Interring the Death Penalty

Returning to the theme of my previous post, one cannot read ante-bellum American history without astonishment at the rhetoric of the slaveholders. As a British observer put it, "How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty from the drivers of negros"? Slaveholders asserted that their liberty depended upon the Black slavery. Incredibly, they rarely appreciated the inconsistency; they simply defined people as "property" and none of their flowery language about freedom for people applied to their "property".

As responses to my previous column suggest, the political left perceives absolutely no inconsistency in its opposition to capital punishment and support of abortion rights. They seem like bright fellows; can they really be that dense?

(Note to An entity which wishes to be taken seriously on political discourse, might profit from refraining from routinely referring to its political opponents as "racist", "crazy", and "douchebags". If that represents the quality of your political thought, stick to knitting.)

Yes, I admit, I read it. Just like I read The New York Times and The New Republic – somewhat more respectable organs of liberal opinion, even if beset by the same want of logic. But, despite my best efforts, I confess: I utterly fail to understand leftist "thought".

Consider. Thursday, the Assembly voted to abolish capital punishment. Although Assemblyman Caraballo objected to the framing of the issue as Left vs. Right, the evidence belied his protests. A princely three Republicans – and not a single conservative – supported repeal. Only six Democrats – and not a single liberal (save, perhaps, Panter) – dissented.

The gallery erupted in applause, and the thoughtful folks at BlueJersey celebrate an "extra sweet" victory, another columnist averring that "the world is a little less hateful today".

Sparing eight killers their date with the next world is a "sweet victory". Perhaps, to celebrate this triumph of the spirit of life, they’ll send a check to NARAL.

Now, opposition to capital punishment, on purely moral grounds, makes perfect sense. It’s a very compelling argument.

But consider the huge irony in the left citing Catholic teaching and championing the likes of Sister Helen Prejean on this issue, while castigating them as dangerous lunatics when they object to killing the innocent. Numerous leftist speakers beat their breasts and averred that, on this issue, morality should triumph. But these same folks excoriate conservatives for "voting their conscience" on embryonic stem cell research and object strenuously to attempts to "impose morality" in the abortion debate.

Apparently, only leftists are entitled to impose their "morality" upon an unwilling populace.

The most compelling argument advanced by the left centered on the possibility of executing an innocent. Does this not require the conclusion, by necessary implication, that executing the guilty passes muster? No, they replied, it’s impossible to truly "know" that someone is guilty. The hypothetical risk of error, however infinitesimal, militates in favor of life.

A persuasive argument (in the abstract). But one which would carry much more force if those making it actually believed it. Or, more accurately, if they displayed the slightest consistency. Should not the same calculus apply to abortion? If we decline to execute an apparently guilty criminal, on the grounds that some hypothetical possibility of innocence exists, should not the same benefit of the doubt be extended to the unborn? Not even the truest-bluest liberal (except, perhaps, a Supreme Court Justice) could be so arrogant, so persuaded of his own infallibility, as to deny even the possibility of error. Does not the same logic employed to such great effect with capital punishment – that the risk of taking an innocent human life compels adopting a policy which precludes that possibility – militate in favor of a pro-life position?

Or consider embryonic stem cell research. One can debate the humanity of such creatures endlessly – not that it will help, given that liberalism is based upon faith, not reason – yet never persuade a leftist of the fact of their humanity. But even they cannot deny the possibility. And, as they have just finished telling us, that mere possibility suffices.

Well, for murders. But, obviously, not for kids.

So, returning to the subject of my initial post, perhaps some leftist can answer a simple query: if it’s wrong for society to execute someone for barbaric acts, why is it right for society to tolerate – indeed, vigorously defend – the slaughter of unborn children?

To reiterate, I have no difficulty understanding opposition to capital punishment on pro-life grounds. Although I continue to believe that it’s justified in some cases (and so did most of my colleagues on the Left. Five years ago, the Assembly voted 79-0 to expand it to apply to terrorists) the chances of true harm to the state resulting from its abolition are small. (The chances of individual harm are more substantial, but still small.)

But opposition to capital punishment, coupled with wholehearted support of abortion, makes precisely zero sense. It’s simply impossible to square moral opposition to executions on the grounds that they risk killing an innocent with support for abortion, which, under the best possible view of matters, presents precisely the same risk.

As one commentator here noted, "you can’t recover from being dead". Point taken; and his position on the death of the unborn is …? One commentator objects to my assertion that "life means the same thing to every person". How does one respond to (the profoundly scary) contention that humanity is a matter of subjective personal opinion? Let alone to the implication that only HIS subjective, personal opinion may legitimately be adopted? He would have fit in perfectly among the Charleston Slaveocracy.

For now, the issue rests in peace, but it won’t go away. Let some maniac shoot up a playground full of kids and the left – while hiding behind the old canards about gun control – may find its newly discovered "morals" sorely tested. Given that every single one of them supported extending the death penalty five years ago, how many of them will vote to repeal the repeal? After all, courage in the face of an election has never been one of the left’s strong suits.

Interring the Death Penalty