Thursday, December 23, 2004

Not Getting It...

I was actually going to write something about another Japanese cartoon today, but something else caught my attention. I don't want this to become a political blog, but I read this Joan Ryan editorial in yesterday's Tulsa World and had to get this off my chest. I'd link the original, but I don't have registered access, so oh, well.

Her editorial was about the death penalty. Not surprisingly, she's agin' it. I say 'not surprisingly' not because she's a huge liberal (although she writes for the San Francisco Chronicle, so draw your own conclusions), but because you very rarely see anybody write an editorial in favor of the death penalty, basically because it's already the law in many states and why beat a dead horse (so to speak)? Too, I suppose it's rather gauche to argue publicly in favor of state-sanctioned homicide, yet here I go.

Another reason you don't see many arguments in support (and the ones you do see use such dry language as "punishment proportional to the crime") is that there is an almost genetic difference between those in support of the death penalty and those against. The people in favor just "get it," while the people against don't. The ironic thing is that death penalty opponents seem to think the entire argument in favor consists solely of feelings (Ryan's editorial speaks of "grief and fury" and "our worst instincts for revenge") when I'd argue that the opposite is the case. I think the case against the death penalty is entirely based on feelings, and all the many arguments arrayed against it are simply camouflage.

In Ryan's case, she starts out by summoning up the best argument in favor she seems able to think of, a quote by Thomas Aquinas about execution being acceptable because it's for the common good of society. She apparently spent years trying to resolve the views of Aquinas with her own sense that "killing someone to show that killing was wrong did not make sense." She claims to have finally figured it out after seeing the crowds cheer at the announcement that Scott Peterson had received the death sentence.

Her epiphany: Maybe it was acceptable in Aquinas's time, but he lived a long time ago. Things are different now. We can blow him off.

In the course of explaining the Aquinas thing, she rolls out most of the hoary old classics of the anti-death-penalty crowd (I know people who shorten death penalty to DP, but since those letters have another connotation entirely in different circles, I'll avoid abbreviating, thanks). Life in prison is sufficient to remove the criminal from society. The death penalty is not an effective deterrent. Every life has intrinsic value, even a killer's, and two wrongs don't make a right. The left has been serving these up for years, along with the two other crusty old classics, "it costs more to execute than to imprison" and my personal least favorite, "killing the murderer won't bring the victim back." Oh, and I forgot "Thou Shalt Not Kill." Hollow arguments abound.

These arguments have never won many converts because they all miss the point. The point is (and this is so elementary to those who "get it" that they feel it shouldn't need to be explained at all) that actions should have consequences. The value you place on a principle is illustrated by the penalty you impose for violating that principle. Bob Macy, the much-maligned District Attorney for Oklahoma City, got a lot of flak for saying that opposing the death penalty lessened the value of human life. How, opponents asked, could you uphold the value of human life by taking life? Here's how: you uphold the value of human life when you impose the harshest possible penalty for taking it wrongly. If you impose less, you reduce that life's value. Mention this to a death penalty opponent and you'll get a blank look of incomprehension, like a sitcom blonde who's been asked to spell "inconceivable."

This is why the economic argument holds no water. The argument that it costs less to imprison than to execute is usually given in response to the "I don't want my tax dollars going to his room and board; ninety-eight cents' worth of electricity is all I'm willing to give" statement. See, the argument is not really about the amount of money, but about its use (never mind the fact that the real cost of executing is legal fees for all the appeals, which, don't get me started on lawyers). It's simply obscene to some people to be forced to pay for the murderer's housing and food and cable TV and, say it with me, health care. You might as well call up adoption agencies and tell them to stop all this adoption nonsense and just fund abortions instead, because, cheaper..

In the end, though, for opponents of the death penalty, it all comes down to feelings. As Ryan says toward the end of her editorial, "There is something fundamentally wrong with a law that requires ordinary citizens... to bear the burden of deciding whether a fellow citizen lives or dies." Because, you know, you could feel bad and stuff, and exercising civic duties should be pleasant and life-affirming. As usual, it all boils down to "me and my feelings."

Liberals like to label conservatives as hypocrites for fighting against abortion while at the same time fighting for the right to kill murderers. To conservatives, both positions are in complete harmony, because both support a single principle: protection of innocent life (full disclosure: I'm not a hardcore right-to-lifer who believes that life begins at conception, but I am against late-term abortions). We try to protect the most innocent and helpless among us, while demanding the harshest punishment for those who violate that principle. This makes no sense to liberals, whose view seems to be that what the world needs is fewer babies and more murderers, because, cheaper.

On a lighter note, while I was working my job at a TV station today, I saw a news story coming down on the satellite. This consisted of winter footage preceded by a script that could be read by the local anchor person. I didn't read past the first sentence: "Brace yourself for a long, cold winter."

Excuse me, but what planet was the writer of this statement from? Don't TV newspeople have to pay attention to, like, the news? Because from what I've seen, the big story this winter is how warm it's been. It's late December, and in Oklahoma at least, we've only dropped below freezing something like three times. It doesn't look as if this winter will be particularly cold or particularly long (unless it lasts into June or something). I think the "long, cold winter" ship has sailed.

Fun stuff tomorrow, I promise.

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