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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Capital Punishment and Conservative Politics




I didn’t watch much of the GOP debate a week ago (I stumbled onto Rick Santorum castigating the welfare state and quickly ducked out), but I don’t know if I would’ve had the patience to listen to a group of people that focus more on getting votes and less on American values that are shared across party lines. Rick Perry in particular, got troubling applause during the question, and following his answer, about the death penalty in Texas. It was noted that in his now 5 terms as governor in Texas, over 200 people have been executed. I don’t know if that’s ever something to be proud of, but even more appalling is that people associated with the GOP applauded at this (twice) while simultaneously supporting anti abortion rights practices, calling that murder. Do any of those people try to be consistent in this idea that people who commit that crime should be executed and extend that to abortion recipients or practitioners? I doubt it and that reflects a discontinuity that exists with many modern members of the Republican Party.

The GOP touts itself as a very pro life party, though closer observation reveals they are only pro life in the colloquial expression that actually is phrased much better as anti abortion rights. Illegalizing abortion, sometimes a goal of anti abortion advocates, is ironically a point to bridge the debate into support by Republicans of the death penalty. Capital or corporal punishment, call it what you will, but it amounts to a state spending a great deal more money to kill someone than to incarcerate them for life or rehabilitate them. I’m not absolutely certain of the economics involved, but the argument has some basis allegedly with the costs of lethal injection, one of the more common methods. In fact, there are only 6 states, including Tennessee, that even allow the electric chair to be used at the prisoner’s request. If nothing else, Texas apparently realized that lethal injection was more humane.
A question is brought up with illegalizing abortion: “Do you advocate the death penalty for people found guilty of the crime of abortion, since, according to most anti abortion activists, it is murder? Or do you claim there is some significant difference between someone killing an unborn child and a person already born? Where does infanticide fit into this? Are these people deserving of the death penalty or do you have some other punishment in mind for people who kill the unborn and/or recently born?” As you can see, the question branches out pretty quickly, but if we focus on the issue of consistent justice, many Republicans fail to consider or speak about what would happen in their ideal world if abortion was made criminal again. There may be a sector amongst them that would actually support lumping abortionists alongside serial killers, though I wonder what they would do to people who merely had the abortion performed on them; would they consider them just as culpable as the doctor; or less so because they were directly connected to the person (fetus/etc) that was killed? Maybe just manslaughter charges?

The very idea of trying to discuss jurisprudence as related to killing what only moderately possesses personhood at the 5th month of gestation is mind boggling, but it only gets worse when you consider that people will cheer about this sort of thing when they likely have no connection to any execution by fewer than 4 degrees of separation. The idea of being so proudly pro life and yet mobilizing to kill people that killed others as some twisted deterrent to future criminals is beyond counterintuitive, it’s borderline contradictory. If you were consistently pro life, you wouldn’t advocate protecting life at one stage and then, for every other situation, push death as a solution: soldiers for wars that rarely seem to be just or have the state play God and dispense so called “ultimate justice” (Rick Perry’s words, not mine)
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Even if this position of selective pro life politics wasn’t completely backwards and could be defended logically, there is no reason to applaud for the death of any human being, no matter how terrible they may be. Death is a part of life and should not be further encouraged by a faulty system of justice that thinks it’s doing God a favor when God is said even in the Bible to be the final and ultimate judge, not humans. Not to mention the idea of taking revenge or returning death with more death is also not something the Bible advocates by human hands, especially in New Testament thought. Jesus said to forgive your enemies, pray for those who persecute you and such, correct? So why, like so many Republicans these days, do you only use faith in Jesus to draw people in with heartfelt prayers and then ignore his sayings when faced with ethical issues of life and death caliber? Sure, you can say you’re protecting all the unborn, but when it comes to flawed people already born, you don’t ever think to advocate the love and forgiveness Jesus spoke of. As much as he spoke of proper judgment in the Gospels, he also emphasized that the use of violence should not be your impulse, but a last resort. He noted at one point, those who live by the sword die by the sword, indicating in part that we shouldn’t use lex talionis (eye for an eye styled) justice when we can just as easily practice forgiveness, however more difficult that is. When a person takes another person’s life, they have indeed committed a crime, but that crime; no crime of any magnitude; demands that we eliminate that person from the face of the earth as if it will reduce crime. In fact it might just encourage more killing by the precedent you set that it solves problems. And it won’t deter truly evil people, since they wouldn’t be swayed by threats of violence when they use those same threats to get what they want.

I would also imagine there is a generational gap here based on a tradition that execution is just a part of life and shouldn’t be done away with. Though for people in older generations who go through a process of hatred against a person who murdered a loved one and then realize that forgiveness is the first step to real healing, I think we could see eye to eye. I can’t be certain that I wouldn’t initially react with some amount of negativity towards someone who took any number of people I find important to me. If it was an accident, it’d be another thing, but willful actions might provoke even me to initially think I should avenge that person. I can only hope that would be tempered and held back by my studies in Christianity and Buddhism both that have taught me that hatred feeds a proverbial fire that can burn you with enough fuel. Forgiveness and love, tools of peace and not war, will not only change you, but may even change the murderer if they are so disposed.
Bottom line, if conservatives want to be taken seriously by educated people who can see between the lines drawn in the political sands, they need to change their tone to be more consistent overall and oppose the death penalty and excessive military spending that both clash with their alleged pro life stance; actually appearing more pro fear, as I’ve noted elsewhere in “Pro Life and Politics” Or they could be consistent in being pro fear and apply the death penalty equally in prosecuting abortion crimes, assuming they have the goal of illegalizing abortion, which isn’t always the case with GOP, but can stop short and instead seek to obstruct abortion rights as a whole. Either way, it would suggest a vast change in the party that would nonetheless create a chasm that would eventually be filled by some party. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.



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