And What I Have Failed to Do

 

Fr. Frank Pavone

 
  2/25/2008
 

What’s this I hear from some people that they might “sit out” the Presidential election because they aren’t comfortable with the likely choice of candidates?

Since when are elections supposed to make us “comfortable?” Since when do we exercise that right to vote, for which people fought and died, only when it’s easy and clear-cut, and our choices are just the way we want them to be?

At Mass we pray, “I confess to Almighty God…that I have sinned…in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do…

What we fail to do can make us just as guilty as what we do. A sin is a wrong choice, and to decide not to do something is just as much of a choice as to decide to do something.

A sin of omission is still a sin – and we are still responsible for the results.

What, then, makes us think that we are more responsible for the results of voting than for the results of not voting?

A vote is not a philosophical statement. It is a transfer of power. It is a pragmatic act to preserve, as much as possible under the circumstances, the common good, and to limit the evils that threaten it.

And in the pragmatic matter of elections, what matters is not how closely a candidate measures up to my preferences and convictions. Instead, it’s a question of who can and will actually get elected. It does little good if the person I felt most comfortable supporting doesn’t get to actually govern and implement those positions I like so much.

The vote can be used just as much to keep someone out of office as to put someone in.

If we fail to use that tool, however, and as a result the person who gets elected is far worse and does far more damage than the other person we did not like, then we still share responsibility for the damage that will be done.

Elections have seasons. In the earliest phases, the field is wide open. We can recruit candidates, or decide to run ourselves. We build up the name recognition and base of support for the person or people who would make the best candidate. This takes years of work.

Then the season of primaries arrives, during which voters choose between the candidates who have been recruited and who have been building up their strength.

Then the general election season arrives, and we may find that we don’t like any of the names on the ballot. At that point, we have to shift our thinking and focus on “better” rather than “best.” The reality usually is that one of several unsatisfactory candidates will in fact be elected. So we use our vote to create the better outcome and to limit the damage. That’s the shift that some fail to make.

And we are still responsible for what we fail to do.