The Catholic Thing
HOME        ARCHIVES        IN THE NEWS        COMMENTARY        NOTABLE        DONATE
Unexamined Ballot, Not Worth Casting Print E-mail
By Francis J. Beckwith   
Friday, 24 June 2011

During the 2012 political campaigns for a variety of local and state-wide offices, chances are that you will have a candidate ring your doorbell or you will encounter one at a public gathering. 

He will tell you all about himself, hand you a piece of literature, and then ask if you have any questions. This is your chance to find out what the candidate really thinks. 

You have to be very careful, however, because the way you ask your questions can reveal your views to the candidate, and he will likely offer an answer specifically crafted to give the appearance that it is consistent with your views. In order to avoid this, and to have a little fun in the process, here are some suggestions.  

1) Ask your question in a way that sounds like you don’t agree with the position you actually hold. For example, if you are prochoice on abortion, ask the candidate if he or she believes that the state should protect the innocent unborn from unjust harm (and just a personal question, by the way: why are you reading The Catholic Thing?). If you are prolife, tell the candidate that you are concerned about the right to privacy, reproductive rights, and a woman’s right to choose. Then ask where he stands on this “deeply personal issue.”  

If you believe that the Second Amendment affirms a near absolute right to bear arms, ask the candidate if she believes that the government should restrict handgun ownership so that “no more innocent children are needlessly maimed by these machines of violence.” On the other hand, if you are a firm advocate of gun control, ask the candidate if given the opportunity will she take away your “Second Amendment God-given right to self-protection.”  

2) Play the devil’s advocate. The purpose of this sort of questioning is to see whether the candidate really knows why he holds the position he does or was simply spoon fed certain “positions” because his campaign manager thought they were great points for the blog or the door piece. 

Consider this scenario. The candidate’s literature states that she “supports harsher sentences for criminals who harm senior citizens.” If you are not a senior citizen, you may ask, “Are you saying that my life and property are of lesser value than those of older people?” If you are a senior citizen, you may ask, “Are you saying that the life and property of my children and grandchildren are of lesser value than mine?” 

Of course, you may agree, as I do, with the policy. But playing the devil’s advocate forces the candidate to reason with you about this policy as well as reveal to you, by the width and depth of the case she makes, whether she really believes what her campaign literature states.


     
As Socrates might say: Don't be an unexamining voter. 

3) Have fun with the candidate’s slogans. Several years ago a Nevada state senate candidate had a slogan that was ubiquitous in his literature: “It’s time for a change.” The incumbent, a friend of mine, asked me to help her prep for her debate with him. During the prep I asked her if she had ever voted for a tax increase during her tenure in the legislature. She said that she had not. Then, I told her that in her opening statement of her debate she should say this: “During my time as a state senator I have never voted for a tax increase. My opponent says that it is time for a change. Evidently, he will never vote against a tax increase.” You should have seen the look on his face. 

Candidates should be held accountable for their sound bites and slogans, especially when they assume a constituency easily manipulated by empty rhetoric. 

4) Ask questions of principle rather than questions of belief. The purpose of this form of inquiry is to get the candidate to divulge the political principles that undergird the policies he supports. 

Consider the case of the 1996 Republican candidate for President, Bob Dole. While serving in the U. S. Senate, Dole had a very strong pro-affirmative action voting record. Presidential candidate Dole, however, announced his opposition to affirmative action because, in his words, “it doesn’t work.” But most people, including many in both major political parties, oppose most forms of affirmative action because they believe that these policies are tantamount to preferential treatment, resulting in some cases of less qualified applicants being chosen over better qualified ones. They do not oppose affirmative action because “it doesn’t work,” but because “it is unfair.” 

So whether or not affirmative action “works” has no bearing on the principled opposition to it. Dole, therefore, should have been asked by the media how he would respond to critics of affirmative action who think it is unfair regardless of whether it worked. And the inquiry could have taken an even more penetrating turn. Dole could have been asked how he would convince those critics of affirmative action why they are wrong in their moral assessment. 

It is important that voters not only become better informed, but that they think clearly and critically about the candidates and their policies. Or to put it as Socrates might have, “The unexamined ballot is not worth casting.”
 

Francis J. Beckwith is Professor of Philosophy and Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books including Politics for Christians: Statecraft as SoulcraftHe blogs at returntorome.com.
 
©2011 The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights write to: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

Rules for Commenting

The Catholic Thing welcomes comments, which should reflect a sense of brevity and a spirit of Christian civility, and which, as discretion indicates, we reserve the right to publish or not. And, please, do not include links to other websites; we simply haven't time to check them all.

Comments (2)Add Comment
0
...
written by Grump, June 24, 2011
Good advice, Francis, except that most of the time we have a choice between tweedledum and tweedledee. In this PC age, a direct answer to a direct question is rare. Questions about abortion, in particular, almost always lead to equivocation regardless whether the candidate is "pro-life" or "pro-choice," which seems to be the sole litmus test for Catholic voters.

American politics has devolved into one big cliche. Each election cycle we must endure the same old bromides, dressed up in new sloganeering, complete with red-white-and blue campaign paraphernalia, and platitudes about "our children and our grandchildren" or "future generations," yada, yada.

Just once in a debate, I'd like to hear a candidate in rebuttal to an opponent's windy answer say, "He's full of s--t." That guy would get my vote.
0
...
written by Manfred, June 24, 2011
I received a phone call this morning from the Republiocan National Committee. The caller admitted I had not contributed in years. I explained that the GOP talks of smaller gov.t but the Bush admin. swelled the the Fed gov't, instituted the Medicare Prescription Plan which is bankrupting Medicare, and its Neo-Con branch lied us into the Iraq War. He asked if I would like to see Obama in office for four more years. I responded that Obama was the Nobel Peace Prize winner, was he not? The fact that we are in five illegal wars under Bush/Obama should be of no concern. In 1984, George Orwell remarks in the novel that a war was raging for years, but no one could remember any longer why it had begun. The Republicans in the NY Senate may vote on "same-sex marriage" today. The U.S. is teetering on collapse and no one has any solution how to resolve it. Let it go.

Write comment
smaller | bigger

security code
Write the displayed characters


busy
 
CONTACT US FOR ADVERTISERS ABOUT US
Banner
Banner
Banner
Banner
Banner
Banner
Banner
Banner