Sunday, March 16, 2008

On lesser evils (part II)

In part I we looked at the abortion issue. To summarize, Clinton the fast-fading Obama aren't going to do a thing about all of the baby killing. John McCain, like many a republican before him, insists that he is pro-life. But given the inability of the GOP to do anything significant about what is, one would think, a fairly important issue, it would be unwise to take McCain at his word.

But there is another life issue. We are currently ensconced in two wars: the morally licit one in Afghanistan; and one in nearby Iraq, which both Pope John Paul II and the then Cardinal Ratzinger condemned as immoral. Now, neither were speaking ex cathedra, so, strictly speaking, the doctrine of infallibility doesn't apply. Yet just because the Pope isn't speaking infallibly doesn't give Catholics permission to disregard everything he says. John Paul II wasn't Alexander VI; by all accounts, he was a holy and orthodox Roman Catholic, and a very learned one at that. This isn't to say that every word he ever wrote was gospel truth, but one would need a very good reason to dismiss his application of a centuries old principle to a current situation.

Now if we can fix the mess in Iraq, we should certainly do so; the you-broke-it, you-fix-it principle applies to countries as well. But the irrelevant surge notwithstanding, we're no closer to winning the war in Iraq then we were when the statue of Saddam came a tumbling down. At heart, fixing Iraq is a problem for the Iraqis to solve. To some extent, we can buy--and have bought--them some time to put their house in order. But if the Iraqis don't want to play nice, there's nothing we can do about it. Oh sure, we can keep our troops in the region in perpetuity, but if troops are needed to ensure democracy functions, it's not exactly a democracy. It's more like Turkey.

And this doesn't even take the cost of the war into consideration. Ron Paul puts the cost of the war at 3.5 trillion dollars, after tallying hidden costs and inflation. He notes:

If $3.5 trillion is the true cost of these military adventures, $11,500 is the amount every man, woman and child in this country pays. So, a family of four would pay $46,000 just for this war. This is an especially painful number to me, as the median household income of my constituency in Texas is just $43,000 a year. In other words, war has cost more than an entire year’s worth of income from each middle class Texas family.

This is one reason why politicians love the federal reserve. If presidents were forced to fund wars with taxpayer dollars, we'd fight far fewer of them. Only by hiding the costs through inflation do the people allow themselves to fight today's wars with tomorrow's dollars. I've wandered a bit here, but the point is that while it would be nice to clean up the mess we've made, our obligations to do so extend only so far. The cost of empire is simply too high.

Which brings us to John McCain. The Senator has no problem with keeping the troops in Iraq for a hundred years. He's taken a lot of flak for this one, and rightfully so, but he makes a good point when he notes that we've had troops in Germany since the end of WWII, and in Korea since that war ended. In short, America has been an empire for sometime now. The Paulites, like myself, loathe empires, in part because they fall, in part because they're incompatible with liberty. But those who are troubled by thoughts that one's great-grandchildren may be shipped to the Middle East to keep the peace need to ask themselves if they are similarly troubled by our commitments to Germany.

And of course, to revisit Paul's point, keeping the troops in Iraq for one hundred years will almost assuredly prove impossible, a pity for all the neocon bleeding hearts. We're not allowed to say anything yet, but we're in the midst of a recession, and one that is only going to get worse.

The real problem with McCain's foreign policy is that he hasn't learned anything from Iraq. He's a threat to invade Iran--if Bush doesn't do it first--and seems intent on reigniting the cold war. In short, whatever his stance on the abortion issue, McCain fails at consistently applying the principle to all forms of human life.

Now, some of the ignorant hawks are worried that Hillary isn't as hellbent on killing Arabs--I mean spreading democracy--as they are. But she's far from being an anti-interventionist. The important point to remember with the Clintons, and Hillary especially, is that they are cold and calculating. I won't insist that they're bereft of principle, but at heart--or whatever organ she has in its stead--Hillary isn't about to take a terribly controversial stand if she can avoid it. When her healthcare program went up in flames she disappeared for awhile, and we never heard about it again.

If the neocons are right about the inevitable bloodshed that will follow upon the heels of a U.S retreat from Iraq, not only will this mark the first time they made an accurate prediction, it will also ensure that Hillary will be very wary of making the move. Moreover, the way her husband used force during his presidency leaves little for the non-interventionist to cheer. It might be unfair to suggest that she should be held accountable for his actions, but it's not as if she'd be a candidate for presidency without him--yeah, I said it. If she's distanced herself from her husband on this issue, I've not heard about it.

Obama, on the other hand, has upped his anti-war rhetoric considerably. Now, he's not a principled Paulite; if he's against the sort of nation-building we're presently attempting, he's not going to promise never to use the troops, for instance, in a humanitarian effort. Still, if Obama's completely wrong on the abortion issue, at a certain level, he's right when it comes to preemptive wars. My apathy toward the campaign has prevented me from listening to the man very often; he still strikes me as a bit vague, not to mention fascistic. But on this one issue, and this issue alone, I like what I hear.

So where does that leave the Roman Catholic? Ultimately, one must vote one's conscience, bearing in mind that all choices will be scrutinized by the Almighty. One could try to perform arithmetic, calculating the approximate number of innocents killed if each candidate were to emerge, but even Ayn Rand would find this a bit cold. Maybe it's because I'm hopelessly idealistic, but I can't defend a compromise that costs hundreds of thousands of lives.

But other choices present themselves. There are other parties, who field other candidates. They'll never win, of course, but there are far more important things than winning. Not to be cynical--wait, who am I kidding?--but it's not as if one's vote counts anyway. In all but the closest of elections, especially at the federal level, the difference between the vote totals of two candidates is far larger than the single vote each of us possesses. In the close elections, the court will exercise its duty to wrest the decision from the unwashed masses and into the hands of the unelected elites, where power always resides.

If a candidate meets one's criteria, go ahead and vote. But trying to figure out the lesser evil is, as we have discovered, quite confusing. More to the point, it becomes, in the end, a contest to condone the most benevolent of two tyrants. If a vote could help restore liberty, I'd be the first to advocate it's use. But when it's only object is to crown a despot with a facade of legitimacy, I can't condone voting.

I sometimes wonder who lesser evil types would vote for in a contest between Hitler and Stalin. The example isn't as ridiculous as it sounds. Voting for a lesser evil is still sanctioning evil. Our consciences flare up when confronted with the Hitler/Stalin example for a reason. Replace the names, and fiddle a bit with the numbers murdered, and you've got this year's presidential contest.

And that's why I'll be staying home come election day.


hoosiertoo said...

With hindsight, Hitler of course.

Stalin was much more effective at democide.

Stefany said...

Yeah, I know, I don't have a cool name. And I'm behind in my reading.

Don't forget that there will be more issues than just the presidency up for the vote in November. Depending on where you live, there will be voting on US and state senators and representatives as well as state and local initiatives. Make sure you know what other issues you're ignoring before you write off voting altogether - there's certainly nothing wrong with turning in a blank presidential ballot while putting your two cents in elsewhere.

A Wiser Man Than I said...

Yeah, I know, I don't have a cool name.

Yes you do!

And I'm behind in my reading.

Not as much as that Christopher fellow.

Make sure you know what other issues you're ignoring before you write off voting altogether - there's certainly nothing wrong with turning in a blank presidential ballot while putting your two cents in elsewhere.

Point taken. And yet...

There aren't a whole lot of good congressmen and senators at the federal level. If you take those who are pro-life and opposed the war in Iraq, the list includes Ron Paul and maybe a few others.

At the state level, you may have better luck finding someone who is legitimately pro-life, but it's not as if Maine is about to invade Iran--though if we're lucky, Vermont will secede.

Mostly, I'm frustrated that the best we can do is slow the tide of evil. The best option is simply to pray for our leaders. God deals in miracles, though I'd bet on a heavy hand of His justice a coming soon.