A stray election thought

Let’s stipulate up front that the issue at stake in an election matter. Particularly issues that involve the direct, deliberate taking of innocent life matter. And secondarily, war and peace matter, and the economy matters, and health care matters. It’s natural, then, that people are passionately engaged on the subject.

I have noticed, though, that as Election Day approaches, the election itself begins to exert a sort of gravitational pull on our lives. It starts, for some of us at least, to dominate our conversations and our thoughts.

And a fascinating problem emerges. It is as though the closer Election Day grows, the more difficult it becomes to actually be fair to any candidate, the ones you support or the ones you oppose.

For those we oppose, the temptation becomes one of stating the case against him in the strongest terms possible, or even in stronger terms than are warranted. For those we support, the temptation becomes one of overlooking or minimizing all his faults, including to ourselves.

Both of these are temptations to sin. It is a sin to commit calumny or even detraction. It is a sin to foster hatred. That much is fairly obvious.

What’s maybe less obvious is the other temptation. Unfortunately, voting these days very often involves one cooperating in some intrinsic evil, even when one is legitimately voting for the lesser of those evils. The temptation becomes one of saying, “Oh, this particular intrinsic evil is much lower on the scale of priorites than so-and-so’s. In fact, it’s really not a big deal.

The first sentence, of course, may be legitimate. The second is not. It is our own souls and consciences we can damage by the candidates we support, and the way we advocate for them.

That’s why I think it might be interesting if all campaigning voluntarily stopped two weeks before the election. Just one fortnight. Make your case by the deadline. No more ads, no more canvassing, no more phone banks, no more e-mails. Even among private citizens, if it became a social faux pas to bring up the election for a period of two weeks before election day, kind of like the Lenten fast before Easter.

This would allow the necessary time for reflection on the mass of data already given, would be a hedge against the old “October Surprise,” would perhaps help people avoid those temptations to excess. (If a candidate really is extreme, as sometimes happens, I think the pause would also help people realize that through reflection.)

Now, I know this is perfectly impossible, that even in a very virtuous society it would be a Utopian fantasy. But maybe we can carry something of the sense of it with us, in watching out for those temptations and in trying to foster a sense of recollection, rather than frenzied argument right up to the polling place door.