The day after the Super Bowl, Michael Moore told Larry King that because of his Catholic principles he is “morally prohibited” from voting for Hilary Clinton for president as a result of her “war votes.” The statement raises a host of questions. One can admire Moore’s activism and adherence to principles, but doubt whether this rigid an application of them quite does justice to the complexities of governing.
But first it’s worth noting that Roman Catholicism provides quite strong undergirding for Moore’s strong anti-war stance: Catholic social teaching contains both “just war” and pacifist strands, with the former articulated especially strongly — and clearly violated in the neo-cons’ rush to war. And Pope John Paul II worked hard to prevent the Bush Administration from pursuing this “pre-emptive war”. So Moore is on firm ground linking his Catholicism to a strong anti-war stance, and admirable for doing so.
Yet this looks a lot like a mirror image of the religious right’s stance that “Christian values” regarding fetal life create a moral prohibition against voting for people like John Kerry, Mario Cuomo, and a host of other past and present Democratic politicians — and recently, against voting for John McCain. Many observers will like Moore’s stance a lot more, but the parallels are strong enough to create pause.
Yes, sometimes ethical inflexibility is a sign of moral courage: over-flexibility in the face of fascism or totalitarian Communism or racism is surely a fault (and a sin). But applied too broadly, this kind of rigidity fails to do justice to the prudential judgment required in governing. Let’s denounce the lack of courage among politicians (and the rest of us) who failed to stand up against the press to war. But in my view, the language of “moral prohibition” against voting for any such politician who supported the initial war authorization strikes too far.
To his credit, Michael Moore does not attempt to place such a prohibition on others — in this interview, at least, he simply states that he “feels a moral prohibition” himself in this regard. That is surely an appropriate discernment. As for the rest of us: if we embrace that burden too easily, rather than assessing Clinton and all politicians on the basis of their entire career of leadership, in a few months we may have nowhere attractive to go.