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Rick Perry, Texas Executions and Presidential Politics


As Michael Rushford has noted, Kent had the dubious honor of appearing on "Hardball" to answer stand-in host Ron Reagan as Reagan fired one loaded question after the next, seldom allowing a response.  The ostensible purpose of the program was to explore Gov. Rick Perry's record on executions.  The actual purpose was to stage the "Willingham-Was-Innocent" show and paint death penalty advocates as bloodlusting hoodlums, ready to string up anyone at hand, guilty or not.

I note this because the death penalty might well become an issue in Presidential politics.  While Perry has been Governor, Texas has had vastly more executions than any other state.  With President Obama confronted with the prospect of having to run on a weak and sinking economy; sustained high unemployment; runaway debt; and an approval rating headed toward Jimmy Carter levels, you don't have to be a genius to figure out that the plan will be to make the election about his opponent's views and leadership rather than his.*

This presents a wonderful and, I must say, unexpected opportunity for a national debate about capital punishment.  A candidate has seldom been handed a more one-sided issue. 

*  The President's record on issues other than criminal law is not the subject of C&C, but has recently been noted elsewhere

First, the obvious basics. Those who want Perry in the White House should be thrilled with his strong death penalty record and advocacy. According to Gallup, not to mention every other poll, capital punishment is supported by the public by more than 2-1.

According to this same poll, moderates -- the key group in next year's election -- support the death penalty 68-27. Moreover, a more recent Gallup poll, taken ten months ago, found that 18% think the death penalty is imposed too often, 26% about the right amount, and a fat 49% think it's not imposed often enough.

I don't know who the Republican nominee will be, although right now Perry is leading. The Left, as ever living inside its own head instead of the real world, thinks it's to its benefit to paint Perry as "responsible" for Texas's active death chamber (whether he is or not). Thus Ron Reagan's highlighting Perry's record.

Second, the implication of these facts is delicious.  The partisans who run "Hardball" and similar programs are so blinded by their own piety that they think they're holding a winning hand.  This will tempt them to go on offense, as Ron Reagan did.  Most often, "offense" will mean something in addition to merely being rude and high-handed, which was Ron's modus  operandi.  It will mean making extravagant and provably false factual claims, and that is where we strike.  Even with a largely dumbed-down media, the truth is still a potent weapon.

Example:  Ron made the claim that Amnesty International has come up with a list of 138 (or some such number) of executed innocents.  That is not true.  The Amnesty International list is of persons "exonerated" and released from death row.  (The bona fides of that list, and of Amnesty's definition of "exonerated," are the subjects for a post of its own).  Of course, a person who has been released from death row has not been executed.  Ron was just making it up  --  either that or he was caught up in the "excitement," as the Left sees it, of holding the microphone and therefore being able to just shout down the opposition.

The truth, as Justice Scalia showed in his scalding concurrence in Kansas v. Marsh, is that no neutral source has endorsed the notion that, in the modern (post-Gregg) era, a single factually innocent person has been executed in this country:

It should be noted at the outset that the dissent does not discuss a single case--not one--in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit. If such an event had occurred in recent years, we would not have to hunt for it; the innocent's name would be shouted from the rooftops by the abolition lobby. The dissent makes much of the new-found capacity of DNA testing to establish innocence. But in every case of an executed defendant of which I am aware, that technology has confirmed guilt.

After the abolitionist is caught in the we're-executing-innocents fabrication, it's time to go on offense, by pointing out that, far from taking innocent life, the death penalty saves innocent life.  Kent did this by bringing up the Kenneth McDuff case (which was barely audilble over Ron's yelling).

Although McDuff is probably the most gruesome illustration of the cost to innocent life of holding back on the death penalty, my personal favorite is Clarence Ray Allen.  That's because the drastic mistake of not executing Allen when it first would have been legally possible is pungently explained (and, in effect, lamented) by a unanimous  Ninth Circuit (not a typo) panel in its opinion affirming Allen's death sentence  --  the one imposed only after he had arranged three additional murders while serving his previous life sentence.  As Ninth Circuit noted, in an opinion by liberal, Clinton-appointed Judge Kim Wardlaw:

Evidence of Allen's guilt is overwhelming. Given the nature of his crimes, sentencing him to another life term would achieve none of the traditional purposes underlying punishment. Allen continues to pose a threat to society, indeed to those very persons who testified against him in the Fran's Market triple-murder trial here at issue, and has proven that he is beyond rehabilitation. He has shown himself more than capable of arranging murders from behind bars. If the death penalty is to serve any purpose at all, it is to prevent the very sort of murderous conduct for which Allen was convicted.

The Perry candidacy presents the best opportunity in recent memory to have the national debate abolitionism thinks it wants.  We should be delighted to oblige. 


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