AP Photo/Nati Harnik Nebraska lawmakers, including Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, center, and Sen Beau McCoy of Omaha, center rear, follow the vote to abolish the death penalty on Wednesday, May 27, 2015. M arc Hyden hasn’t always opposed capital punishment. The first time he remembers talking about the subject he was six years old, standing on the playground of his elementary school, telling a friend he supported the death penalty because his parents were Republicans. “It was more of a glacial change,” says Hyden of his own path to opposing capital punishment. “I had always been taught that this is what conservatives do, that we support the death penalty.” But as he grew older, the more and more he learned about it, the harder and harder it was for him to justify his support of the practice. “I was grasping.” Hyden has since stopped grasping. Now 31, he’s one of the nation’s leading conservative anti-death-penalty activists, a small but growing group that sees the death penalty as...
A few months ago, Dale Cox, the acting district attorney in Caddo Parish, Louisiana, told a reporter from the Shreveport Times the country needs to “kill more people.” The dramatic increase in capital convictions in Cox’s parish, which now accounts for almost 50 percent of those in all of Louisiana, was also the subject of a recent New York Times story.
While both Cox’s comments and his prosecutorial record are horrifying, he is right about something. As he told the Shreveport Times, the death penalty is really only about revenge.
There’s no evidence for the age-old defense, and in some ways raison d’etre, of capital punishment—that it deters crime. But even if there was, in our current system of endless appeals where an inmate waits on average almost 16 years between sentencing and execution dates, even the theoretical argument for deterrence is moot. We have, as a federal judge put it, while ruling California’s death penalty unconstitutional, a sentence of “life in prison, with the remote possibility of death.”
Even Cox admits this reality, saying, “It's a deterrent if it goes fast, but we can't get it done fast enough.” (Of course, I would argue with his inevitable conclusion—that we need to “get it done” faster.)
The death penalty is also not about justice for victims’ families, as newly baptized GOP presidential primary bottom feeder (and Governor of Ohio) John Kasich claims. “Every time there’s an appeal, all those details are in the media again, the case is reported again, and all that pain comes back,” says Mary Sloan, the executive director of the Kansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty. For this reason, among others, groups like Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights and Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation have organized to oppose capital punishment.
So it’s not about deterrence, and it’s not about justice. It’s about revenge—and we need to recognize that.
Last year, Alex Kozinski, then Chief Judge of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, got a lot of attention for suggesting, in a dissent, that we bring back the firing squad. But what much of the sensational coverage of his opinion missed was his core message: we shouldn’t be executing people in a way that makes it easier for us stomach (i.e. lethal injection). He wrote:
Using drugs meant for individuals with medical needs to carry out executions is a misguided effort to mask the brutality of executions by making them look serene and peaceful—like something any one of us might experience in our final moments. But executions are, in fact, nothing like that. They are brutal, savage events, and nothing the state tries to do can mask that reality. Nor should it. If we as a society want to carry out executions, we should be willing to face the fact that the state is committing a horrendous brutality on our behalf.
The same goes for why we execute people. If we’re comfortable with the death penalty, we need to be comfortable with the fact that we do it, not for deterrence or justice, but to exact government-sponsored revenge. We have to stop lying to ourselves. And if we can’t do that, we should be asking ourselves why we even have the death penalty at all.
Unlike in previous years, candidates need to do well in national polls to get into the debates, the presence at which is necessary for running any sort of legitimate campaign. So a laser-sharp focus on the early states is not a smart strategy. Presumably for this reason, last week, three of Rick Perry’s super PACs announced they have decided to run national ads on his behalf, far earlier than usual. Fox News could have inadvertently handed us a chance at wrestling some of that outsized influence away from Iowa and New Hampshire.
Admittedly, being bombarded with political ads is not the height of democratic participation. And while the bizarre and almost universally despised formula Fox and CNN have dreamed up isn’t going to keep presidential candidates from all but relocating to the early states, it may force them—at least the lower-polling Republicans—to pay more attention to the rest of the country, and lessen the stranglehold early states like Iowa and New Hampshire have on the presidential nominations.
If those states were good representative samples of the country as a whole, there may be a stronger case for them to be the first two contests, but they’re not. The U.S. population is about 63 percebt non-Hispanic white—Iowa and New Hampshire’s are about 91 percent and 94 percent, respectively. Around 20 percent of Americans live in rural areas; about 36 percent of Iowans and 40 percent of New Hampshirites do. And the median household income in New Hampshire is over $10,000 more than the median U.S. income. The more you look at it, the less sense it makes.
It’s a testament to both the unique role of the early states and my credentials as a civics nerd that I often imagine living in New Hampshire, conjuring up all sorts of run-ins with candidates and high-level campaign folk: Rand Paul interrupting a casual Sunday brunch to shake my hand, me giving Robby Mook that extra penny he needs in the coffee shop line, or narrowly missing Donald Trump’s convoy of limousines. And while I’m sure the early-voting states aren’t exactly these sorts of political wonderlands, their residents do enjoy the special privilege of having an intimate window into the national democratic process.
The Fox and CNN debate criteria may be seriously flawed, but as the Perry super PACs’ recent move has suggested, they may have also given the whole country a peek through that window.
Each year, the last player chosen in the NFL draft is nicknamed “Mr. Irrelevant.” If the Democratic presidential nominating contest was like the NFL draft, former Republican, Independent, and Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee wouldn’t even be Mr. Irrelevant—he’d be the next guy in line.
Think for a second about how rare it is for 1,001 people to agree on anything. You probably couldn’t get 1,001 random people to agree that the U.S. has 50 states or that the Chicago Cubs haven’t won a World Series since 1908. If you had 1,001 scientists, 100.1 of them wouldn’t believe in the manmade origins of climate change. If you had 1,001 dentists, 100.1 of them would not recommend Crest. In Chafee’s case, the unanimity of his rejection was undoubtedly aided by the fact that 78 percent of those polled had no idea who he was and thus had no real option to choose him—although that shouldn’t make his campaign feel much better.
Full disclosure: some of us here at the Prospect’s office are a bit obsessed with Chafee. From his insistence on converting to the metric system to the bizarre saga of his Facebook password, his presidential campaign is equal parts fascinating and funny, and we are not embarrassed to say we can’t get enough of it. So yes, when it comes to Chafee, we may not be the most objective critics of his newsworthiness. But while his abysmal polling numbers (or lack thereof) may not be technically newsworthy, they do beg a few interesting questions. First and foremost: why is he doing so poorly?
There is the obvious: he’s underfunded and his name recognition is nil. But why?
On Wednesday, Matthew Yglesias at Vox had a piece on Donald Trump in which he says that “Trumpism” is what a successful third party in American politics would look like:
Indeed, Trumpism is what a third party would have to sound like to get traction in America—a grab bag of issue positions that appeal to a substantial minority of the electorate but that neither party wants to wholeheartedly embrace because the ideas are too toxic in the elite circles that fund campaigns.
He specifically compares Trump to Michael Bloomberg, the kind of independent moderate who conventional wisdom tells us would be an attractive third party candidate—the best of both worlds. Yglesias makes a convincing case that it’s actually the best of no worlds. This is exactly the kind of candidate Chafee is, just on the Democratic side.
On the one hand, voters and donors who are attracted to his dovish foreign policy, environmentalism, and opposition to the death penalty already have a candidate, Bernie Sanders, and an alternative, Martin O’Malley. On the other hand, voters and donors who are attracted to his support for market solutions and free trade also already have a candidate, Jim Webb. For everyone else in the Democratic Party who wants someone who can beat the Republican nominee, there’s Hillary Clinton. Chafee is really just a fifth wheel.
Of course, all of this begs the question: why is he running? One of my colleagues at the Prospect has become a little too attached to the idea of the metric system and claims Chafee is just angling for a Cabinet position as Commerce Secretary (the department in charge of the National Institute of Standards and Technology). Originally, I saw his candidacy as the Democratic equivalent to Lindsay Graham’s, as something to check off his career bucket list. The more and more I read about him, though, I’m not so sure. He may genuinely believe he is the best choice for both the party and the country—despite the fact that he’s the only one.
Former Texas Governor Rick Perry is one of four Republican presidential candidates who spoke at the National Right to Life Convention in New Orleans last Friday, along with Dr. Ben Carson, former Senator Rick Santorum, and Senator Marco Rubio. And, in true Rick Perry fashion, his comments were a bit awkward.
While talking about health care in Texas, Perry painted himself as a champion of expanded access to health care. Of course, he was one of the 19 governors who refused to accept the Obamacare Medicaid expansion in his state, effectively depriving more than a million Texans of access to affordable health care.
This was only made worse by his pledge to improve health-care access to the less fortunate, the very people who would have benefited from that Medicaid expansion. “That’s what we ought to be working on … that the least of us are taken care of.”
It’s not that Perry tried to hide this history—he’s proud of it. He told the crowd at the anti-abortion event that he was the candidate of abortion opponents everywhere: “No candidate has done more to protect life for the unborn than I have. That’s a fact.”
But Perry’s comments on reproductive health went beyond simply lauding his anti-abortion credentials. He actually tried to paint himself and his state as advocates for women’s health care. “If you are a pregnant female,” he told the audience, “from El Paso to Brownsville, in 2001, you had to leave that county to get prenatal health care. Today, you can get that kind of health care in the state of Texas,” he said, implying that as governor, he vastly increased women’s access to prenatal care in the state of Texas.
Of course, the reality is that in 2011, Perry’s administration supported the legislature’s choice to slash family-planning funding and remove “abortion-affiliated providers” from state programs, a move that shut down 76 facilities, most of which provided prenatal care. Most of the 23 abortion providers who have shut down as a result of H.B. 2 also offered prenatal care and other women’s health-care services. So when Perry mentions an increase in access to prenatal care, we’re left wondering what he would say to the women who lost their preferred (or only) source of prenatal care, simply because that source also performed abortions.
Or what he would say to the Texas women seeking abortions who now have to leave not just the county, but the state, to exercise their constitutionally protected right to the medical procedure. What Rick Perry misses and refuses to accept is that, simply put, abortion services are health care, and by drastically limiting access to services, he and his state are anything but advocates for women’s health.