Dreher vs. Goldberg? Dreher wins
In today's NRO, Rod Dreher and Jonah Goldberg debate the morality of the death penalty
. In my opinion, which is absolutely unbending on the issue of state-sponsored murders (or whatever else you want to call executions), Dreher, who argued the anti-death penalty side, was bang on, and Goldberg was not.
Goldberg's argument collapses (for me, at least) in the opening paragraph, when he argues that today's justice system is "more reliable" than it used to be, and so the use of the death penalty is okay. I'm sorry? More reliable? His assertions are correct if you admit that having 35 innocent men on death row today, makes the system more reliable
than it was when there were 100 innocent men on death row in the 40s. I am, however, not moved, nor am I impressed by this argument in the slightest. Unless someone could prove to me that an absolutely infallible justice system existed, I'd be unwilling to debate the issue past this point. What's that you say? I'm being stubborn? Damn straight! I'm a firm believer in the "better to set a thousand guilty men free than execute one innocent man" stance on executions and no one, not even Goldberg, has been able to change my mind. Perhaps taking the life of an innocent man is a risk you're willing to take in the name of revenge for so many brutal murders that have been committed. Ok, it's your choice. But what if that one
innocent person was your father? What it it were your mother? Would you bow your head and say "Well, other than the fact that my mother is being executed for a crime she didn't commit, the system works!". I doubt it.
Now, on to the next argument. Do murderers deserve to be executed? My feelings on this issue are a little more ambiguous. In general, I don't like the idea of human beings sitting around a table, making decisions about when another human being is going to die. The thought disgusts me and has been the source of my tendency to categorically deny the legitimacy of killing criminals who "deserve" to be die for their crimes. On the other hand, I have not, thank God, ever known anyone who was murdered. If, God forbid, anyone should harm someone near and dear to my heart, I'd be the first one to stand up and demand the most brutal, harsh and inhumane punishments for the monsters who would commit such crimes. So, while I do believe that some people deserve to die for their crimes (and it wouldn't bother me to look a convicted murdered in the eyes and say so), we're still left with the problem of having people deciding the fates of other people. I mean, isn't that what we're punishing the criminals for doing? How can we teach people that they have no right to play God, and then turn around and do just that? Do we beat people who are charged with assault? Do we rape rapists? Do we steal the personal belongings of thieves? Of course not. Why? Because assault, rape and theft are wrong. They're against the law. So is murder, whether or not you call it a cold-blooded killing or a state-sponsored execution.
I don't even need to touch the racial issues surrounding the fact that American death rows look like a Harlem basketball team, nor am I going to pay any credence to the idea that the system would be more legitimate if it's racial makeup was identical to today's American society. And I'm certainly not going to depend on the argument that poor people don't get proper representation and are, therefore, more likely to end up on death row......I'm not even sure I like that argument much anyway. No matter how you square it, there are far better reasons to get rid of the death penalty than its inherent racism and "classism". As my father always says, the government sets the moral tone for the whole country, and I think that the death penalty sets a really crappy tone. As Mr. Dreher said, I do not care if truly guilty murderers die. But as long as we live in a society in which we can adequately protect ourselves without shedding blood, thus risking killing innocent men, we should err on the side of life.
Yes, we should.
How can Americans have the death penalty and
today's National Sanctity of Human Life Day