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Conservatives and the Death Penalty


C&C recently reported an AP story that conservatives have become increasingly drawn to the anti-death penalty movement, partly for cost considerations, partly for religious reasons. 

The story contains a grain of truth.  Here, however, is the cornfield:  According to a Gallup survey,  http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/gallup-poll-who-supports-death-penalty, conservatives support the death penalty by 74% to 21%.  Moderates support it 68% to 27%, and liberals by 54% to 42%.  Republicans support it 80% to 17%, and Democrats 58% to 36%.  Men support it 74% to 23%, and women 62% to 32%.

The death penalty was not merely supported but used by George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and Bill Clinton.  Not all of these are thought to have been "conservatives," of course.  And it was recently endorsed by a prominent not-very-conservative politician, even for non-homicide offenses such as child rape (emphasis added):  "I have said repeatedly that I think that the death penalty should be applied in very narrow circumstances for the most egregious of crimes. I think that the rape of a small child, 6 or 8 years old, is a heinous crime and if a state makes a decision that under narrow, limited, well-defined circumstances the death penalty is at least potentially applicable, that that does not violate our Constitution."

Those were the words of Barack Obama, criticizing the Supreme Court's decision In Kennedy v. Louisiana, 554 U.S. ___ (2008).




Bill, surely you realize that Barack Obama doesn't really believe that--of course, that he felt the need to say it is proof enough of the popular support capital punishment enjoys in America.

As a death-penalty supporter who voted for Obama, I do hope he'll walk the walk when the federal-lethal injection litigation finally gets resolved--it's been in Federal District Court since 2006! As it stands now, at least five federal inmates have already exhausted all of their other appeals, so Obama may soon end up having to decide on whether to let executions go forward. I hope he'll emulate former Governor Kaine in Virginia, who let 11 of 12 scheduled executions take place despite his personal anti-capital punishment views.

The anti death penalty folks jump onto an new project, often, for new media coverage. It's a good strategy and the media loves being fed stories.

Enter the conservatives against the death penalty. There are a few notable ones and this recent dash began, from my observation, with Richard A. Viguerie, who is, supposedly, a foundatinal figure in modern conservatism.

Bad foundation, if his arguments against the death penalty are representative.

Mr. Viguerie makes a very weak argument for repeal of the death penalty. (1) It is, in fact, classic anti death penalty speak dressed up as something different, but the same old non substance - the king's new clothes.

1) Mr. Viguerie writes: "I’m a Catholic. Because of my Christian faith, and because I am a follower of Jesus Christ, I oppose the death penalty."

Sharp replies: There is no conflict with Catholic/Christian faith and support for the death penalty. There has been nearly 2000 years of biblical, theological, traditional and rational support for the death penalty within the Catholic Church. Even today, a Catholic in good standing can support the death penalty and an increase in executions, based upon their own prudential judgement. I would ask Mr. Viguerie to review the requirements of his faith, re the death penalty.

see "Death Penalty Support: Modern Catholic Scholars"

2) Mr. Viguerie "I’m a conservative as well, and because my political philosophy recognizes that government is too often used by humans for the wrong ends, I find it quite logical to oppose capital punishment."

Sharp replies: Because some seek any goal for the wrong ends, doesn't mean that the death penalty is not sought, most often, for honorable ends, the just and appropriate sentence for the crime committed. As Mr. Viguerie does not have a case for an opposite finding, he gives no support for ending the death penalty, with his statement.

3) Mr. Viguerie: "The fact is, I don’t understand why more conservatives don’t oppose the death penalty. It is, after all, a system set up under laws established by politicians (too many of whom lack principles); enforced by prosecutors (many of whom want to become politicians—perhaps a character flaw?—and who prefer wins over justice); and adjudicated by judges (too many of whom administer personal preference rather than the law)."

Sharp replies: Mr. Viguerie, the same arguments can be used against all legal sanctions or anything established under law. You provide neither argument nor evidence that the death penalty is not, most often sought and given by honorable persons for honorable reasons. Furthermore, 80% of US citizens support the death penalty for true, capital, death penalty eligible murders. Again, Mr. Viguerie provides no foundation to oppose the death penalty, with his statement.

4) Mr. Viguerie: "Conservatives have every reason to believe the death penalty system is no different from any politicized, costly, inefficient, bureaucratic, government-run operation, which we conservatives know are rife with injustice. But here the end result is the end of someone’s life. In other words, it’s a government system that kills people."

Sharp replies: Yes, they do have reason to believe it is different.

A) Costly/inefficient: Rebuttal. Virginia executes in 5-7 years. 65% of those sentenced to death have been executed. Only 15% of their death penalty cases are overturned. With the high costs of long term imprisonment, a true life sentence will be more expensive than such a death penalty protocol. Therefore, again, Mr. Viguerie does not provide a solid reason to oppose capital punishment. Improve the system in other states.

See: "Cost Savings: The Death Penalty"

B) Injustice: Rebuttal. Of all the government programs in the world, that put innocents at risk, is there one with a safer record and with greater protections than the US death penalty? Unlikely. Therefore, this may be the least likely government program to end, based upon Mr. Viguerie's reasoning.


"The Death Penalty: More Protection for Innocents"

A Death Penalty Red Herring: The Inanity and Hypocrisy of Perfection, Lester Jackson Ph.D.,

"The Innocent Executed: Deception & Death Penalty Opponents"

The 130 (now 139) death row "innocents" scam

Mr. Viguerie, a very weak non-case, indeed, for death penalty opposition.

1) "When Government Kills: A conservative argues for abolishing the death penalty", by Richard A. Viguerie, Sojourners magazine, July 2009

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