In Defense of Single-Issue Voting
The election looms, and we are all supposed to do our civic duty and pore over reams of information about the candidates and their positions on dozens of issues. If we don’t do so, if we make our choice based on the candidate’s stand on one issue we consider of utmost importance, then we are prime targets to be insulted as a “single-issue voter.”
Why are single-issue voters so maligned? Rarely is someone who is characterized as a single-issue voter uninformed about a candidate’s position on other, less important, issues, so it is not a question of ignorance. Whatever other reasons there might be, I think an unspoken reason why single-issue voters are demeaned is because they subtly go against the cultural tide of relativism. Single-issue voters see the world too much in terms of black-and-white; something may be true for you but you have to consider other factors as well. Don’t be so doctrinaire since there really is nothing that is more important than anything else. Relativists love to make the world as grey as possible.
Of course, the single issue that affects the votes of most people (on both sides of the issue) is abortion. So, people who are pro-life and vote only for pro-life candidates are often the target of smears that they don’t care about anything or anyone else (How often have you heard “If only you cared about the born as much as the unborn!”). But I imagine everyone reading this can imagine two or three friends who would never consider voting for a candidate who opposed same-sex “marriage,” or for one who supported or opposed the war in Eastasia, or for one who supports gun control. How many people would stress open-mindedness in considering the various policy positions of a David Duke, and not to get hung up on his racial views? So, there are plenty of people who are de facto single-issue voters who somehow don’t get stuck with the label; it’s mostly just pro-lifers.
Pro-lifers getting slapped with the “single-issue” epithet are essentially being told that abortion is no more important than war, capital punishment, budget issues, etc. Sadly, many Catholics are on the receiving end of this barb by other Catholics. The magisterium points the way, though:
3. Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia…There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia…
5. Regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia, when a person’s formal cooperation becomes manifest (understood, in the case of a Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws), his Pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist.
Moral theologians may disagree, but I can’t imagine the culpability is much lessened if we were talking about a Catholic voter (rather than a politician) who consistently campaigned and voted for more permissive abortion laws. So, Catholics have a perfectly acceptable defense for being single-issue voters. Despite it’s PR image, “choice” is really abortion, the mass slaughter of millions of babies annually. While it’s morally problematic to weigh issues based on the numbers of victims, it is hard to place an issue like capital punishment (where less than 50 executions occurred in 2010) or war (where most of the dead are combatants and not fully innocent) with abortion (millions of innocent babies killed by occasionally gruesome means in terrible conditions, all done legally).
The “multiple issue” voter will ask “Why should you care what candidates for mayor or dogcatcher think about abortion?” This seems like a valid question since very few politicians will have the chance to affect abortion law. But, as I heard Theresa Tomeo put it on an appearance on Catholic Answers Live a while back, if your mayor or dogcatcher fails on the most basic issue of whether unborn babies should be protected against murder, how can you trust their judgment on other matters?