Single Issue Voting
by Jeffrey Mirus
Most people find it very hard to look terrible evil in the face and
confront it directly. There are many reasons for this, among which are
cultural conditioning, concern about what it might mean to one's own
lifestyle, and fear of sticking out like the proverbial sore thumb.
Abortion is just such a mind-boggling evil. Homosexual advocacy is
another. Rampant divorce is a third. The list goes on. In each case, we
have an evil which is endemic in our society, which the predominant
culture tells us is not evil but good, which is tied in some way to the
peculiar moral weaknesses of our time (which most of us share in some
degree), and which therefore requires a radical commitment and
transformation of the personality to confront and reject.
When you have this sort of situation, most people are psychologically
unable (that is, subsconsciously unwilling) to come to grips with it.
As a result, they grasp at any plausible platitude which helps them to
feel good about not coming to grips with it. In some cases, to be sure,
this is consciously understood and calculated, but most of us are a
strange mixture of motivations, we tend to be very badly formed, we
don't want to believe that all our friends, our families, and indeed
ourselves are frequently involved in horrendous evils, and so we latch
onto high-sounding phrases in order to avoid taking a stand.
One of the results of this, in my opinion, is the condemnation of
one-issue voting. At the bottom of this condemnation, in most cases, is
the simple fact that if people took the "one issue" seriously, it would
turn their whole world upside down.
After all, at heart most people are single issue voters, or very nearly
so. We all have something we want "fixed" by politics. For most people,
it's the economy. For many, its the preservation of a particular status
or lifestyle. For still others, its a favorite social vision. For a
few, it is a true moral issue. And note that for the most part, people
are true to type. If someone expresses your view of your "key issue",
you aren't really likely to have many significant disagreements with
him on other issues. Rather, the issues on which you disagree are
likely to be (in your view) relatively minor. Prolifers don't really
care if they give something up on immigration policy, for example, to
get a pro-life president. That is a significant, but at least
temporarily minor point. And pro-homosexual voters can live without
highway appropriations if it is necessary to advance their agenda. But
an anti-abortion candidate is not going to turn around and favor
assisted suicide or pornography. Nor is a pro-homosexual candidate
likely to insist on strong parental notification laws or a buildup in
This works in the middle as well as at the poles, too. Frankly, a
candidate who favors the dominant cultural position on key issues is
not going to rock the boat much elsewhere. We can be sure he'll not
upset our dream-world with any harsh realities. That may be the key
issue for more people than we like to admit.
So it usually isn't (honestly speaking) a question of multi-issue
versus single-issue. Usually, it's a question of what you believe is
important, what you believe is right. And in this context, the pro-life
voter is a tremendous sign of contradiction. Again, people can't accept
the rightness of that single issue without admitting they've been
living a lie for a long time.
One can make the arguments, of course. One can argue that abortion is a
unique issue, or at least bound up with a set of unique issues, that
strike at the heart of how we view the human person and the fundamental
right to life itself. The Pope, Mother Teresa, and other authorities of
considerable moral weight have made it clear that this is pivotal
issue. One can also argue, as I have above, that the "single issue"
argument really doesn't wash, that it is fundamentally a smokescreen to
hide a different agenda, a different set of priorities all across the
board -- even if only a subconscious smokescreen to hide a sort of
lukewarm complacency which can busy itself with comparing the
candidates on a host of minor issues while the entire country burns to
One should make the arguments, of course. And one should not be swayed,
or confused, or cast into doubt by the attacks and arguments of others.
But we also need to pray for those with whom we discuss these matters,
because ultimately a real inner conversion is required to bring people
around, a conversion that makes them realize that their culture is
dead, and that they have to step outside it and oppose it if they want
As Chesterton said, only a dead dog floats down stream.
But how many people can, without grace, admit they are dead dogs?
Copyright (c) 1996 EWTN