Single-issue voters

With the last of the presidential debates now safely behind us, we have entered the home stretch of the race for the presidency. At this point, I think most people have formed some kind of opinion, and the candidates are now trying to nudge the undecided voters in one direction or the other. It does boggle the mind that there can still be people who look at McCain, Obama, Biden, and Palin and say to themselves, "I just don't know…", but there you have it. Some people are indecisive.

One thing I find particularly difficult to understand is the single-issue voter. With the economy a shambles, banks failing, the government stepping in, a Republican administration throwing billions of dollars in taxpayer money at anything that promises to stabilize the situation, a costly and divisive war in Iraq, and Iran this close to nuclear capability (and the Israelis doubtless making plans to attack Tehran before Tel Aviv becomes a smoking cinder), making your decision based on one issue seems, oh, I don't know, just a tad simplistic. The term idiotic also comes to mind.

I am especially perplexed by those who make their voting decision based on the abortion issue. This is not because I do not understand their position. I'm a Christian, of the Orthodox (AKA Eastern/Greek/Russian Orthodox) variety, and my church teaches that abortion means the death of a child. I am not unsympathetic to the pro-life position. But before we all jump on the GOP bandwagon and decide that Republican=good and Democrat=bad, because McCain/Palin claim to be pro-life and Obama/Biden want to keep it legal, let's look at what it means to be pro-life.

Ideally, being pro-life should mean that one is opposed not only to abortion, but also to torture. For the past eight years, we have had an allegedly pro-life president whose administration has repeatedly looked for ways to justify torture. Being pro-life should also mean that one is opposed to unnecessary wars and the needless taking of innocent civilian life. How many Iraqi civilians have been killed and maimed in this war that our "pro-life" President started? And before anyone starts in with "they attacked us first," it is worth remembering that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.

Quite apart from the matter of what it means to be pro-life is the question of practicality. As a practical matter, the President of the United States has no say in whether or not abortion is legal, or whether Roe v. Wade is upheld. The sole action that the president can take is to appoint Supreme Court justices whom he thinks will uphold his position. History teaches us that this is essentially a crapshoot. The court under Chief Justice Earl Warren, who was appointed by Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower, turned out to be one of the most activist courts this nation has ever seen. Justice David Souter, nominated by Bush the Elder, has consistently voted with the liberal wing of the court. Justice Anthony Kennedy, appointed by Reagan, has proved to be a swing vote. John Paul Stevens, appointed by Gerald Ford, is among the most liberal. You just can't tell.

Even if the court were to overturn Roe v. Wade, this would merely return the matter to the states, where the pro-life movement would have to battle it out in fifty different state battlegrounds. Some places, Oklahoma for instance, would likely ban abortion; others, like my home state of California, would probably not only keep it legal but find some way to provide public funding for it. If you want to get rid of abortion, you'll have to push through a constitutional amendment, and that is something that has never been attempted, even under a Republican administration with Republican majorities in Congress. The reason is simple: it won't fly.

It won't fly because the votes just aren't there. Abortion is one issue where the American people are seriously divided, and the lines aren't shifting. If anything, they're hardening. You might oppose abortion, and your church might teach that it's wrong, but the guy next door might have very different opinions, and this is still supposedly a free and democratic country, the so-called Patriot Act notwithstanding.

You might argue that it's never been tried because we haven't consistently had a conservative in the White House. Probably true, but so what? For the last fifty-odd years, it's been rare to have one party in the White House for more than 8 years. Look at the history: the Democrats controlled the White House from 1933 to 1953, but then Eisenhower had eight years, JFK/LBJ eight, Nixon/Ford eight, Carter four, Reagan/Bush twelve, Clinton eight, and Bush II eight. Americans may not always want to change horses in midstream, but they do seem to like to alternate parties. Reagan never seriously tried to outlaw abortion, and neither has Bush the Younger. Both had eight years, and Bush even had a Republican majority in Congress for a while. For heaven's sake, what more do you need?

So if you want to end abortion, realize that you won't achieve anything through an election, either by voting or by withholding your vote. You're going to have to do the hard work of convincing your family, friends, and neighbors that abortion is wrong, and being a witness to the truth by the example you set. You'll end abortion by changing people's hearts, not by putting a particular party in power. The politicians are no more likely to end abortion than they are to end poverty and give everybody a new car. Cast your vote, by all means; just don't base it on one issue alone. You might even vote for a person, not a party.

In other words, if you like McCain, by all means vote for McCain. If you can't stand Obama but can tolerate McCain, vote for McCain. If you're undecided, look at the whole range of issues affecting the country. If you don't like McCain, and like Obama but are disappointed by his stand on abortion, think hard before pulling the lever for the GOP. You may just end up getting exactly nothing that you want. And that vote would be the most wasted vote of all.