Response to "None of the Above"


[1] I admit to being something of a partisan of lost causes, and voting for none of the above is surely a lost cause. Mark Noll, a fellow partisan in at least this one respect, will continue his practice of the past few presidential elections in voting for none of the above; if I vote this year, I will continue mine. The last time I voted for a candidate running for either of the two major parties was 1976 when I voted for Jimmy Carter. (Aware of that vote, my closest friends are not unhappy with this resolve of mine not to vote.) I have, instead, written in the name of a pro-life Democrat-Robert P. Casey-until his death.

[2] To all appearances, the Democrats have failed to notice my vote and its symbolic value. Worse yet, only occasionally have they risen above derision for my views on respect for nascent human life. John Kerry aptly represents his party on this issue, and because this is so fundamental a moral issue I will not vote for him. Neither, I think, should other Lutherans, whose faith calls them to respect human life and to protect the weakest among us. (Some readers may find this last claim puzzling in light of the ELCA Board of Pensions health care plan.)

[3] Kerry supporters may protest, "He has said he respects the right of people like you to believe what you will about abortion; he just thinks we may not impose those views on others who disagree." This is disingenuous. Kerry has said that he personally believes life begins at conception but has dismissed those who would protect that earliest life (and surely his own church stands at the front of this line), as right-wing, extremist ideologues. (Those who suggest that Bush is lacking a certain intellectual fire-power ought to find Kerry an impressive rival, at least on this point.) Kerry's utterances on abortion have expressed none of the regret, and have not admitted any moral ambiguity in this shameful national practice. Those who think this callousness towards human life has no spillover effects need only remind themselves of the now rather common Kerry-Edwards mantra, "We will hunt down the terrorists and kill them." Given that the next president may nominate as many as four Supreme Court justices, Christians, as some Roman Catholic archbishops have rightfully reminded us, ought not be sanguine about a John Kerry presidency.

[4] So why not Bush?, my conservative academic friends ask me. I am not one of those who believe that Bush lied to us about Iraq. I am even willing to entertain the possibility that he might have constructed a reasonable argument for humanitarian intervention in Iraq or that, were we genuinely to commit ourselves to the project, a new Iraq might be the critical building block to a stable peace in the Middle East. But that was not his argument, and since his argument for intervention was the threat of weapons of mass destruction, I believe Kerry is right in his assessment that this war was fought at the wrong time, that we rushed into this war. To be sure, France and Russia were derelict with respect to their moral responsibilities, and perhaps even complicitous with Saddam, so there was little hope for a UN resolution of the problem. Still, before invading we might have further tightened the screws on Saddam with an expansion of "no-fly zones," and continued saber rattling. A persuasive argument, now confirmed, that containment was working was available. Additional time might have brought European leaders to the realization that their refusal to act was laying the groundwork not just for the rise of additional tyrants to sneer at the threat of UN inspections, but also for an expansive American Empire that was not in their own interests. More importantly, we might have constructed a more adequate plan for postwar Iraq and might have more realistically informed the American people of the cost of this invasion and, having invaded, of the importance of our sticking with the Iraqi people through the long-haul. President Bush's execution of this war and his readiness to war without adequate plans and commitments to rebuild a destroyed nation are unjustifiable. We have made a mess that the President seems to have no real plan to clean up, a mess the American people, sadly, seem unprepared to clean up.

[5] But this is not my only worry about the President and his party (and this is not to say that the Democrats fare much better on these issues). Professor Noll adequately expresses many of my concerns. The plight of our inner-cities, inequitable taxation-even if one agrees with the economic benefits of leaving the wealthy with more disposable income, basic medical coverage out of the reach of vast numbers of citizens, an immigration policy (or the lack thereof) aimed at garnering votes rather than addressing national problems, a coziness with corporations that is destructive of our world and corruptive of democratic values-these are some additional concerns with the Bush administration.

[6] It is true, though, that Bush would more likely appoint to the Supreme Court justices that would honor the basic values of life and family. As many as four justices to shape the nation for decades to come. If anything tempts me to vote, and to vote for Bush, it is this.

[7] Still, at this writing, I will not vote for the President. Or for his rival. It is not, I think, a worry about dirtying my hands by voting for a morally sleazy candidate. It is, rather, that my duty as a citizen does not always require me to vote for the candidate who would be least bad for the country (although sometimes it may), does not even, or so I would argue, always require me to vote. Those who care about democracy are fittingly concerned about how few Americans vote and what it might mean for this great experiment should the trend of increasingly fewer voters continue. But apathy is only one possible explanation for the decision not to vote; discontent is another. The political parties (and their corporate sponsors) have begun to address the apathetic voter. Perhaps the discontented voter will be next?

[8] I am a little younger than Noll and not having been politically active in the sixties I am, perhaps, a little less wistful than Noll, and than many Lutherans, about not voting for a real candidate this year. But we are pilgrims, and if the major political parties will treat us like pilgrims, why should that surprise us. Why should Christians think that the American political landscape would provide us a political home?

© November 2004
Journal of Lutheran Ethics
Volume 4, Issue 11