When Voting Your Conscience Became a Political Liability

“I do not care very much what men say of me, provided that God approves of me.”
∼ St. Thomas More

What is popular is not always right; what is right is not always popular. Notwithstanding the refrain’s chronic understatement, conservatives in America used to appreciate the proposition’s fusty otherworldliness. Conservatives, that is, used to applaud the priority assigned by the refrain to moral right on the one hand over popularity on the other.

Ted Cruz has learned of late that a great many American conservatives no longer share this sympathy. Conversely, conservative Catholic media personality Laura Ingraham has learned, with the rest of us, that Ted Cruz doesn’t care whether or not she vilifies his admonition that voters should follow their conscience.

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During Raymond Arroyo’s ten-minute interview of Ms. Ingraham on last week’s episode of The World Over, her self-styled role as majoritarian scold featured prominently. It was unfortunate. The question raised by the interview was not who ought to be president but, rather, what is the proper Catholic attitude toward conscience? On the latter question, Ms. Ingraham sold her Catholic principles short by condemning Cruz’s appeal to conscience.  In so holding, Cruz seems more faithful than Ingraham to the definition of conscience in Gaudium et Spes, one of the sacred constitutions from the Second Vatican Council:

In the depths of his conscience, man detects a law which he does not impose upon himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience when necessary speaks to his heart: do this, shun that. For man has in his heart a law written by God; to obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged. Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a man. There he is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in his depths. In a wonderful manner conscience reveals that law which is fulfilled by love of God and neighbor. (Paragraph 16.)

In rare form, here’s what Ingraham actually said to Arroyo about Cruz’s non-endorsement:

[Ted Cruz] did not listen to people who frankly know better than he does … he can’t say that we didn’t warn him.

Know what better? How to appear correct…politically…? This sounds curiously close to contradicting the foremost desideratum of her candidate of choice.

Here too, Ingraham alludes to a warning about the possible reaction of the crowd, without admitting that the booing was not spontaneous but planned by the Trump campaign and led by the New York delegation. Beyond her indictment of Cruz as a political novice for his refusal to heed the warning of his betters, she characterized his manly spousal defense as hypersensitive and ego-driven:

What [Ted Cruz] said today was, ‘Well, you know, [Donald Trump] insulted Heidi and then slander, and I didn’t pledge to support someone who slanders.’ First of all, [Trump] re-tweeted a photo he shouldn’t have tweeted, okay, about Melania on one side and Heidi on the other. He then followed it and said, ‘Heidi’s a beautiful woman.’ It was obviously his way of apologizing. Now were we to believe that if Donald Trump hadn’t sent out that tweet and hadn’t said the thing—posted the thing about JFK—that Ted Cruz would have been here last night extolling his virtues and endorsing him? If the answer is probably not, but if the only way to defeat Hillary is not to offend Ted Cruz, then that’s a very interesting barometer we have in place.

Ms. Ingraham’s words to Arroyo were, in turn, a rather shameless apologia of her earlier henpecking of Cruz at the Republican National Convention for Cruz’s failure to “endorse” Donald Trump:

We should all—even you boys with wounded feelings and bruised egos—(and we love you) honor the pledge to support Donald Trump now, tonight.

Ingraham’s outrage at Cruz should at least prove the need to ask what this ill-defined concept of a political “endorsement” is. Few actually know: evidently, it is neither “congratulations” nor “support,” both of which Cruz has already offered Trump. Cruz said nothing critical of Trump in his speech and it is difficult to see how a call for Republicans to vote for conservative candidates up and down the ballot would be responsible for a Clinton victory in November. Furthermore, the pledge idea was introduced out of fear that Trump would run as a third party candidate if he lost the nomination given his tenuous commitment to the Republican Party. Trump’s pledge, many forget, was conditional, based on how “fairly” he was treated. We have now learned that no other presidential candidate is allowed to invoke Trump’s escape clause, conscience be damned.

Ms. Ingraham has forgotten that all a Catholic is required to do in the realm of civics is to actively participate according to his well-formed conscience. Catholic Ingraham is further afield than non-Catholic Cruz from the Catechism of the Catholic Church numbers 2239 and 2240 and the American bishops’ Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, numbers 35, 36, and 37, which together insinuate that a voter may—not must—select a “lesser of two evils” candidate. For Catholics, casting a consequentialist vote to avoid a most gravely dangerous candidate, is permissible but not mandatory.

No one is saying that Ms. Ingraham cannot vote “in good conscience” for a candidate with less-than-Catholic policy positions. She can. But why tear Cruz down for standing up for his besmirched wife, his slandered father, and his constitutional vision of conservatism?

Obligations of a Catholic Voter
Thomas Jefferson  once said that “a people always gets the government it deserves.” Whether it’s Trump or Clinton, we get what we deserve. This late in the game, one wonders why we can’t just vote for the best candidate, and let the chips fall where they may. If Ingraham hadn’t yet noticed, republics don’t last forever but our souls do.

This is called voting your conscience, as Ted Cruz knows, because its emphasis lies squarely on the next world, rather than this one. Laura Ingraham won’t stand for it.

Perhaps most alarming of all, conservatives and Catholics have evidently lost their savor for standing down the mob—the David-versus-Goliath, Diogenes-versus-Alexander audacity that one would, in a nobler age, expect Republicans to laud in Cruz. These “conservatives” probably plug their ears frantically when their priest sermonizes John 15:18 from the pulpit: the mark of the good Christian is his worldly unpopularity. Many conservatives, Republicans anyway, now believe that, contra Pope Benedict XVI, truth somehow is “determined by a majority vote.” There is a terrifically dangerous tendency within the hoi polloi—identified by Plato in Book 7 of the Republic, as the fatal flaw in representative government—to insist upon worldly results over otherworldly principles. When “the ends justify the means” replaces conscience as our guide, the results are never good.

Here’s one closing image from Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn which will always be ennobling, in my view: Colonel Sherburn, poised high on his raised porch, with shotgun in hand, contemptuously looking down his aristocratic bearing at the dozens-strong mob who has come across his property, howling for his blood. With a soliloquy for the ages, he turns them away without a shot fired:

They swarmed up in front of Sherburn’s palings as thick as they could jam together, and you couldn’t hear yourself think for the noise. It was a little twenty-foot yard. Some sung out “Tear down the fence! Tear down the fence!” Then there was a racket of ripping and tearing and smashing, and down she goes, and the front wall of the crowd begins to roll in like a wave. Just then, Sherburn steps out onto the roof of his little front porch, with a double-barrel gun in his hand, and takes his stand, perfectly ca’m and deliberate, not saying a word. The racket stopped, and the wave sucked back. Sherburn never said a word—just stood there, looking down. The stillness was awful creepy and uncomfortable. Sherburn run his eye slow along the crowd; and wherever it struck the people tried a little to outgaze him, but they couldn’t; they dropped their eyes and looked sneaky. Then pretty soon Sherburn sort of laughed…then he says, slow and scornful:

“The idea of you lynching anybody! It’s amusing. The idea of you thinking you had pluck enough to lynch a man! Because you’re brave enough to tar and feather poor friendless cast-out women that come along here, did that make you think you had grit enough to lay your hands on a man? Why, a man’s safe in the hands of ten thousand of your kind—as long as it’s daytime and you’re not behind him. Do I know you? I know you clear through. I was born and raised in the South, and I’ve lived in the North; so I know the average all around. The average man’s a coward.”

One can call Twain’s Colonel Sherburn many things. But one cannot call him a) cowardly, b) opportunistic, or c) unprincipled. Ms. Ingraham’s slur about Cruz’s “wounded ego” accused him of all three at once. On the basis of her faith alone, she should apologize and square herself with the catechetical requirement of every Catholic voter.

(Photo credit: Gage Skidmore / Wikicommons)


  • Timothy J. Gordon

    Timothy J. Gordon studied philosophy in Pontifical graduate schools in Europe, taught it at Southern Californian community colleges, and then went on to law school. His most recent book, The Case for Patriarchy, is now available from Crisis Publications.

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