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.
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.