Odds Without Ends

Bro. George Zehnle is one of my favorite teachers of all time, and one of the most influential educators I encountered during my four years of high school. He’s funny, quick-witted, outstanding at teaching literature, and was always known to provide a logical take on national politics.

But this past summer, Bro. George, a Catholic Marianist brother, couldn’t find a perfectly logical solution concerning whom he should vote for in the upcoming presidential election.

“I’m in a bit of a bind,” he told me. “On the one hand, there’s a candidate who seems likely to get us out of the war more quickly. But on the other hand, his opponent is pro-life.”

I understand his dilemma and as I thought more about it, I realized this is the same dilemma facing Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, and countless other Americans of various religious faiths this November. In an election where so much is at stake – both in terms of the economy and foreign policy – the question begs to be asked: how important a role should social issues play in the upcoming presidential election?

The answer, naturally, varies from voter to voter. But it goes without saying that social issues, or “family values,” as they are sometimes called, have become some of the most prominent voting issues in the last 15 years or so.

The debate over topics like abortion, gay marriage, stem cell research and sexual education has taken root in American politics, with voters growing more and more impassioned about the subjects.

But, while it’s good for voters to get worked up over any issue, there are some definite dangers that can emerge from the increased passion – namely, one-issue voting.

We label politicians within five minutes of hearing them speak, most notably pigeonholing them as either pro-life or pro-choice. The harmful result is that voters view these issues as black and white, and they often feel compelled to vote for a candidate simply because of this one issue.

As it stands, there is too much at stake in this upcoming election to vote based off of only one issue. As profound as abortion, gay marriage, and other social issues are, America is currently facing massive problems that have significant impacts on our everyday lives.

There’s economic turmoil, with unemployment reaching a five-year high of 6.1 percent in August, according to a September CNN report. There’s a war in Iraq that is severely hurting our economy, spreading our military thin, and dragging on for more years than ever anticipated. Should we continue to support the military surge, which has successfully quelled some of the violence in the area? Or, rather, should we focus more on establishing Iraqi autonomy so that we can more successfully pull out of the country sooner?

The United States’ standing in the world, how it is viewed by other countries, and whether our foreign policy employs “bully tactics” must be considered by voters as well.

Ultimately, I can’t help but feel that voters out there who cast their ballot solely on social issues are missing the forest for the trees. Every issue is important – especially in an election as important as this one.

Take, for example, the topic of abortion – easily the most well-known and hot-button social issue in American politics.
Abortion is not nearly as black and white as many think.

What I find most fascinating here is that Barack Obama – the “pro-choice” candidate – has policies that would best curb the number of abortions in America. Most notably, I’m talking about his economic plan – a plan that stands head and shoulders above John McCain’s.

Obama’s plan is simple: roll back the Bush tax breaks on the top five percent of Americans (the wealthiest of the wealthy, who send their children to Harvard and Yale rather than St. John’s) and, with the billions of dollars obtained from this, repair our damaged economic infrastructure.

An improved economy leads to less poverty, less crime, and, yes, even less abortions.

A study released in August by Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good supports this theory. The findings tested the “long and short term effects of public policy on the abortion rate over a 20-year period” and found that “social and economic supports for women and families dramatically reduce the number of abortions.”

There’s something to be said about examining a candidate’s entire platform before casting a ballot this November. Those who are swayed to vote for a candidate solely based on his or her stance on abortion or any other social issue is making a grave mistake. While it’s good for voters to become impassioned over profound issues such as abortion, it’s another thing entirely to see them voting solely for a single issue.

With so much at stake in this upcoming election, I’m not surprised that Bro. George is having a hard time making up his mind. The dilemma he spoke of is surely affecting students on this campus, and I can fully understand.

But let’s be sure to remember that there are a multitude of issues this year that affect our daily lives, and each candidate’s positions should be examined as closely as possible before coming to a definite conclusion.

I’m almost 100 percent positive that Bro. George will make a fully-informed decision come November, not necessarily letting the pro-life or pro-choice labels persuade him entirely.
Let’s just hope the rest of America can do the same.