Monday, December 17, 2012

Cynical Push for Death Penalty

We react viscerally to the death of children. So we are seeing in the wake of Newtown, and so we are seeing in the wake of another recent tragedy, the discovery of the bodies Lyric Cook-Morrissey and Elizabeth Collins.

The Iowa Senate's leading right wing noisemaker, Kent Sorenson, is pushing for the death penalty, and he's sensationalized the issue again today by enlisting the help of the murdered girls' families and relatives of other child murder victims.

This surfaces every few years in Iowa. The last serious push was in 1995, after the death penalty became an issue in the 1994 governor's race following the murder of Anna Marie Emry in Brighton. The Legislature was overwhelmingly Republican at the time. But there were still enough suburban moderates and seamless-garment Catholics in the Republican caucus to join with Democrats and block the bill.

Probably not so today, but Democrats still hold that one Senator edge so this likely goes nowhere. And that's what Sorenson is really about here.

The challenge to capital punishment opponents is the false equivalence of their opposition with a defense of indefensible crime. "Does this killer deserve to die" is a different question than "should we as a society kill them." Ironic that the conservatives who hate big intrusive government largely support the ultimate intrusion.

Humans can be wrong, individually, as a jury of 12, or even as a majority in an opinion poll. And the death penalty is irreversible. As long as it is an option, even for the confessed killer with incontrivertible physical evidence, there is a risk of it being used against an innocent person.

Obviously, my thoughts here will be linked to the post-Newtown push for gun control. The difference I see is that the gun control effort  is about saving lives, about preventing incidents like this from happening again and again and again.It's also done in the face of serious opposition, at a political cost at least for now. (But this really is starting to feel like a real shift in opinion.)

In contrasty, Sorenson's post-Lyric and Elizabeth death penalty push is the politics of vengeance and cynical exploitation, a base appeal to the least common denominator.

Sure, the grieving families agree.  But that doesn't mean they aren't being cynically exploited by Sorenson just the same. "This is going to end up at the feet of (majority leader) Gronstal," says Sorenson, revealing his agenda. "That's where we'll take our fight."

But justice, if there can be such a thing for murdered children, is more than just a campaign brochure issue.

1 comment:

John Neff said...

It is not a partisan issue. The last time it was voted on the vote was not along party lines. The party leaders had no idea or control over how their members voted.

It was a bitter nasty business that left wounds that never healed.