As with every election, we are told that this year’s midterms are the most important of our lives. We are given the terms of the election in apocalyptic tones: this is a battle between the forces of good versus evil, the forces of democracy versus fascism (or the forces of democracy versus anarchy, depending on your perspective). So, as Catholics, understanding that we live in a fallen world run by fallen people, what is the better choice: fascism or anarchy?
It’s akin to being asked if you would rather die by drowning or from a plane crash (or maybe even from a plane crash into the ocean).
A poll conducted by Real Clear Opinion Research and EWTN News looked at the Catholic vote in six key states, including Ohio. In each case around 500 people were polled and so the results can be taken with a grain of salt, but there seems to be a clarity on the importance of certain issues that matches up well with the general sense of the American public.
First and foremost are the so-called “kitchen table issues” - those things that people talk about around the kitchen table with their family and friends. Sixty-three percent of Catholic likely-voters polled said that these issues - economy, jobs, inflation, and rising interest rates - are the most important and therefore the measure of a candidate’s worth.
On the hot-button issue of abortion, which seems to be driving some campaign rhetoric to feverishly high levels, Catholics tend not to be so concerned. Maybe it is the belief that the Dobbs decision “solved” the abortion issue, or maybe, to paraphrase former Clinton strategist James Carville, Catholics believe that “it’s about the economy, stupid”, but either way, a surprisingly low number - 7.3% - see abortion as the central issue.
The irony of this should not be overlooked. For fifty years any Catholic who voted for a candidate because of her or his stand against abortion has been saddled with the most approbrious of labels: single issue voter. Yet in this election, because the tables have been turned due to the striking down of Roe v Wade, there is an incredible amount of emphasis on one single issue by those who in the past have presented themselves as much more sophisticated and nuanced in their politics and voting habits.
Candidates, who in previous elections had downplayed their views and voting records on abortion so as to court the Catholic vote have changed their tune and seem to care only about preserving a woman’s right to choose. And, sadly, this includes both Catholic candidates and elected officials.
Deceptively, what all of them intentionally avoid mentioning is what that choice is.
In a well argued article in the most recent issue of Notre Dame Magazine Jessica Keating Floyd, the Director of the Notre Dame Office of Life and Human Dignity, notes her own change of heart on the issue of “choice”. A professor whom she admired for his commitment to social justice and Catholic radicalism answered her pro-choice argument by stating, “If you believe these are human beings, you might feel differently. If the unborn child is a human being, then we are talking about a history of unparalleled, state-sanctioned killing in excess of 300 million souls worldwide.” She said that his words “stopped me in my tracks.”
Had she desired to link her reaction to that of those who converted to Christianity after hearing St. Peter’s Pentecost speech accusing them of killing Christ, then she might have said that she was “cut to the heart.” If, like the crucifixion, abortion is the “state-sanctioned killing” of the innocent, then certainly the words written by St. Luke in Acts are perfectly appropriate.
To her credit, Keating Floyd allowed the words of that unnamed professor to bring her to a sense of metanoia or “change of heart” that paralleled that of the three thousand Jews who asked St. Peter for baptism on Pentecost. But the question of “Now what?” that would have confronted her and those in Jerusalem confronts us all.
What compromises - the sine qua non of a democratic society - are we willing to tolerate or even endorse? Are there some candidates whose politics are so contrary to the teachings of Christ that they cannot, in good conscience, be voted for? Or has the political landscape changed so much in the past decade - as Stanford Senior Fellow Victor Davis Hanson believes - that we can actually vote for a candidate rather than against the other?
In the end, election night is like draft night: everyone's an expert and no one knows what they are talking about. There are two years until the next major election, and those two years will give us the answer to the questions posed by this “most important election of our lives.” So, will we elect the people we need or will we elect the people we deserve? Only time will tell, and may God have mercy on our souls.