I should know better than to start an election series so close to election day. Due to being out of time, I'll have to condense my thoughts.
For the sake of brevity (ha!), I'm going to set aside a whole host of issues and look narrowly at issues related to respect for human life. This is in a sense unsatisfying because both candidates have a whole host of stances that are destructive of society and culture, both here and abroad, but I think it works out because they in a sense cancel each other out.
While I think a vote for Barack Obama is morally indefensible for anybody who believes that an embryo is a human being deserving of legal protection, we should not be too quick to support John McCain. For starters, McCain supports embryonic stem cell research, which, last I checked, involves the direct killing of innocent human beings. Of course, Obama supports the direct killing of more innocent humans by his support for abortion, but this is not how the debate has been portrayed by Catholics. We're hearing that Obama supports an intrinsic evil and must be opposed, without reference to McCain's similar problem. I think that is a grave disservice to embryonic human life and is hurting the prolife witness. Analogize this to any other issue -- "McCain supports exterminating Hispanics, but Obame wants to get rid of Hispanics andJews, so obviously we have to support McCain." To the extent that Catholics are not speaking out against McCain's support for ESC research, they are injuring the prolife movement.
Furthermore, although McCain has a decent voting record when it comes to abortion, Rick Santorum, who fought honorably for the unborn when he was a senator, publicly stated last year that John McCain, behind closed Senate doors, opposed prioritizing prolife bills and amendments. Again, that's not nearly as bad as Barack Obama -- who couldn't even bring himself to support medical treatment for babies who accidentally get born because he didn't want to undermine Roe v. Wade -- but it's hardly cause for cheer.
Finally, the dream of most prolifers, myself included, is getting those five votes on the Supreme Court. "We're just one vote away!" That's true, and while the prospect of having Roe v. Wade finally overturned is tantalizing, it's hard to imagine that McCain would have a better record than, say, Ronald Reagan, who, if you count Bork, was only 50% on his Supreme Court picks in terms of their votes on abortion. Once again, we have to believe that McCain's picks are more likely to be pro-life than Obama's, but we're dealing with contingencies here, not facts, and similar contingencies have historically not worked out in our favor.
If you're going to credibly defend a vote for John McCain, it can't be on broad philosophical grounds, because there's just not much there. I think it has to be on very narrow political grounds: the Mexico City policy and the Freedom of Choice Act. Nobody doubts that President Obama, like Clinton before him, would overturn the Mexico City policy, which prohibits government agencies from making abortion one of America's few remaining exports. And he has already stated he would sign the Freedom of Choice Act, which would strip away even more legal protection from the unborn. Those two policies are, I think, decisive in making McCain "better" than Obama on abortion. But is this impact enough to justify voting for McCain, a man who supports the direct killing of human embryos?
Archbishop Charles Chaput put it wonderfully a few months back in a piece on the primacy of abortion. He said something to the effect that if we are going to vote for a candidate that supports legal abortion, we have to have a reason good enough to tell the unborn to their face on Judgment Day. Again, while it's clear that this rules out voting for Obama, I have a hard time envisioning meeting not the victims of abortion, but the victims of embryo destructive research and saying, "I supported a man who favored your death in order to stop a few abortions. Besides, the other guy had no value for your life either. I could have fought and denounced both candidates, but I decided to downplay your plight to serve other noble ends." It's not that I don't think I'd be in a sense justifiable, I just don't think I'd have taken the highest road.
I have trouble with the fact that if I want to vote for one of the major party candidates, I have to perform the grimmest of calculations: take x amount of unjust wars McCain is likely to start, subtract out the 1.5 million abortions per year that he oppposes (but can't really do much about except appoint the right judges, which is at best a 50% shot -- Souter! Kennedy! O'Connor! Stevens!) but add back in all of the frozen embryonic humans he wants to cannibalize for research. And where does that get us? Are we Catholics really transforming society by thinking like that?
I am truly thankful that I don't have to perform that calculation. Living in Illinois, which will go for Obama by about 60%, I'm happy to "waste" my vote on a third party candidate. Chuck Baldwin of the Constitution Party opposes abortion and embryonic stem research and invading harmless countries. He has some policies I dislike, but none that, as far as I can tell, lead to the direct killing of the innocent.
For those of you who live in a state that matters, I pray for you and ask you to pray for wisdom, prudence and discernment.