|Vice-President Aaron Burr spoils his political career by|
killing former treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton.
One reason this election has brought out the worst in us is that we are fighting two battles at once. I fear that, no matter who wins the presidency, we will continue to fight these battles. We will probably still be fighting them in 2016.
We are fighting an economic battle between those who believe that the federal government should spend tax dollars on the military and little else, and those who believe that the federal government should also play a major role in assuring health care for all, supporting the indigent and elderly, rebuilding our infrastructure, and aiding disaster-stricken areas.
At the same time, we are fighting a moral battle between those who believe the federal government should allow individuals the freedom to decide whom to marry and whether to carry a child to term, and those who believe the federal government should outlaw abortion and recognize only heterosexual marriages.
The two major parties have divided up our concerns in unexpected ways. The Democratic ticket is communitarian in economics and libertarian in morals; the Republican ticket is just the reverse. This creates a problem for people who are consistently communitarian or libertarian.
A lot of students at Miami University of Ohio, as Bill Keller points out today in "The Republican Id," are consistently libertarian: they are enthusiastic about Republican economics but reject Republican morals. For them, economics trumps morals: the majority support Romney.
Most Catholic bishops, on the other hand, are consistently communitarian: they support Democratic economics but reject Democratic morals. For many bishops, morals trump economics (see David Gibson, "Catholic bishops make last-minute push for Romney"): they too support Romney.
The students are far smarter than the bishops.
If Romney and Ryan are elected, there's a good chance that federal programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid will be gutted (click here for five good reasons to be worried, even if you're over 55), along with smaller programs such as highway construction, education, and food stamps. There's not much chance, however, that abortion or gay marriage will go away. Overturning Roe v. Wade would not outlaw abortion; it would return the question to the states. As long as a woman had enough money, she could simply travel to wherever abortion was available.
If you're a student at a highly rated university like Miami, you probably figure you'll be one of the elites that would be helped by Romney/Ryan economics. As one of those elites, you could find your way around Republican moral strictures. So yes, as long as you're not concerned about people who haven't done as well as you, it makes sense for you to vote for survival of the fittest. (In a decade or two you may discover you're less fit than you thought you were, but you can vote differently then.)
The Catholic bishops, on the other hand, are showing themselves to be as wise as doves and as harmless as serpents. Even if they get their way - in the name of religious liberty! - Americans will continue to use contraception. They will continue to marry or live with whomever they please. They will continue to get far too many abortions (though if abortion goes underground, a lot more women will die).
Catholic bishops have little effect on American morals (even among their own parishioners: click here to see statistics on abortion rates and here to see statistics on contraceptive use among Catholics), but if they tip the election to Romney/Ryan, they may have a major effect on American economics - an effect that goes against more than a century of Catholic social teaching. In the name of freedom and small government, more families will struggle to put food on the table, to send their children to college, to find adequate housing, to care for their aging parents. Americans will continue to die younger than people in countries with universal health care. Our highways and bridges will deteriorate, and environmental pollution will increase. We may tumble back into recession or even depression.
Here's my point. Our next president's policies will probably have a major effect on America's economic health and, very likely, the economic health of the world. His policies will probably have a minor effect, if any effect at all, on America's morals.
If you like Romney/Ryan's Darwinian proposals, if you think the financiers who are paying for their campaign will help the middle class, if you believe that trickle-down economics help the poor (or if you think the poor shouldn't be helped), if you think business can thrive in the absence of a strong infrastructure, if you think climate change is a hoax, and if you trust for-profit health insurance companies with your life, then by all means vote for Romney-Ryan.
Just don't think they're going to bring about moral renewal in America.