It recently came to light that everybody’s least favorite Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, has acquired new powers to “fast track” death penalty cases in federal courts. While the headline may play well with the Republican base, which remains infatuated with the death penalty, the measure itself is extremely limited and probably won’t make all that much difference to the rate at which death row inmates meet their ends.
The death penalty itself remains intensely controversial and thus politically useful. Support for the death penalty is the tough, god fearing, law upholding, capital “C” conservative candidate’s favorite way of distinguishing himself from all those namby-pamby, soft on crime Democrats who like nothing more than pandering to criminals and recklessly compromising the safety of honest Americans.
Not being particularly enamored with the culture wars, I would like to propose a solidly conservative argument for dispensing with the death penalty and it’s accompanying political, legal and media circus. My hypothetical pragmatic Republican candidate might make an argument something like this:
“I have not one single shred of sympathy for the inmates on death row. They are undoubtedly the vilest of criminals and thoroughly deserve to be put to death.
Nevertheless I oppose the death penalty, not because it is cruel, but because it is far too kind.
Consider what happens when a convict is placed on death row. For a start he is handled with extraordinary care by his jailers least some incident provide grounds for appeal, or the psychological stress of his situation render him medically unfit to be executed.
Once comfortably installed on death row the convict is practically overrun with sympathetic media types and bleeding-heart liberal lawyers, who explain to the convict, in the most understanding tones, how he is really the victim.
This wouldn’t be so bad were it not for the glacial pace of the legal system. Our laudable desire to ensure that no innocent citizen is ever put to death has resulted in a near endless menu of legal avenues by which liberal lawyers can seek to delay or subvert the course of justice.
On being convicted of a capital crime the criminal knows two things. He will enjoy at least 15 years (probably many more) of the most comfortable accommodation the prison system can provide while the appeals process plays out. He will also receive attention, understanding and sympathy that he absolutely doesn’t deserve and may even achieve a measure of celebrity. What is absolutely not certain is whether he will ever be executed.
Is it any wonder that the death penalty isn’t much of a deterrent?
The people who really suffer in a capital case are the victims. Ignored in the outpouring of concern for the criminal, the victims are deprived of any sense of finality or justice. Through the years, as appeal follows appeal, the victims can be called back any number of times to reiterate their testimony, always knowing that one slip in testimony or error in memory may be enough to allow their attackers to escape punishment.
For the sake of justice, for the sake of the victims, I call on all true conservatives everywhere to write to the president and ask that he commute the sentences of every death row inmate to life with hard labor and no possibility of parole. We may not be able to make the death penalty work, but we can sure as heck make our worst offenders wish they were dead.”