Political discourse often tends toward the surreal and, as a sage once noted, consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds. Nonetheless, Leftist rhetoric on the subject of capital punishment pushes the credulity meter beyond the breaking point. Perhaps nowhere else does the hypocrisy of the Left shine through so brightly.
No conservative should enthusiastically embrace the machinery of death. Government – which experiences profound difficulties counting ballots, patrolling borders, and … well, with just about everything it does – should be entrusted with the power to impose a death sentence only with the greatest circumspection. Even when acting through its most democratic incarnation – a jury of citizens – governmental power simply cannot be trusted. And when the consequence of an inappropriate decision is the execution of a potentially innocent man – by government, the primary mission of which is to defend innocent human life – conservatives should approach such undertakings with the utmost caution.
Nonetheless, the unwillingness of the Left to trust the government in matters of criminal justice generally and capital punishment in particular, stands in marked contrast to its willingness to trust the government with … just about everything else. Too, quite obviously, the Left concerns itself very little with the preservation of innocent life (except for innocent whales or harp seals). Whether on abortion or embryonic stem cell research, the Left displays not the slightest concern that totally innocent human beings die; it simply defines them out of existence. (I pointed out, in my last blog post, the similarity between "pro-choice" rhetoric on abortion and "pro-choice" rhetoric on slavery.) It requires a complete suspension of disbelief to take their arguments seriously.
Indeed, virtually all of the Leftist assertions on capital punishment amount to exercises in hypocrisy.
Yes, it costs an unholy fortune to bring a patently guilty murderer from arrest to execution, but the Left hardly occupies a position to complain, as it created most of the absurd hurdles over which the prosecution must jump to impose that penalty. (This, in fact, illustrates a broader difficulty with our criminal justice system. The purpose of same should be, fundamentally, to separate the innocent from the guilty, then impose an appropriate punishment on the latter. Alas, much criminal law now focuses on frustrating that salutary goal, creating a Byzantine obstacle course – having nothing whatsoever to do with the guilt of the accused – for the prosecution to follow and, if it trips, the malefactor escapes justice.)
Who cares if the penalty imposed is "proportionate" to that received by other defendants? Who cares if more murderers of one race or ethnicity die than those of another? Justice is, after all, an individualized concept, and the question presented in all criminal trials ought to be a simple one: did the defendant commit the crime and, if so, is the punishment suitable? If the accused committed murder, is justice served by executing him? The fact that someone else somehow weaseled out of his just desserts does not require a free pass for all criminals.
The Left avers that DNA evidence exonerating previously condemning murderers militates in favor of abolition, but just the opposite is true. In the past, reliance upon witness statements (especially notoriously unreliable cross-racial identifications), etc., produced problematic convictions. These become increasingly – almost vanishingly – unlikely today, as science provides ever more conclusive evidence of guilt (or innocence). Here in NJ, there exists not the slightest doubt about the guilt of anyone presently abiding a date with the executioner.
Most recently, the Left seized upon the assertion that the cocktail of drugs employed to escort a miscreant into the next realm might "hurt" so much as to constitute "cruel and unusual punishment". Oh? How, then, to justify Leftist support for assisted suicide laws? Presumably, no compassionate physician would ever consider prescribing, for suicidal purposes, "cruel and unusual" medication. Use the same stuff for executions. Argument over.
Given that the Left stands perfectly willing to countenance the death of innumerable innocents on the altar of "choice"; it trusts government to run virtually every other aspect of life: health care, education, transportation, etc.; it almost never objects to spending huge amounts of taxpayer money on … anything and everything; upon what moral or fiscal basis can a leftist possibly object to capital punishment?
Conservatives – dedicated Catholics prominent among them – stand in a far better position to object, adopting the "seamless garment" view of life: government should ALWAYS protect life, even horribly guilty life, taking it only under the most dire circumstances, such as times of war. And conservatives – who tend to distrust government generally and, unlike their Leftist colleagues, truly believe in protecting human life – ought to recoil from the very thought of possible human error.
One finds compelling arguments in somewhat unlikely locations. As Gandalph observed, when speaking to Frodo on the subject of killing:
"Deserves death? I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some die that deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment."
Wise counsel, that.
The question presented – for calm, sober, and intelligent discussion – is whether any other punishment adequately expresses society’s justifiable outrage at the horrific acts perpetrated by especially evil people.
At this juncture, I conclude that there is not. Once guilt is established beyond possibility of refutation – no NJ convict makes the slightest plausible, however farfetched, claim of actual innocence, such as might warrant sparing his life – if the crime is so depraved and horrible that simple justice cries out for the ultimate sanction, I believe it should be an option for a jury of citizens – fully cognizant of the awful responsibility placed upon their shoulders – to employ.
When folks with a record of consistently supporting the right to life present their opposition to capital punishment, attention must be paid. I might disagree with their emphasis – it seems passing strange to expend so much effort worrying about the fate of Marco Bey when numerous innocents die at abortion clinics each week – but their devotion to the protection of life cannot be gainsaid nor can their arguments be lightly dismissed.
But just as justice must be tempered by mercy, so, too must mercy accord with justice. Some acts are simply so far beyond the realm of civilized, accepted conduct that they admit of only one appropriate response. Society should keep that option open for those who clearly deserve it.