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Jonah Goldberg, noted fake Pulitzer nominee/wannabe, would like us to skip past the horror of the mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado; past talk of gun control and addressing the faults in our society that bring about such massacres; and get straight to the business of executing this man, James Holmes.

There is political opportunism in this of course; Goldberg would like us to talk about anything other than gun control, I'm sure. But it's true that some opponents of capital punishment will go silent in the face of a 'poster boy' type. Not all, though.

Jonah Goldberg speaking at CPAC in Washington D.C. on February 10, 2012.
So here's Jonah attacking the integrity of opponents of capital punishment:
Death-penalty opponents are fairly mercenary about when to express their outrage. When questions of guilt can be muddied in the media; when the facts are old and hard to look up; when the witnesses are dead; when statistics can be deployed to buttress the charge of institutional racism: These are just a few of the times when opponents loudly insist the death penalty must go.
(Photo by Gage Skidmore)

There's no possibility expressed here that death penalty opponents could be correct. No, Goldberg wants to frame the argument as if everyone on Death Row is guilty without question, and that opponents to these executions are muddying the waters, abusing statistics, stretching out the process so that memories fade and witnesses die and facts get old. Somehow cheating, lying, gaming the system for the benefit of murderers.

The problem with his argument is that innocents have been executed. Death Row inmates have been exonerated. Unlike Goldberg's obfuscatory nonsense, these facts are demonstrable. And more cases could be investigated, if the criminal justice system were not clogged with still more death penalty cases -- defense attorneys at least have a plausible excuse in moving on to cases where some lives can still be saved.

There's not nearly so much virtue in the activities of tough-on-crime pundits and politicians. Take Rick Perry for example; he interfered in the investigation of the execution of Todd Willingham, a case that has still not been resolved as far as I know. Perhaps the possibility that an innocent man was executed on Rick Perry's watch contributed to his defeat.

But I doubt it.

So here's Jonah offering a false choice, talk about capital punishment or about fixing society:

We don't know whether or not he's mentally ill, but odds are he isn't. Indeed, criminologists and psychiatrists will tell you that most mass murderers aren't insane. But the public debate is already caught up in a familiar tautology. What Holmes did was an act of madness, therefore he must be a madman. And if he's a madman, we can't execute him because he's not responsible for his actions. And if he's not responsible, then "society" must be. And we can't execute a man for society's sins. So: Cue the debate about guns, and funding for mental health, and the popular culture.
Ever walk and chew gum at the same time, eh? No? Oh wait -- that's not just a false choice, it's a false choice about a straw man version of opposition to the death penalty. At least, it's a straw man argument to me. My opposition to capital punishment isn't based on some notion of insanity and irresponsibility. There is no need to question such things. Capital punishment is unnecessary. If the prisons are adequate for containing murderers like James Holmes, there is no need to execute him.

Nevertheless, this is the argument Goldberg wants to have, because he perceives a political advantage. I'd be interested to see why Goldberg wants to kill James Holmes. The way Jonah talks, this fellow needs killing.

I say, let us give Holmes a fair trial. If convicted, execute him swiftly. If you disagree, explain why this man deserves to live.
Jonah must think the killer deserves to die, because he's asking why not. I can answer for why the killer deserves to live; it's because we all do. This is an argument I've made before, so at the risk of quoting myself, I'll make it again:
We all have that right. Even those who demonstrate little respect for the rights of others -- these are not the standard by which I choose to operate. Advocates of execution seem so quick to invoke 'eye for an eye,' words from a holy book. So few of them recall how their prophet told them to turn the other cheek instead. As I don't hold to such beliefs, I fall somewhere in between. But capital punishment makes us all into the worst of these doomed prisoners; killers, for whatever twisted reason. Justice, security, deterrence, recidivism, have little to do with it. Vengeance comes to mind. But whatever misbegotten lust for vengeance I may hold, it doesn't go that far.
So why is the just penalty death? Is it eye for an eye? Do we not trust the prisons to keep us safe from James Holmes, and if not, why not? Is there some impulse toward revenge? I wonder, if Holmes' own murderous impulses sprang from the same place. And if the desire to execute him posthaste is just another symptom of the disease. Goldberg and Holmes, like two warts on the ass of society.
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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (13+ / 0-)

    "Creationists make it sound as though a 'theory' is something you dreamt up after being drunk all night." - Isaac Asimov

    by tytalus on Fri Jul 27, 2012 at 10:28:44 AM PDT

  •  It's not that he deserves to live (7+ / 0-)

    It's that the death penalty is state sanctioned murder, and prohibitively expensive, and not a deterrent (as it was originally intended), and that innocent people have been murdered in the name of revenge (what else could you call it?).
    There are so many reasons against the death penalty, I'm like you, I can't fathom the motivations of people who salivate at the thought of another death solving anything.
    It's barbaric.

    “We are not a nation that says ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ We are a nation that says ‘out of many, we are one.’” -Barack Obama

    by skohayes on Fri Jul 27, 2012 at 10:42:13 AM PDT

  •  While this will not be a popular sentiment here, (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tytalus, Torta, nomandates

    my opposition to the death penalty does not stem from cases such as Holmes or Tim McVeigh; I am basically in agreement with the proposition that such men have given up their right to life via their deeds.

    But there has never been, will never be, and cannot be a death penalty law which is only ever applied to the "worst of the worst". Judges and district attorneys are elected in this country, and no one was ever elected on a platform of becoming less tough on crime. And the punishments and remedies once conceived for the "worst of the worst" become applicable to everyday offenses. And then you have young men sentenced to die, not because they committed multiple murders in cold blood, but because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time and could not afford a competent legal defense.

    But McVeigh? This Holmes guy? As bad a taste in my mouth as it leaves to agree with Jonah Goldberg about anything, those men deserve(d) to die. I shed no tears for Tim McVeigh and if James Holmes ends up subject to judicial execution I won't cry for him either.

    Visit Lacking All Conviction, your patch of grey on those too-sunny days.

    by eataTREE on Fri Jul 27, 2012 at 10:43:51 AM PDT

    •  That is the problem (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      eataTREE, raincrow, nomandates

      trying to define the principle and put it into practice. But it's true, we differ on what rights society ought to take from criminals.

      "Creationists make it sound as though a 'theory' is something you dreamt up after being drunk all night." - Isaac Asimov

      by tytalus on Fri Jul 27, 2012 at 10:51:12 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Really, my only point is that you don't have to (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        tytalus, Torta, nomandates, wenchacha

        agree with the idea "No one deserves to die" to still be very much in opposition to the death penalty. I believe that some people do indeed deserve to die, but I also believe the State is practically incapable of making such judgements within an acceptable margin of error.

        The "argument ad Hitler" is a common rebuttal of anti-death-penalty argument; I wish to point out that you can agree that Hitler should die and still not be OK with capital punishment as a standing policy of a modern nation.

        Visit Lacking All Conviction, your patch of grey on those too-sunny days.

        by eataTREE on Fri Jul 27, 2012 at 11:00:38 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Exactly - it's because unjust Death Row (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          tytalus, David54, eataTREE, nomandates

          can happen and does happen, it's been proven.  Meaning, capital punishment, as a part of our legal system, is proven guilty of killing many innocent people.

          And in my mind, similar I think to yours, that is why it is morally reprehensible and should be removed.  Not because of the straw man argument that "Liberals like to say Holmes (or McVeigh, etc) is 'just misunderstood and needs mental health services.'"

          •  To put Holmes to death, you must have a (5+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            tytalus, raincrow, eataTREE, Torta, nomandates

            death penalty.
            If you have a death penalty, you will have innocent victims put to death on false charges. That's been proven over and over.
            Therefore in order to kill Holmes, you must kill innocents.
            So morally, let's stop killing.

            For the amoral: It costs too much money to kill people. We cannot afford it.

            You can't make this stuff up.

            by David54 on Fri Jul 27, 2012 at 11:30:31 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  Goldberg Wants People Dead All Over the World (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    raincrow, native

    At least he's more consistent than the anti abortion "pro life" crowd.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Fri Jul 27, 2012 at 11:07:11 AM PDT

    •  My only reservation (0+ / 0-)

      is that I don't know if Goldberg is anti-abortion (though he probably is), and so I am skeptical of his consistency.  :)

      "Creationists make it sound as though a 'theory' is something you dreamt up after being drunk all night." - Isaac Asimov

      by tytalus on Fri Jul 27, 2012 at 11:26:31 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Killing the killers (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wenchacha

    doesn't undo any of the the harm they have done. Neither is it likely to discourage future acts of murder.

    What it does do, is to legitimize, or normalize the deliberate taking of human life, under certain circumstances. It re-enforces emotions like anger and vengeance, embedding them in the social ethos. It makes violence in general more, not less likely to occur.

    I would agree that there are some murderers and psychopaths who deserve to die, but in killing them we do more damage to ourselves than we do to them.

    "Here's another nice mess you've gotten me into." - Oliver Hardy

    by native on Fri Jul 27, 2012 at 02:51:18 PM PDT

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