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Wednesday, March 19, 2003

I Make A MAJOR Contribution To Civil Liberties

Jeralyn at TalkLeft is in Washington working on the "Innocence Protection Act". Now, she is a talented woman, but how can the Government prevent my child from learning the truth about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, and isn't this a bit different from Ms. Merritt's normal work in the area of civil liberties?

Well, I follow the links, and guess what? This act is intended to prevent the execution of innocent people on death row. My goodness, doesn't that mean it should be the "INNOCENTS Protection Act"?

Look, if someone really wants to protect our innocence, quit with the movies like "The Santa Clause". And stop with all these reports about wrongful executions, and let me cling to my illusion (shared by Al Gore, Joe Lieberman, John Edwards, Bob Graham, Richard Gephardt, John Kerry, and James Dean (Sorry, Howard the Duck) that capital punishment accomplishes something.

SUbject to the gutless caveat that I have only spent about five minutes looking into this, I fully support the goals of this bill, as any death penalty supporter would. However, if attention to detail is important in capital cases, maybe the supporters of this bill could demonstrate their own attention to detail by getting the correct word usage. My NY Times provides a timely example of the English as she is written.

UPDATE: Here is an interesting Peter Beinart piece from TNR written in June 11, 2001. It ought to be a premium piece, but it is still available at the Google cache. Excerpts here:

Last week, the Supreme Court, for the second time, stopped the state of Texas from killing Johnny Paul Penry. Penry is a serial rapist and confessed murderer. He also has an IQ of between 53 and 60, well below the mental retardation threshold of 70.

...Confronted with the question of whether a civilized society executes men like Johnny Paul Penry, the public is rather clear. There are no national polls about capital punishment for the mentally retarded, but in North Carolina, 64 percent oppose it. In Arizona, 71 percent oppose it. In Connecticut, it's 77 percent. And in Texas, it's 81 percent--which is why both houses of the state legislature voted to end the practice last month.

Which means the Texas state legislature is more troubled by the execution of the mentally retarded than is the national leadership of the Democratic Party. Because over the past several months, as the Penry case and the legislation in Texas have put capital punishment of the mentally retarded on the front page, not one of the likely 2004 Democratic presidential candidates has publicly condemned it. TNR's Caryn Tamber ran their names through Nexis for me--Tom Daschle, John Kerry, John Edwards, Joe Lieberman, Evan Bayh--and none of them has uttered a single word.

Evan Bayh? Pronounced "Buh-bye", I guess. Sorry.

This moral capitulation must be understood in context. When Bill Clinton ran for president in 1992, he made an implicit deal with American liberals: He would support the death penalty even though he and they knew it was wrong, because otherwise he'd end up like Michael Dukakis. Capital punishment, Democratic strategists insisted, was an albatross preventing liberals from achieving anything else. So Clinton, in the middle of the '92 campaign, returned to Arkansas to execute the mentally retarded Ricky Ray Rector. Liberals were repulsed, but they went to the mat for Clinton anyway. And they were probably right to do so.

But the terms of that bargain were clear: Democrats would swallow the death penalty only because it was overwhelmingly popular.

Yes, trade a few lives for a few votes. The party of principle in action!

...As with the drug war, Washington is several years behind public opinion and the states--where the shift away from ever-harsher crackdowns is well underway. And as with the drug war, it is often state and local Republicans who have taken the lead. Last year, the Republican governor of Illinois announced a moratorium on executions. Nebraska's GOP-controlled state legislature passed one as well. In overwhelmingly Republican New Hampshire, the state legislature passed legislation outlawing capital punishment altogether--only to have it vetoed by the Democratic governor. During last year's presidential campaign, Al Gore steadfastly refused to criticize the death penalty in Texas--only to have the Texas state legislature, including the Republican-led State Senate, now pass a series of reforms itself.

...What Europeans think about the death penalty doesn't matter--they don't have much moral credibility with most Americans, given their positions on topics like China and Iraq (nor should they). America--with unique reverence for human rights and due process--doesn't need Italy to tell us it's wrong to execute a man who still believes in Santa Claus. The question isn't how loudly death penalty opponents abroad scream--it is how long the party that claims the mantle of social justice at home stays silent.

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