Thursday, July 2, 2009

Conservative Icon Calls For Abolition of Capital Punishment

Richard Viguerie is not a household name. But he is one of the elite strategists who brought Ronald Reagan and (later) Newt Gingrich to power. As early as 1961 he became executive secretary of Young Americans for Freedom. In 1975 he founded Conservative Digest. He pioneered the use of electronically-targeted direct mail, which maintained the conservative movement and raised millions upon millions of dollars for conservative politicians.

Mr. Viguerie is not the brand of political thinker I would choose. But you should read the opinion piece he has written: When Governments Kill: A conservative argues for abolishing the death penalty," published in the July 2009 Sojourners magazine.

He writes:

"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).

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.

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This is why I am joining my friend Jim Wallis in a coalition of liberals and conservatives calling for a national moratorium and conversation about the death penalty, so people can study, learn, think, pray if they wish, about whether or how the various state death-penalty systems should be changed. I hope you’ll join us."

I applaud Mr. Viguerie's courage and candor. Perhaps more conservatives will join after hearing his call to apply their principles to this barbaric practice of injustice.

1 comment:

Christopher said...

I admit I only read the excerpt in this post, but that's not even an argument. Does he really contend that the fact that something is run by politicians is a good reason to oppose it? What kind of sense does that make? Besides, it's not even true.

Viguerie suggests that "[c]onservatives 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 he seems to overlook the primary feature that sets our criminal justice system apart from the tyrannies of old: the jury. Capital punishment is easily distinguishable from a "politicized, costly, inefficient, bureaucratic, government-run operation" (take Medica[id/re] for example) in that a jury of the defendant's peers is the gateway.

To put it another way, the excerpt implies that the government is inept, and tacitly questions whether these are the people we want in charge of who lives or who dies. But they simply aren't. No one is executed unless a 12 non-politicians unanimously agree that he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

If all this sounds overly idealistic or even downright erroneous, then why should we not propose a moratorium on all criminal punishment? If the nature of the people that oversee the system make it unjust, why does it matter what the end result is? If it is unjust to execute someone because there were politicians behind the scenes, isn't it also unjust to imprison someone because there were politicians behind the scenes?