Sunday, October 29, 2006

Death Penalty Referendum

It comes as no surprise that the Journal Times would oppose the upcoming advisory referendum concerning the death penalty. "It's a visceral vote" they declare in sentence one. Of course all votes are visceral votes for leftists. If it feels good, vote for it. If it feels bad, vote against it. The very idea of a death penalty is abhorrent to the left, so the JT must oppose this, no matter what. Still, being a newspaper, they must provide reasons to justify their feelings. Lets take a look.

The JT is thankful to be in a state "whose citizens can be assured that they have not put to death an innocent man or woman." They note, however, that we have had our share of bad guys, including Jeffrey Dahmer, who was slain in prison. The JT does not mourn the death of Dahmer, the victim of vigilante jailhouse justice. I suspect they would mourn his death had the state decided to terminate it. The JT's attitude can be summed up as follows: We are not particularly saddened by the murder of Dahmer, but we feel better knowing that we did not condone it.

"The death penalty has not been shown to deter crime in any appreciable way." This sentence was immediately and predictably followed by the words "Some studies..." Their studies may well be correct, but I anxiously await the study detailing the recidivism rate of executed criminals. My hypothesis, awaiting study, is that executed criminals thereafter have a crime rate of zero. If my theory proves true, then execution is the most effective crime deterent.

The JT goes on to describe the "festival" like atmosphere that supposedly surrounded public executions in the distant past. And that, perhaps, "in this day of reality television shows, Wisconsin would welcome back such morbid entertainment." I am sure the JT editorialists are enjoying their moral superiority openly displayed here. I am sure it feels good. It's a visceral vote, remember.

For some, though, votes are registered for purposes other than confirming our feelings. Some people think about their votes. I suspect that the prospect of the state executing an innocent person would be abhorrent to anyone. For the JT, this can be avoided by voting against the death penalty referendum. But would this spell the end of innocent deaths? No, only state sponsored innocent deaths. As the Dahmer murder should make clear, prisoners can still commit murders. Dahmer of course is not an innocent victim, but the point is that prisoners can still commit crimes. And these crimes need not be confined by prison walls. Prisoners can communicate beyond the prison walls, commissioning crimes that could, of course, result in the murder of innocents. As I noted earlier, executed criminals will not be committing any crimes.

So the choice before us is not so simple as the JT would have us believe. Neither vote will protect us from the psychic pain of innocent deaths. The JT prefers the illusion that they are morally superior, though their policy choice may well result in more innocent deaths than a carefully crafted death penalty law. But again, remember, this vote is cast so the JT can feel good and morally superior to others.

The question to me is which policy choice will protect the most innocents. There may come a time when the state executes an innocent person, and this would be a tragedy indeed. But is it any less tragic when an innocent person is murdered when the crime could have been prevented by the death penalty? It is hard to feel good about the difficult choice before us, unless we abdicate our responsibility to protect the innocent, as the JT has done. But votes should not be about protecting our feelings of moral superiority. They should be about thinking and making the best of difficult choices. I will be voting "Yes" on the death penalty referendum, as I think it would protect the greatest number of innocents.

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