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Meanwhile, the Beat Goes On, Dahlia Lithwick Style

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While Ann Coulter lays out the evidence, Dahlia Lithwick of Slate, who never saw a killer without an excuse, insists that the Troy Davis execution means the death penalty is done for in the United States.

Ms. Lithwick is a relentless campaigner against capital punishment who, like most such campaigners, begins from the assumption that racism and sleazy prosecutors, among a zillion other things, make capital punishment a moral stain.  She has decided the public will now agree with her because, inter alia, "many" people believe Davis was innocent, and the morally impervious quest for "finality" of judgment, having now been exposed, will give way to the more compelling desire to be certain we have the right guy.  Since we can never really be certain  --  or at least not often enough  --  death penalty support will wither.

Ms. Lithwick's piece is so stuffed with fraud that it would take me all day to deconstruct it, and I don't have all day.  So I'll just do her first paragraph.


Whatever else it may come to mean, the execution of Troy Davis by the state of Georgia can stand for the proposition that the death penalty in America is finally dying.

It doesn't take too much thought to understand that the state's refusal to be bullied off the jury's judgment by the chorus of Holier Than Thou voices, appropriately led  by Mr. Sanctimonious himself, Jimmy Carter, more likely means that support for capital punishment remains strong and stable, as Gallup has consistently found.   There's nothing new here.  Ms. Lithwick is doing what wishful thinkers always do, to wit, re-package the old agenda as newly popular, evidence optional.   

That's because the fight over the death penalty is now happening in public...

Previously it had been held in a phone booth.

...at the grassroots, and with reason triumphing over emotion.

It is precisely because reason triumphs over emotion (to wit, undifferentiated and uncurious sentiment) that the public continues to support the death penalty.  It knows instinctively what the decided majority of studies confirm, to wit, that the death penalty deters murder.  It also knows the basic truth Ms. Lithwick ignores, that there are some murders so cruel and depraved that no other penalty even resembles proportionate justice.

As for the "grassroots," someone needs to tell Ms. Lithwick that the inside-the-Beltway Washington Post Co., which owns Slate, might not be everyone's idea of the heartland.

In the debate over capital punishment, the desire for certainty is finally beginning to carry as much weight as the need for finality.

If there's any evidence that the desire to be sure we've got the right guy was ever absent from the public's assessment of the death penalty, Ms. Lithwick does not produce it.  And her adopted foil, the rush to "finality," is a complete straw man.  Davis committed the murder 22 years ago and has had his conviction reviewed a dozen times over those many years in state and federal court. (The Supreme Court denied last night's stay request without dissent).  The average interval between the imposition of a death sentence and its being carried out is now more than 12 years. 

It's hardly that the public has demanded finality uber alles.  It is, exactly to the contrary, that the public has tolerated huge and inordinate delay precisely because of its desire to be sure, quite sure, that we have the right guy.

Americans are asking not so much whether this particular prisoner should be killed as whether this whole capital system is fair.

Ms. Lithwick of course has no idea what Americans are asking since, so far as she discloses or gives us any reason to believe, she never inquired.  Others have, however, and have reported that, by a substantial majority (58%), Americans believe that the death penalty system is administered fairly  --  seven percentage points higher than in 2000.


1 Comment

I read this article with dismay this morning. Although it's no secret that Lithwick opposes the death penalty, this essay in particular was so full of fatuous statements that (as Bill notes) one could spend hours refuting them all.

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