||Tucker Carlson is a CNN political analyst and contributes to The Weekly Standard and Talk magazines. He is providing exclusive analysis to CNN allpolitics.com during the election season.|
Tucker Carlson: Death penalty deserves more vigorous debate
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- George W. Bush has presided over more executions than any other sitting governor. Over the past several months, this fact has become fodder for his political enemies. On one level this is a good thing. Capitol punishment is, and for more than 20 years has been, overwhelmingly popular with voters.
Yet it remains a complicated and morally disturbing issue that deserves to be debated vigorously and in public. For the first time in a long time, it is. Unfortunately the level of debate has been unusually low.
Few of Bush's critics have attacked capital punishment directly. Instead, most have contended that the death penalty is bad because it is poorly administered. In many jurisdictions, the argument goes, public defenders are incompetent. This may be true. But it is not a real argument against capital punishment. (It is an argument for hiring better public defenders). Having an inept attorney is not the same as being exonerated. If your lawyer was drunk in court, you may be entitled to a new trial. You are
not by definition innocent.
You'd never know this by listening to the latest generation of anti-death penalty activists (none of whom, tellingly, points to a single modern example of an innocent person being executed in America). This is not surprising. Politics favors clever rhetoric over principled arguments. But it is a shame, for there are a number of principled arguments against the death penalty.
Over the years, many people have opposed capital punishment for religious reasons, on the grounds that killing is wrong and that forgiveness is preferable to retribution. Others have taken a fundamentally libertarian position. Allowing government to take the lives of its own citizens, they have argued, expands the power of the state to dangerous levels. Still others have contended that state-sponsored killing - and the public's inevitable,
ghoulish interest in it -- would have a coarsening effect on American life. There are even those who have seemed to object to capital punishment on aesthetic grounds: The electric chair sometimes causes a prisoner's body to catch fire. Thus is ugly. Therefore the death penalty should be abolished.
Agree or disagree with these positions, but all are honorable. Pretending that innocent people are routinely executed is not.
On the other hand, Al Gore and his supporters don't have many options. Gore has long favored capital punishment. He is a particularly enthusiastic supporter of legalized post-viability abortions. It is a bit late for him to start giving speeches about the sanctity of all human life. So Gore is left to criticize Bush's handling of the death penalty on technical grounds. And
the public is cheated out of what might have been an instructive debate.