The Party Matters

When deciding on the candidate for whom you cast your vote in an election, a number of moral principles have to be considered. As I have often written in the past, the position of the candidate him/herself on the most important issues is of key importance, because by putting that person in a position to vote on legislation, you help to move public policy either closer or farther away from the moral law.

But that very consideration also means that the positions of the party to which the candidate belongs also matter. By putting that candidate in office, you also help to put his/her party into power. This has to be taken into consideration, too. Voters need to ask how much the election of a particular candidate will shift the balance of power between the parties, and what will happen when a particular party takes control. Voters should know the platform of the party and the official positions of party leadership on the same moral issues on which the individual candidate is evaluated.

At times, in all parties, the individual candidate will take a different position than his/her party on fundamental moral issues. Yet if the election of that candidate would shift control to his/her party, which holds the opposite position on those issues, a vote for that candidate, in effect, works against the position the voter may be trying to advance.

In short, the party matters.

To illustrate why the party matters, let’s look at what happens in the United States Senate.

The Majority party in the Senate chooses the Majority Leader. The Majority Leader has control of the Senate schedule and agenda. This includes the ability to select the timing for floor proceedings, that is, debates, consideration of amendments, and voting, both for legislation and nominations.

The Majority Party has a majority on all committees (except the Ethics Committee), usually in close proportion to its share of the body as a whole. The Majority Party on every committee also controls a majority of the staff on the committee.

The Majority in each committee recommends to their caucus a Committee Chairman. Typically, their selection is rubberstamped by the Majority Party in the Senate. The chairmen, in turn, set the agenda of their respective committees. This is an extremely powerful post. For example, chairmen sometimes refuse to schedule hearings on nominees and legislation, and this effectively kills them. In other words, the best candidate in either party could introduce the best legislation imaginable, and it would never come out of committee. The party matters.

Considerations about what party would be in power as a result of the outcome of a particular election become especially relevant when the opposing candidates take the same position on issues of key importance.

Reflections like these are not an endorsement of a party; rather, they are an aspect of the duty that we as clergy have to articulate the moral dimensions of voting. If they benefit one party over another, that’s not by our choice, but by the choice of the party to take the positions it takes.

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