NOTA — Bene!

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…. None of the Above.

Many evangelical leaders on the "religious right" are well aware that the Bush administration and the Republican congress have stiffed them on their signal issues —marriage, abortion, corruption, pornography, and morals in general.

But word has it that those same leaders are nonetheless urging their grass-roots members — who constitute an indispensable ingredient in the GOP’s victory plan — to vote on Tuesday.

The interesting wrinkle is this: knowing full well that the religious right is fed up with the whole rotten bipartisan gang in Washington, the leaders are not pretending to support Bush or his party. Instead, they are emphasizing the dire consequences of not voting, or of voting for the Democrats.

Until recent years, the routine position of millions of dispensationalist evangelicals (DE’s) — a twist on a longstanding Christian heresy that "dispenses" Christians from politics because (a) it is the realm of the devil, and (b) Christians have to be preparing for the Rapture, the imminent Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

So they didn’t participate in politics — until Jimmy Carter sent the IRS after thousands of independent Christian schools some 30 years ago. What the school prayer controversies of the sixties and the abortion battles of the early seventies couldn’t do, Carter did. The DE’s were energized, and then organized (an interesting sidebar: most of the organizers were Catholics).

Ever since, the "religious right" has been a political powerful faction that has usually and dependably voted Republican. But these folks have been motivated primarily by the "family issues" — abortion, education, marriage, and pornography. This time around, however, the administration and the congress have done precious little for those issues. So the evangelical leaders are urging their members to action on other grounds: namely, that it is their Christian duty to vote.

Now, I know we’re supposed to render unto Caesar, but who said we had to vote for him?

For many evangelicals, philosophy and logic were once considered tools of the devil, designed to weaken the Christian’s faith in the truths revealed by Sacred Scripture. "Sola Scriptura" (scripture alone) became a powerful rallying cry. Whatever the theological status of logic these days, it’s clear that many evangelicals are being urged to hold their collective nose and vote for the "lesser of two evils."

Hmmmm. Well, a long line of sound theologians have properly observed that the lesser of two evils is still evil.

What is a good Christian to do?

In the realm of practical wisdom, the most obvious and even desirable candidate missing from every ballot is "NOTA" — None Of The Above.

Since the early 1990s, both major parties have strived (successfully) to make it virtually impossible for competitors to run on a third-party ticket. That circumstance has, no doubt, led to the concentration of corruption in the GOP that has accelerated so markedly in recent years.

A quick glance at Federalist 57 will indicate that the frequent election of the members of the House of Representatives, coupled with their constant proximity with their virtuous constituents, is the best guarantee of a virtuous congress that will act for the common good.

Can anyone recognize those qualities in the congress today — in any individual Representative, at least, if not in either party or in the entire body?

Of course, party leaders and operatives, often referred to as "hacks," will often launch into paeans of praise for the virtues of compromise, the moderating influence of the two-party system (as opposed, say, to the proportional system of representation that was the ruin of the Weimar Republic), and the danger of "extremes."

Which brings to mind the visit to Notre Dame in the fall of 1964 of Barry Goldwater’s running mate, Bill Miller, an ND alumnus who, shall we say, received a chilly reception in the land of the LBJ-Irish caucus.

A reporter badgered Miller about Goldwater’s famous phrase in his acceptance speech at Cow Palace just three months before: "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice… moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."

Miller listened patiently, and then asked the reporter, "Are you married?"

"Yes," the young man answered, somewhat flustered.

"Would your wife rather you were extremely faithful to her, or only moderately faithful?"

End of press conference.

Those were the days before the "religious right" became a political term, of pride or of derision. But it brings to mind that moderation, when it involves embracing the lesser of two evils, still dictates that we embrace an evil — an act the Christian is never permitted to commit, even in the pursuit of a possible future good.

In this of all years, candidates of both parties must be breathing sighs of relief — privately, of course — that everyone who votes next Tuesday will have to vote for somebody. Those who refuse to vote for the lesser of two evils won’t count, because they will not be counted.

Whatever happens on election day, the congress will continue to stumble down the path of evil. And, because evil has its own momentum, it will not just stand still. Its own internal dynamic demands that it make things worse.

As a friend put it long ago, "the only way you can coast is downhill."

The party bosses ask evangelicals (and the rest of us) to "hold our nose" and vote for the lesser evil. But they know that, if we hold our noses long enough, we will die. A nation that has to hold its nose because of the stench emanating from its political class is a nation that will either throw the bums out, or die of asphyxiation.

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