None of the Above: The Only Vote Worth Casting in November?

By Angelo Matera

Posted 3/6/08 at 4:26 PM


As I listened to John McCain’s victory speech Tuesday night, spelling out the themes of his general election campaign—no apologies for the Iraq war, fight the “global war on terror” like it’s World War IV, keep taxes low, and global markets free—in other words, stay the course, the harsh reality of having to choose between him and Obama/Clinton this November began to hit me.

On the one hand, despite Obama’s hope-filled rhetoric, I don’t see the Democrats moving away from their pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage, anti-school choice, and generally anti-religious approach to government (I hope I’m wrong but I doubt it). I get the sense that the politically correct thought police are just waiting to get back in power, so they can wipe out any remaining expressions of traditional values in society.

I also don’t see the Dems offering any solution for what is—from the point of view of Catholic Social Teaching—an intolerable economic situation for working families. 

The reason is simple: the Dems rely on contributions from the same hedge fund and financial money that funds the Republicans, so they can’t say boo about the extreme bias that exists in our economy in favor of capital, and against family wage earners. The only thing they can offer is band-aid government programs that treat the symptoms, not the disease, and that always leads to more taxes on the middle class and more government bureaucracy to support the people left behind by the global economy.

This became clear to me a when I watched a glowing Obama accept the endorsement of Ted Kennedy. Haven’t we been there, and done that? If you need to be reminded of the failures of the welfare state, just watch any episode of The Wire. (For a hint of an alternative “Third Way” approach, read Philip Blond’s recent column in the International Herald Tribune on “The Failure of Neoliberalism”, where he discusses the failure, in England, of both the free market policies of Margaret Thatcher, and the liberal policies of Tony Blair).

On the other hand, I don’t see how you can reward the Republicans for their failed military and economic policies, which have wrecked the country. Getting two pro-life (we hope) Supreme Court justices does not make up for a destabilized Middle East, $2 trillion in projected costs for the Iraq war, mortgage delinquencies and foreclosures at record levels, dangerously high levels of household credit card debt, out-of-control health care insurance costs, a plummeting dollar, not to mention harsh, un-Catholic stances on immigration, the death penalty, and torture, all combined with McCain’s wishy-washy positions on abortion and gay marriage, and his outright support for embryonic stem cell research.

The US Bishops have issued an intelligent, nuanced (if muddled) statement on “forming consciences for faithful citizenship,” that helps Catholics sort out the key issues of “human life and dignity, marriage and family, war and peace, the needs of the poor and the demands of justice.” It falls somewhere in-between a rigid “5 most important issues” approach, and a bland “seamless garment” stance that is too soft on life issues, although it still falls short in applying Catholic Social Teaching and the complementary principles of solidarity and subsidiarity as rigorously as the Church’s social encyclicals do.

That’s why I find myself considering another possibility—the position proposed by the Catholic moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, during the 2004 presidential election between George Bush and John Kerry, which advocated a “none of the above” choice.

MacIntyre’s 1984 book, After Virtue, made a powerful, impossible-to-ignore argument against moral relativism, and for a return to “virtue ethics,” that rocked the field of philosophy. In his short but well-argued 2004 statement, entitled “The Only Vote Worth Casting,” he said:

“…Try to promote the pro-life case that we have described within the Democratic Party and you will at best go unheard and at worst be shouted down. Try to advance the case for economic justice as we have described it within the Republican Party and you will be laughed out of court. Above all, insist, as we are doing, that these two cases are inseparable, that each requires the other as its complement, and you will be met with blank incomprehension. For the recognition of this is precluded by the ideological assumptions in terms of which the political alternatives are framed. Yet at the same time neither party is wholeheartedly committed to the cause of which it is the ostensible defender. Republicans happily endorse pro-choice candidates, when it is to their advantage to do so. Democrats draw back from the demands of economic justice with alacrity, when it is to their advantage to do so. And in both cases rhetorical exaggeration disguises what is lacking in political commitment.

In this situation a vote cast is not only a vote for a particular candidate, it is also a vote case for a system that presents us only with unacceptable alternatives. The way to vote against the system is not to vote.”

MacIntyre is one of the world’s most influential moral philosophers, whose work has helped bring Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas back into the philosophical mainstream. Before Catholics quietly fade into the McCain vs. Obama (or Clinton) political background, it’s a good idea to give his proposal serious consideration. I know I will.

And if I decide against it, and actually vote, it will probably be because I’m voting for a write-in candidate: Alasdair MacIntyre.