Pact: impose ideology on everyone you can. Instead of communism, it is capitalism and democracy. Remain calm; I am not seeking to destroy the laws of nature and of nature's God. I do oppose, however, the threat the neo-conservatism poses to subsidiarity. Masking beyond the neo-con discussion of freedom and liberty is a campaign for the preservation of American hegemony. Iraqis and Afghans are free to choose, as long as they choose to give the United States permanent military installations, preferred access to their natural resources and preferred treatment in business dealings. That is not freedom, but slavery.

5) Free Trade. McCain has never faulted from the free trade position. The effects of this policy have come to be well known since the implementation of NAFTA in 1994. The manufacturing industry has collapsed in the United States. The jobs that have been moved to Mexico, China, Vietnam, etc. have increased labor exploitation in those countries as corporations “race to the bottom.” Another evil consequence of global free trade that is underreported is the increase in human trafficking for slavery and sexual gratification made possible by lax enforcement of immigration and custom laws. Free trade between countries with comparative economies should be the goal. So free trade between the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom would make sense. But free trade between 1st world and 3rd world economies is a recipe for exploitation of the least in both countries. McCain has refused any calls to reevaluate our free trade agreements in light of labor and environmental concerns.

6) Taxes. The national debt of the United States now stands at $9,525,785,767,950.96. This is, of course, a staggering amount of debt that must be dealt with in rapid order. For the first time in American history, we are fighting two wars and have not raised the revenue necessary to pay for them, resulting in this enormous financial burden for future generations. To call for more tax cuts in this situtation is fiscally irresponsible and reckless.

7) Personal Character. McCain is an admitted adulterer. He has confessed to having extramarital affairs with other women during his first marriage to Carol Shepp, one of which was with his present wife Cindy Hensley. McCain has sought forgiveness from his first wife and presumably from God and I am perfectly fine with such a noble action in the face of his own failings. It seems that McCain has learned from his previous mistakes and there is no credible evidence that he has cheated on his current wife. I do raise this point, however, to demand consistency from myself. I am not ready to have another adulterer in the White House.

8) Judges. One of the long term legacies of any President is the men and women chosen to serve on the federal bench. I share the views of former Justice John Marshall Harlan, II who argued that the judiciary should not be a haven for reform movements seeking to circumvent the political process. I want a Supreme Court with a single-minded focus on safeguarding constitutional liberty and states' rights and one reluctant to overturn legislation. This constitutionalist philosophy argues for judicial restraint and a reduced role of the courts in policy-making. I worry greatly about the political pressure Presidents face today to see the Supreme Court as a panel of demi-gods. Both political parties have developed an obsessive court-worship and I fear McCain will not have the political will to withstand calls for more conserative activists on the bench.

I will post the reasons I cannot vote for Obama in a few days.

Mason Slidell


reunionpi said...

See who the first wife of John McCain is working for now and who she contributed to


Jesuit John said...

Please explain why you choose to say "I cannot vote for McCain or Obama" and focus on the "cannot" part. Some of the reasons sound like reasons that might dissuade you, sure, I get it. But actually prohibit you, I'm not so sure...

Take the issue of taxes. There are really smart and well meaning experts on both sides of the issue of tax cuts. Both sides can sound very convincing. I'm not sure my level of expertise on the subject would lead me to believe I CANNOT vote for someone who holds a position different from mine. Sure, I have an opinion on tax cuts and I'd like to vote for someone like-minded, but it's not a deal breaker.

This IS NOT to say there aren't any issues that I could feel confident enough about to call them "non negotiables" or something to that effect. Abortion (and by the same rational, ESCR) is a no-brainer for me. If I think a candidate will intentionally do any harm to the hard work of pro-life advocates, I CANNOT vote for the candidate.

But do you think every reason you listed meets that standard?

Markel, SJ / Mason Slidell said...

I can't speak for Mason, but for me the first four hold that kind of weight and the fifth is close. It has gotten to the point where the first four are all directly connected with issues of human dignity and often life or death. They embrace life issues.

I think it's important to focus on the "cannot" because of the direness of the situation. It has gotten to the point where we haven't had a real decent choice in decades. Voting for president is kind of a joke. The real political action takes place on other planes. So convincing people why they cannot vote for someone shifts attention to more important forms of political action, primarily local and community based, and also to raise a cry against the impasse that the, for example, pro-life movement finds itself in with the Republican party, having gotten itself boxed into one party. It's time that votes actually counted again and that Catholic social teaching had something to say about it.

Markel, SJ / Mason Slidell said...


Your point is well taken.

I use "cannot" because I have formulated for myself three standards by which I judge political candidates: a) the dignity of the human person, b) the placing of heavy burdens on others and c) personal character. I have found that each of these standards reflects back, in some way, on the other two and gives you a pretty good picture of the kind of person a candidate is.

So for example, the tax issue. My point was not directly focused on the various merits of particular taxes or tax cuts, but on massive debt we have. What does it say about a candidate who advocates cutting taxes, keeping spending pretty much the same and giving no solution for paying off a $9 trillion debt? It reveals to me a lack of concern for the burden and enslavement he creates for future generations. And the willingness to create such a heavy yoke for others also reveals something about the personal character and their respect (or lack of respect) for human dignity.

As you will see when I post my Obama remarks, the same holds true for him. What does it say about a candidate who advocates raising taxes but does not advocate spending cuts nor seems concerned about reducing the debt? It also reveals some fundamental flaws.

I agree with Markel that voting for President has become a national joke, but I find it something a sick joke. Men and women who seek the Presidency become something very different than what they were before. Think of McCain eight years ago and then today. Think of Obama eight months ago and then today. The media refers to the process as "flip-flopping," but I find something more frightening. The candidates seem to change so quickly and so fundamentally, with little to no explanation as to why. It seems that candidates sell out whatever ideals or opinions they once held for carefully crafted and vetted policy positions. Do you know people who do that on a regular basis, becoming someone totally different and less accessible overnight? Maybe it is just me, but I find the process to be sinister and I grow more and more uncomfortable voting for those who so eagerly throw themselves in.

Mason Slidell

Jesuit John said...

Here’s a few thoughts on your big 8.

1. ESCR: While National Right to Life happily endorses McCain, I still have my doubts over his position(s) concerning ESCR and other abortion related issues. http://www.nrlc.org/news/1999/NRL999/mccain.html is a pretty good summary and might give you an idea of why I may not be able to vote for McCain. I say “may not” for reasons I’ll explain later.

2. Torture: I don’t know enough of the details. I’d like to hear him explain what was in that bill that was so bad that he couldn’t support it. I suppose it’s possible that other “aggressive” techniques banned by the bill might be ones within the realm of acceptability, like speaking loudly or minor sleep deprivation.

3. Iraq War: It’s pretty understandable why you might think the war was unjustly begun. And I think McCain’s stance on the war now (how to end it successfully) is very important. But I’m not convinced his stance on going to war in the first place would be a deal breaker for me today. Based on what the intelligence coming in at the time said, I supported backing up the UN resolutions with force. I assume McCain’s judgment is better informed today than it was when Bush beat the war drums. Mine certainly is. So I can’t call this a deal breaker.

Jesuit John said...

4. Neo-conservative ideology: You say, “...That is not freedom, but slavery [for the Afghans and Iraqis].” This is more than a bit overboard. The Taliban is out of power. Saddam Hussein is out of power. They have not been replaced by something worse. The flawed (and improving) democracy in those places now cannot be compared to slavery. I don’t expect the neo-con plan to save the world or even contribute to the improvement of things here, but I’d hardly call it a deal breaker that McCain might fall into the neo-com category.

5. Free Trade: “McCain has refused any calls to reevaluate our free trade agreements in light of labor and environmental concerns.” I can’t call this a deal breaker either. I’m just not informed enough about the predicted fallout of alternative plans.

6. Taxes: See the last two sentences of number 5, or read my earlier post.

7. Personal Character: “I am not ready to have another adulterer in the White House.” What? But I thought he sought forgiveness from God and his X-wife. He’s not doing it anymore, as far we know (I don’t blame him for not seeing remarriage as a problem if his religious leaders have lead him to think this). So he’s branded an adulterer forever? Unworthy to serve? You blew my mind on this one.
8. Judges: I’m no expert, but I like the way these guys think: http://www.fed-soc.org/publications/pubid.1070/pub_detail.asp Or just troll around the Southern Appeal bog a while. But they lean towards the conclusion that conservative judges (Scalia, Thomas, Alito, Roberts) are NOT the activists but the real constitutionalists. I have never heard a persuasive argument otherwise.

Now finally a word on what I mean when I say “may not” be able to vote for a candidate. I’m still debating in my mind what to make of this. I have voted for other parties before in disgust with the selection put forward by the two big parties. I felt good pulling the lever. But there are some good arguments put out there for gritting your teeth and picking the guy with some problems (mostly in his passivity regarding ESCR or leading the peace movement or whatever) over the guy who promises to fight any legislation that looks to extend the right to life to anyone unlucky enough to be in the womb. This seems like a far more fundamental problem than anything else I can think of. So do I choose a side in what is shaping up to be a close race, or do I vote for someone else as a sort of protest? I haven’t decided yet...

Markel, SJ / Mason Slidell said...


I appreciate your thoughtful consideration and response. Like I said in the post, these “deal breakers,” as you call them, are the issues that are important to me. I understand if you would want to subtract some and/or add others.

Just a few other comments:

1) As I understand it, the torture bill was an amendment attached to appropriation bill for the Intelligence community. McCain’s explanation for voting against the bill is because he did not want to delay funding for the CIA and other intelligence agencies. For a man who has spoken so forcefully and clearly before about how our use of torture undermines our standing worldwide, this explanation does not cut it. It seems to me another one of those sudden shifts in position with little explanation given.

2) Like I said, I give McCain credit for his wisdom on military strategy and tactics in the Iraq War. Few have spoken so well on the need for a definable mission and the proper way to achieve success in that mission. But, again, the fact that McCain does not acknowledge his error in judgment going into the war is unacceptable to me. And sorry, but I can’t let you pull the “everybody thought Saddam had weapons” card, this is just false. I would suggest reading former CIA Director George Tenet’s memoir entitled “At the Center of the Storm” and Bob Woodward’s three-volume work entitled “Bush at War.” Tenet states that intelligence reports offered both positive and negative conclusions about WMD and that they could not provide a conclusive answer to the question of whether or not Saddam had WMD. Woodward provides reports about British, French and Russian intelligence that came to the same inconclusive result. The Bush administration knew all of this and made the decision to cherry-pick the positive reports. McCain and many other members of Congress never read the Intelligence Estimate themselves and simply swallowed the administration line. That is a dereliction of duty. As to the question of UN resolution enforcement, no single member state is empowered to enforce resolutions; only Security Council authorization provides legal use of force, so of course the US/UK invasion was illegal.

3) I admit using a little rhetorical flourish in the neo-con section, but a candidate’s support of the neo-con project is a deal breaker for me. I would also suggest caution in saying that the Taliban is out of power. They are resurging strongly and reestablishing themselves foot-hole by foot-hole in several outer provinces in Afghanistan. They are far from vanquished.

4) As to McCain’s past as an adulterer, my intention is not to say he is unworthy to serve. As I said in the post, I am willing to accept his repentance and reconciliation with his wife and God. This likely would not have been a big issue for me had the Clinton mess not happened, but given that it did, I find myself more sensitive to the issue.

5) I did not claim that any particular justice on the court is an activist. Even if some justices aren’t activists, it is clear that most justices on the court lack humility about their role in political life and seem to have very little concern about injecting themselves in cases based upon far-fetched constitutional reasoning. I would suggest the 2005 decision in Gonzales v. Raich as a contemporary example of such overreaching.

6) On your “may not” explanation, I agree that these decisions can be tough, but I would challenge you on one thing. I don’t think we should use the language of a “protest vote” when we vote for someone other than a D or R. Of course, if you do it with the intention that it is a protest, then it is, but voting for a third party should not be automatically labeled a protest. I would hope that more voters reclaim the ownership of their vote. Your vote belongs to NO ONE but you and you are the only one who should be making the decision. I previously voted for President in 2000 and 2004 and on both occasions I voted for a third party candidate. Of course, neither candidate won, but I voted for the person I thought would be the best President and not out of fear, disgust or protest.

Mason Slidell

Jesuit John said...

"I voted for the person I thought would be the best President"

If I did that, I'd have to write in my own name. Ha! Just kidding. Thanks for the thoughtful/informative comments. You make a strong case for the Baldwin-Castle ticket ;)