Friday, August 1, 2014

Obama is right about the death penalty

I want it on the record here that sometimes I agree with Obama, that "Articulating Ideas" is not an Obama bashing site.  For instance, recently I published at healthcentral.com/copd an article I titled "Obamacare May Benefit COPD Patients."  I also agree with Obama's view on the death penalty.

Jonah Goldberg's May 7, 2014, column at nationalreview.com "In Defense of Capital Punishment," he described Obama's response to a botched execution in Oklahoma.  Goldberg said:
Last week the state of Oklahoma “botched” an execution.

Botched is the accepted term in the media coverage, despite the fact that Clayton Lockett was executed. He just died badly, suffering for 43 minutes until he eventually had a heart attack.
In response, Oklahoma's governor called for an investigation.  And Obama said this, of which I humbly agree.
The individual . . . had committed heinous crimes, terrible crimes, and I’ve said in the past that there are certain circumstances where a crime is so terrible that the application of the death penalty may be appropriate...
On the other hand, Obama added: “I’ve also said that in the application of the death penalty . . . we have seen significant problems, racial bias, uneven application of the death penalty, situations in which there were individuals on death row who later on were discovered to be innocent.
I think we do have to, as a society, ask ourselves some difficult and profound questions.
Now, what is wrong with that statement?  Surely it's wishy washy, but I have also been wishy washy on this issue in the past.  In fact, I used to be a strong opponent of the death penalty before I became a strong proponent.

However, we are talking about killing here; we are talking about murder.  We are talking about intentionally killing one of God's creatures.  God says, in the Christian Bible, that murder is a mortal sin, and that he will provide the justice to the sinner; it is not the job of other humans.

That was my initial argument against the death penalty.  Plus there have been studies that show that the cost of having a person on death row is nearly twice as much as keeping someone in prison for life, and the reason for this is because of the judicial process needed to ensure innocent people are not executed.

To this argument, Goldberg says:
Some believe the best argument against the death penalty is the fear that an innocent person might be executed. It’s hotly debated whether that has ever happened, but it’s clear that innocent people have been sent to death row. Even one such circumstance is outrageous and unacceptable.

But even that is not an argument against the death penalty per se. The FDA, police officers, and other government entities with less constitutional legitimacy than the death penalty (see the Fifth and 14th amendments) have made errors that resulted in innocent deaths. That doesn’t render these entities and their functions illegitimate. It obligates government to do better.
The argument that the death penalty is slow and expensive does not hold water, according to Goldberg.  He said:
The most cynical argument against the death penalty is to point out how slow and expensive the process is. But it is slow and expensive at least in part because its opponents have made it slow and expensive, so they can complain about how slow and expensive it is.
Plus being in prison allows for that person time to think about what he did, which, in and of itself, might be a worse punishment than death.

On the contrary, some people commit crimes that are so horrendous that they are deserving of death. Many of these people do not have the same feelings that a normal person has, and may not even be capable of feeling guilt.

Some will say that the death penalty, in and of itself, is a severe consequence to severe crimes, and knowing the consequences -- should be a deterrent to committing a crime.

Although, one might argue, most people, when they are about to commit a crime, do so out of anger, and do not consider the consequences.  Plus you might conclude that no person does a crime with the intent of being caught.  So even the deterrent argument might not be such a strong argument

Or, as Goldberg, a supporter of the death penalty says, "It is wrong to kill a man just to send a message to others."

Some people argue that the death penalty is simply inhumane.  I think this is the best argument.  Still, Goldberg says this argument doesn't always hold water either.  He said:
As for humaneness, Lockett’s execution was botched — “inhumane” — in part because Oklahoma had to use a new drug regimen because death-penalty opponents had successfully lobbied the maker of a component of an earlier formula to stop making that drug available for executions.
Ron Paul, in his 2011 book "Liberty Defined," said he is also wishy washy on the death penalty.  He said that while he once was for it, not he is wondering if maybe the government should not have this power, especially the federal government.  He said:
After years spent in Washington, I have become more aware than ever of the government's ineptness and the likelihood of its making mistakes. I no longer trust the U.S. government to invoke and carry out a death sentence under any conditions. Too many convictions, not necessarily federal, have been found to be in error, but only after years of incarcerating innocent people who later were released no DNA evidence.
He added:
Rich people when guilty are rarely found guilty and sentenced to death.  Most people believe O.J. Simpson was guilty of murder but went free. This leads to a situation where innocent people without enough money are more likely to get the death penalty, while the guilty rich people with good lawyers get off.
I suppose you could say the same for Michael Jackson.  He was charged with sexually molesting kids, and spent millions of dollars on lawyers that were able to get him off the hook, while most people believe he was guilty.

He also adds one more important issue:
The issue is not only about mistakes that governments make. It is about the power they wield. If the government can legally kill, it can do just about anything else short of that. I no longer believe that government should be trusted with this power. All power is likely to be abused, and disproportionately so against the government's own enemies.
He gives a few examples, such as judges on power rushes.  He cited Bill O'Reilly, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, G. Gordon Liddy, Mike Huckabee, among others, called for the death penalty for Julian Assange, the owner of WikiLeaks "after he spread diplomatic documents."

Paul said that what this essentially came down to was a witch hunt, with the desire to use the governmental powers of the death penalty, to kill a man who all he did was release "true information that embarrassed many but harmed no one."

Bottom line: I think both sides of the argument here can find strong evidence in support of their case.  Still, when it comes to taking a life, I think it's perfectly fine to be wishy washy, especially when we're talking about killing one of God's creatures, even the evil, wicked monsters among us.

Likewise, as I say on the issue of abortion, when the government decides on an issue, it should side on the side of life.