This article is also posted on LDS Liberty.
This article is not about getting you to vote against President Obama. This article is not about getting you to vote against Mitt Romney. This article is not about getting you to vote against Ron Paul, Gary Johnson, or any other of the unknown candidates running for president, or any other office in 2012 (or any other election). This article is not about convincing you to vote, if your abstention is a protest against the government and all that it entails.
This article is about getting you to vote for President Obama. This article is about getting you to vote for Mitt Romney. This article is about getting you to vote for Ron Paul, Gary Johnson, or any other of the unknown candidates running for president, or any other office in 2012 (or any other election). If you choose not to vote, this article is about getting you to abstain for a reason.
But what difference does it make?
In today’s political atmosphere, there is more voting against a candidate than there is in voting for a candidate. If we are honest with ourselves, in the political system we live under, there is even less voting for principles than there is voting for a candidate – for merely voting for a candidate does not necessarily constitute voting for principles at all (e.g. you may like the candidate’s speaking voice, hair color, seeming electability or any other reason you vote for someone not founded on principle).
In two previous articles I have written concerning the difference between principles and conventionand the cognitive dissonance that comes from “bad philosophy”. When we voice our support forsomething in today’s complex and convoluted world, we are often not voicing support for something or someone but against a person or his ideas. I call this the “anti-enemy” approach. The anti-enemy approach is not concerned with voting for the sake of correct principles, but is instead a conventionalist vote that typically adopts bad philosophy to justify voting against a person or ideology.
When we actually vote for someone or something, our perception of what we support changes – for we take a more internally and externally invested approach in the process. By internally I mean the idea, candidate, or movement is something with which we identify on a personal level, and by externally I mean once we identify with something internally we feel more passionate about supporting it in association with other like-minded individuals. When we truly lend our voice of support or vote forsomething, then we have taken a more active approach in applying principles that we believe are true and correct; we utilize our worldview and our knowledge of reality to make a principled choice in actively supporting something.
The Anti-Enemy Approach as Idolatry
Who would ever consider that an anti-enemy approach to politics or any other particular thing is a form of idolatry?
In June, 1976, President Spencer W. Kimball authored a now famous Ensign article entitled “The False Gods We Worship.” In this article he wrote of various ways in which we unknowingly perform idolatry in our own lives. In one instance, President Kimball identified a principle that is so often overlooked but which we can use to quickly identify idolatry in our own behavior.
President Kimball said, “When threatened, we become anti-enemy instead of pro-kingdom of God.”
This anti-enemy/pro-kingdom-of-God-dichotomy is a useful tool to help us remember to do the right thing for the right reason. It describes idolatry in terms of an anti-enemy approach primarily focused on tearing down evil rather than in primarily establishing a personal relationship with Christ in building the kingdom of God. It is a subtle deception that gets us to believe that in speaking againstsomething or someone we are positively and actually supporting something or someone else.
Hugh Nibley once made a convincing case that we can only think of and entertain one thought at a time:
You can think of only one thing at a time! Why this crippling limitation on our thoughts if we are God’s children? It is precisely this limitation that is the essence of our mortal existence. If every choice I make expresses a preference, if the world I build up is the world I really love and want, then with every choice I am judging myself, proclaiming all the day long to God, angels, and my fellowmen where my real values lie, where my treasure is, the things to which I give supreme importance. Hence, in this life every moment provides a perfect and foolproof test of your real character, making this life a time of testing and probation…
Sin is waste. It is doing one thing when you should be doing other and better things for which you have the capacity. Hence, there are no innocent, idle thoughts. That is why even the righteous must repent, constantly and progressively, since all fall short of their capacity and calling.
This teaches us that we cannot entertain both anti-enemy and pro-liberty, pro-freedom, or pro-kingdom of God sentiments and thoughts at the same time. To further illustrate this, Nibley said that
If you put on a pair of glasses, one lens being green, the other being red, you will not see a grey fusion of the two when you look about you, but a flashing of red and green. One moment everything will be green, another moment everything will be red. Or you may think you are enjoying a combination of themes as you listen to a Bach fugue, with equal awareness of every voice at a time, but you are actually jumping between recognition first of one and then another.
In the “flashing” of one thought and another, we often entertain the notion that our anti-enemy thoughts are “a grey fusion” with our other pro-liberty, pro-freedom, and pro-kingdom of God views – but this is not so. Each of the latter three ideas are as distinct and separate as they are at odds with the first. We may perceive that in our near seamless back-and-forth perceptions of reality that these dichotomies constitute an entire and whole truth that we must balance, but such a thought is nothing more than cognitive dissonance – a condition brought about by bad philosophy.
What Should We Vote For?
If we can only entertain one thought at a time, then it is important that our thoughts rest on establishing a foundation of good principles wherein we build a good system of thought. With that said, what should we focus on? If we have a singular thought, then what singular and unifying principle or purpose should we be engaged in struggling and fighting for?
Hyrum Smith correctly explained that
We engage in the election the same as in any other principle; you are to vote for good men, and if you do not do this it is a sin; to vote for wicked men, it would be sin. Choose the good and refuse the evil. Men of false principles have preyed upon us like wolves upon helpless lambs. Damn the rod of tyranny; curse it. Let every man use his liberties according to the constitution. Don’t fear man or devil; electioneer with all people, male and female, and exhort them to do the thing that is right. We want a President of the U.S., not a Party president, but a President of the whole people; for a Party president disfranchises the opposite party. Have a President who will maintain every man in his rights (History of the Church, Vol. 6, Ch. 15, p. 323; emphasis added).
Notice that Smith did not say that we are to vote against wicked men, but that we, in reality, are votingfor either good or wicked men. Voting against something is an illusion, as we – as Children of God (agents to act and not be acted upon) – are consistently working for something, even when in our world-view and perception we are standing anti-enemy in fighting against something.
We are to look at politics in the same pro-liberty, pro-freedom, and pro-kingdom of God way that we engage every other principle. We are to vote for good men. Anything else is sin. Men of false principle, Hyrum explains, present themselves as “Party presidents” who “disfranchise the opposite party”. In other words, “Party presidents” promote the anti-enemy approach that we commonly see in the political process. We may believe that in our anti-enemy approach we are fighting for truth, but, in reality, we are engaging in idolatry.
The Doctrine and Covenants validates this principle in searching for people to support:
Wherefore, honest men and wise men should be sought for diligently, and good men and wise men ye should observe to uphold; otherwise whatsoever is less than these cometh of evil (D&C 98:10).
The Doctrine and Covenants goes so far to say that we vote for honesty and wisdom and that whatever is “less than these cometh of evil.” When voting anti-enemy, there are no fundamental or necessary thoughts of voting for anything at all – let alone honesty and wisdom. An anti-enemy approach pays no mind to whether the person we have chosen to support has any standard of honesty or wisdom whatsoever, for the anti-enemy approach fundamentally exclaims that “anyone but [insert your most hated candidate] will do.”
Voting for the Lesser of Two Evils
Voting for the lesser of two evils is also an anti-enemy approach to politics and is also a form of idolatry. This approach stipulates that A is bad but B is worse, so I will vote against B and accept A. The deception here masks the anti-enemy approach of voting for the lesser of two evils by arguing that because the individual shares more in common with A than B, then he is somehow voting for A – when in reality he is voting against B.
This may seem counterintuitive, for we often perceive that we have a basic, common, and fundamental set of principles that we use to make value judgments regarding who we will support. In other words, an individual might say that he is actually voting for A for various reasons found in that person, and that this individual finds more reasons to vote for A than for B between seemingly “viable” candidates. Therefore, as this individual might say, he will vote for those common reasons found in A and not necessarily against B at all. If this is actually the case, then there is no problem – so long as there is not another candidate who more perfectly reflects this individual’s personal beliefs who is not rationalized away as an “unviable” candidate (else the case of idolatry returns).
“I like almost everything A says over B,” I hear many people say, “but I disagree more with C than B, and knowing that A isn’t going to win, I am going to vote for B.” Did you catch what is going on here? Do you see the cognitive dissonance? This example demonstrates the inconsistent and rotating view that most people hold, as they alternate almost effortlessly between pro-liberty and anti-enemy approaches.
In a quote loosely associated to Ezra Taft Benson, he is remarked to have said
If you vote for the lesser of two evils you are still voting for evil and you will be judged for it. You should always vote for the best possible candidate, whether they have a chance of winning or not, and then, even if the worst possible candidate wins, the Lord will bless our country more because more people were willing to stand up for what is right.
I would not usually cite a quote that I cannot directly attribute to its author, but regardless of whether Benson actually said this or not the principle expressed herein is true.
In this quote we find the same rejection of the anti-enemy approach in asserting the moral need to vote for “the best possible candidate, whether they have a chance of winning or not.” Why, according to this quote, is the Lord not worried about us choosing between the “lesser of two evil” candidates who have the seeming and supposed “chance” of winning? And why will the Lord bless us our country more for supporting what we know is right – even if we vote for someone we know will not win?
The answers to these questions are found in exposing our own idolatry. It is us who rationalize and justify supporting lesser amounts of evil as a practical endeavor (so as to somehow keep the greater evil away), even though we have never been admonished to take this course of action (actually, quite the opposite). We accept the lesser of two evils approach, as if accepting evil in parts has fewer negative eternal consequences than accepting evil as a whole. We tend to falsely believe that supporting lesser evil will save our own soul and nation, but, as C.S. Lewis wrote, “Murder is no better than cards [in damning the soul], if cards can do the trick.” What we do not keep in mind is that the Lord can purge this country today if that be His will. It is not our imperative to “keep the bottom from falling out” (as it were), but to support the greatest amount of truth, liberty, and freedom that we can in this life – period. In so doing, and only in so doing, are we right with the Lord for Him to truly heal our own hearts and our nation in a lasting and meaningful way.
The actual blessings of God upon our country come to us as we stand up for what is right, not in accepting, justifying, acquiescing, rationalizing, or making “practical” the false doctrine of the lesser of two evils. By accepting the lesser of two evils, we are not focusing our minds or hearts upon the actual and eternal truth of liberty, but instead we are playing anti-enemy games between the two parts of an arbitrary dichotomy. It is true that we may actually share more commonalities with one “lesser evil” than another “greater evil”, but our moral imperative is to vote for the one, whoever he or she is, with which we have the most in common – not to accept the lesser of evils.
No candidate in my lifetime has ever presented a platform or belief system that I have agreed with in total. Some rationalize that in supporting any candidate that we do not agree with one-hundred percent that we are still “voting for the lesser of evils” – as if political disagreement constitutes moral depravity and evilness in another. But what if we disagree with a candidate on a moral issue like abortion or capital punishment, but agree with him on everything else? The answer is simple; if you reason that the candidate offers a moral compromise, then don’t vote for that candidate. Find someone who you can vote for.
When we stand anti-enemy we have given up any foundation or claim to principle. We may seemingly and instantly switch back to a pro-liberty view effortlessly, as if to prove that our cognitive dissonance is actually consistent thought, but the inconsistency of thought here is actually quite stark.
Let us never fool ourselves into believing that an anti-enemy approach has ever meaningfully solved anything. We do not promote liberty and freedom unless these principles are supported directly. Party politics is about winning – nothing more, nothing less – and it is not concerned with how it gets its results, but only that it does. Our purpose is to vote for something – something honest and wise that will support “that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges [that] belongs to all mankind, and [that] is justifiable before [the Lord]” (D&C 98:5).
It is our benefit and blessing as Latter-day Saints that we need not vote for the lesser of two evils, for we already know how the battle for our liberty and freedom ends with the establishment of the kingdom of God on earth. This kingdom will not be established through a compromise of supporting the lesser of evils in a false dichotomy according to the false anti-enemy doctrine, but in the bold declaration that we will only act on, support, and establish the truth of liberty upon this land. It is our right “to face the world boldly and also say as President Benson when he quoted Dean Alfange, ‘This, with God’s help, I have done.’ All this is what it means to be an be an American”.
This election season, let your vote be for someone, not against someone else. Let your vote be cast forthe candidate who best reflects all of your beliefs, and not just for the lesser of two evils. If you choose to vote for an established candidate, do so because he reflects the best of who you are and believe – not because he is one of the two left over after an unprincipled vetting process. Let your vote be for liberty, freedom, the Constitution, and the rule of law!