Ambitious Texas Governors, Curiously Unhaunted

Ta-Nehisi Coates makes a guest appearance on the New York Times op-ed page today with a column called “The Haunting of Rick Perry.” Really? Perry, “haunted”? Sorry, that’s hard to believe.

TNC imagines that if Perry runs for president he’ll be “haunted” by the ghost of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was convicted of murder and executed in Texas, in part based on the words of an informant who later said of his testimony, “the statute of limitations has run out on perjury, hasn’t it?” Perry quashed an investigation into the dubious use of forensics in the case.

But this is America — who cares? And who ever cared about George W. Bush’s approach to capital cases as governor, apart from a few of us cranky liberals?

Sending an innocent man to the death chamber — heck, that’s just iconographic American justice, Southern style; I think that’s because even people who are able to grasp that it’s unjust regard it on a subconscious level as entertaining, like stuff they see in old movies or modern TV police procedurals.

You know what would get Perry in trouble, or might have done the same to W? Getting crosswise with the likes of Nancy Grace, and the whole apparently massive universe of tabloid-crime junkies, on some young-blonde-in-peril or missing-blond-child case. I admit it’s hard to imagine Perry and Grace ever being on opposite sides — her vindictiveness would do a Texas politician proud. But it’s conceivable that someday the tabloid-crime-voyeur world will rally around someone (probably young and pretty) who’s regarded as unjustly prosecuted/convicted — and if that person happens to be in Texas, then maybe America might give a crap about Rick Perry’s approach to justice.

But railroading an innocent person into a lethal execution in an unsexy case? Or a series of innocents? America doesn’t care.

(X-posted.)

61 replies
  1. 1
    Mark S. says:

    Depressingly true.

  2. 2
    Hawes says:

    I’ve been Bullish on a Perry run for about a month or so now. I think if he gets in, he’s got a real shot, especially if Texas oil money backs him to bridge the cash gap with Mittens.

    I also think that if he gets the nomination, he will die for George Bush’s sins. Both the press and the people will give his Texas record the scrutiny that Bush avoided in 2000.

    I know that requires giving the political press the benefit of the doubt, but I think they are so reactive in their outlook, that their shame over blowing it from 2000-2005 will allow them to do their job.

    They’ll fluff the hell out of him during the primaries, though.

  3. 3
    Agoraphobic Kleptomaniac says:

    Spot on. This story was hardly covered at the time as it was occuring, why would anyone care now. Murdering people in jail isn’t something to worry about, because everyone in jail is guilty, otherwise they wouldn’t be in jail.

    It’s when you release a prisoner and that prisoner then commits a new crime is when Democrats get in trouble. (Huckabee’s questionable pardons and urgings for release of certain prisoners because they believed in jebus lasted a whole of what, a week in the news?)

  4. 4
    Ghanima Atreides says:

    TNC writes beautifully, but he is another kumbayah libertatian licker.
    He doesnt get that this is war.

  5. 5
    Han's Solo says:

    Perry won’t run, and the reason why has nothing to do with him putting an innocent man to death. Hell, he’s probably proud of that.

    He won’t run because he doesn’t want, and can’t take, the scrutiny it would entail. There are things about his personal life he really doesn’t want coming out into the open. And if those things did come out, he would have no chance at the Republican nomination.

  6. 6
    Comrade Javamanphil says:

    @Hawes

    I know that requires giving the political press the benefit of the doubt, but I think they are so reactive in their outlook, that their shame over blowing it from 2000-2005 will allow them to do their job.

    You owe me a new monitor for that. Snark has never been so dry. Wait, you were serious? The only shame the political press has ever known was for not blowing John McCain long or hard enough.

  7. 7
    Mark S. says:

    @Hawes

    Our political press feels shame? The people laughing when Bush joked about not finding any WMDs?

  8. 8
    Bulworth says:

    Yeah, no way this “haunts” Perry or any other GOPer. It’s more a badge of honor.

    Do wish Coates had been a bit more specific about what was wrong with the forensic evidence in this case. He brought it up but let it hang without further elaboration.

  9. 9
    Ghanima Atreides says:

    NWBTCW, dude.

  10. 10
    Evolved Deep Southerner says:

    Sending an innocent man to the death chamber—heck, that’s just iconographic American justice, Southern style; I think that’s because even people who are able to grasp that it’s unjust regard it on a subconscious level as entertaining, like stuff they see in old movies or modern TV police procedurals.

    Helluva nut graf there. Substitute torture for wrongful execution and it’s still just as true.

    I’m enjoying your posts a lot. If a permanent front-pager spot is open/ever opens, and Cole asked you to take it, I hope you would.

  11. 11
    Just Some Fuckhead says:

    I dunno. I wrote about the Willingham thing at the time the story was printed in ?Vanity Fair? and some of my conservative acquaintances that bothered to check it out were rightfully horrified.

    I think what we have here is the “shit happens/greater good” response. Does anyone, including those on the far right, want to see innocent people executed? Probably no more than those on the new left want to see innocents bombed to death in a campaign to “free” them.

  12. 12
    Less Popular Tim says:

    Do wish Coates had been a bit more specific about what was wrong with the forensic evidence in this case

    This has been really well documented elsewhere; basically the field of forensic arson investigation had been based on on-the-job training using a bunch of good ol’ boys’ “received wisdom” and “common sense” assumptions about what arson fires looked like, that turned out to be completely wrong after some experiments were conducted. If you search on Willingham you’ll find a ton of stuff about it.

  13. 13
    Hawes says:

    The Press always fights the last war. I think one reason they gave Dubya a pass was because they were trying to “make up” for “allowing” Clinton to beat his Dad. And I think people voted for Shrub, because Bush pere seemed kinda OK to a lot of people by 2000.

    For the same reason that Connecticut voters are disgruntled that we don’t get a shot at voting Lieberman out of office, I think Perry will get a lot more scrutiny than Bush did.

    I can’t remember ANYTHING about Bush’s governorship in 2000 that remotely smacked of deep inquiry.

    And as for the skeletons in Perry’s closet, it took until the last week in October 2000 for Bush’s DUI to come out.

    If Perry runs, it is because of the same vein of politico narcissism that makes Bush feel like a compassionate conservative or Weiner feel like opening a twitter account.

    They can’t help themselves.

  14. 14
    SteveM says:

    #@Evolved Deep Southerner: Thank you.

  15. 15
    jwb says:

    When Perry jumps in I can hardly wait for Rove to work his wondrous smear tactics on him, especially in South Carolina. You think what Rove did to McCain for Bush is bad; just wait until Rove gets started on Perry.

  16. 16
    SarkyShark says:

    Actually down here amongst the pig people(driftglass) its worse than that. Obviously the guy was BLACK. And since he was in jail, he must be guilty of something.

    Better 10 innocents should be executed than the dirty Hippies should win anything. The same government who can’t do anything right should definitely be in charge of executing anybody who makes soccer moms uncomfortable.

  17. 17
    SenyorDave says:

    I don’t think it would hurt Perry if they could prove beyond any doubt that the person was innocent. The MSM wouldn’t even bother to give it more than a cursory glance, and if they did, they would have the usual “he said, she said”.

    On one side the liberal who claims that Rick Perry executed an innocent man, and on the other side a DA who says he was actually guilty. Then teh DA could just make shit up, and the wrap up would be who are you to believe.

    Facts don’t mean shit to shitbags like Wolf Blitzer.

  18. 18

    Boy would I love to see a steel cage death match featuring Perry-Grace. My money would be on the Tot Mom progenitor.

  19. 19
    Citizen_X says:

    @ Agoraphobic Kleptomaniac

    everyone in jail is guilty deserves to be raped and killed, no matter what their crime was

    Because each and every person in jail is the scum of the earth, each fully responsible for the most deranged, vile crimes imaginable. Don’t tell me about victimless crimes, or historically low crime rates. Justice? We don’t want to hear about it.

  20. 20
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    Alas, SenyorDave at 16 nails it.

    Remember when airhead twit Leslie ignored his own on air experts during the balloon boy incident? Leslie isn’t a journalist, he’s a huckster for a rapacious corporation, eager to get ratings to sell commercial time.

  21. 21
    PurpleGirl says:

    Evolved Deep Southerner — SteveM has his own blog: No More Mister Nice Blog. It’s good having him here and exposing his writing to BJers. (But I read his own site anyway. Hi, Steve.)

    http://nomoremister.blogspot.com/

  22. 22
    Chris says:

    OT but interesting: Americans rank institutions in their country by confidence. Congress lies all the way at the bottom, the military all the way at the top. Oy.

  23. 23
    Rick Taylor says:

    Molly Ivins used to call him Governor Goodhair. How I miss her.

  24. 24
    ant says:

    yeah, this dude that was executed was white, iirc.

    Don’t that make this story a bit different?

    or were they poor or something?

    I think it’s pretty shitty that they killed the guy who just lost his family.

    I must be a libtard.

  25. 25
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    The military very carefully packages its public face, and now that there is no draft, fewer and fewer Americans have direct experience with it, so PR shapes how they view it, not their own time in it.

    The lesson learned from Vietnam was not “don’t get involved in a land war in Asia” it was “control the video footage that leaves the war zone”.

  26. 26
  27. 27
    Chris says:

    The military very carefully packages its public face, and now that there is no draft, fewer and fewer Americans have direct experience with it, so PR shapes how they view it, not their own time in it.

    Yeah, I think that’s the key. The military’s the most popular institution in America because it’s the one the average American has the least contact with (at least while it’s in the exercise of its mission). It’s got as many flaws as any organization, but since most of it happens overseas, people don’t notice.

  28. 28
    TK412 says:

    Wow, imagine having a president who caused the death of a single innocent person! Just horrible.

    http://news.antiwar.com/2010/0.....s-in-2009/

    “US Killed 700 Civilians in Pakistan Drone Strikes in 2009

    The US launched 44 distinct drone strikes in Pakistan in 2009, far more than in previous years. . . The vast majority of the deaths, around 700 according to one estimate, have been innocent civilians. “

  29. 29
    daveNYC says:

    TNC is an idiot if he thinks this is going to ‘haunt’ Perry, unless by ‘haunt’ he actually means a literal ghost with ectoplasm floating around his head.

    I think TNC’s problem is that he’s not cynical enough.

  30. 30
    negative 1 says:

    I remember relaying the details of this case to my winger father and his response was ‘Innocent of what? This one?’ Their belief is in the ultimate infallibility of the justice system – just because they may have railroaded a case doesn’t mean that they guy didn’t deserve it for something else they didn’t catch him for. The cops know all of the scumbags and they only bring them in for arrest, not decent folks. Trust me from experience that this won’t haunt Rick Perry.

  31. 31
    Chris says:

    Their belief is in the ultimate infallibility of the justice system – just because they may have railroaded a case doesn’t mean that they guy didn’t deserve it for something else they didn’t catch him for.

    You’d think incidents like Waco and Ruby Ridge would graphically drive home the point that law and order isn’t a black-and-white system. But oh well.

  32. 32
    Yevgraf says:

    Jesus will fix it in the afterlife for Willingham, thus the Conservative doesn’t have to worry about the consequences of his fuckups.

    The longer I live, the more I appreciate Stalin’s efforts vis a vis Christianity.

  33. 33
    SteveM says:

    Hi, PurpleGirl. Thanks for the plug.

  34. 34
    SteveM says:

    @ TK412: You’re right, but if you think we’re going to kill fewer overseas civilians from 30,000 feet under Romney/Rubio, you’re dreaming.

  35. 35
    Midnight Marauder says:

    But this is America—who cares? And who ever cared about George W. Bush’s approach to capital cases as governor, apart from a few of us cranky liberals?

    I’m really glad we’re investing in attempting to make people care about issues they are blithely ignorant about.

    Great job, gang. Way to build that 21st century anti-Republican coalition.

  36. 36
    Just Some Fuckhead says:

    @negative 1:

    I remember relaying the details of this case to my winger father and his response was ‘Innocent of what? This one?’ Their belief is in the ultimate infallibility of the justice system – just because they may have railroaded a case doesn’t mean that they guy didn’t deserve it for something else they didn’t catch him for. The cops know all of the scumbags and they only bring them in for arrest, not decent folks. Trust me from experience that this won’t haunt Rick Perry.

    Yeah, I’ve seen this Calvinistic attitude bandied about by conservative family members. I think it also has a corollary on the new left, some of whom have suggested that innocents killed in, say, an Israeli commando attack on an aid ship were not, in fact, innocent, or who suggest there is no evidence that victims of wayward drone attacks are not somehow guilty of something.

  37. 37
    Roger Moore says:

    @TK412:
    Why aren’t you at your post?

  38. 38
    NobodySpecial says:

    Let Perry run. I’m sure he’ll have fun explaining his secessionist tendencies to the press.

  39. 39
    catclub says:

    Some very early post: “I know that requires giving the political press the benefit of the doubt, but I think they are so reactive in their outlook, that their shame over blowing it from 2000-2005 will allow them to do their job.”

    It won’t be because of shame – they ain’t got none. These are people who covered Micheal Jackson’s funeral for three days.

  40. 40
    Poopyman says:

    @Chris:

    You’d think incidents like Waco and Ruby Ridge would graphically drive home the point that law and order isn’t a black-and-white system. But oh well.

    Wackos and pinkos get what they deserve. Some people can always create a narrative to fit their world view. Said world view is to remain immutable at all costs.

  41. 41
    WereBear says:

    It doesn’t matter what conservatives think in a general election; thank the FSM. Conservatives, at this point in time, have hardened their minds to titanium levels; they blink at nothing.

    But the squishy swing voters actually do care about stuff like this; it would be toxic to Perry. That is, if they ever heard about it.

    Remembering that they don’t think something actually exists unless the media pounds at it for a week.

    There’s our problem.

  42. 42
    Davis X. Machina says:

    But the squishy swing voters actually do care about stuff like this; it would be toxic to Perry. That is, if they ever heard about it.

    Your optimism impresses me. My fear is that for the median voter, the occasional knowing execution of an innocent person just shows we mean business. Heightens the deterrent effect.

  43. 43
    Chris says:

    @ Poopyman –

    Wackos and pinkos get what they deserve. Some people can always create a narrative to fit their world view. Said world view is to remain immutable at all costs.

    Yeah, but those weren’t wackos and pinkos. Those were Real Americans, gun-toting and God-fearing and all that. And it did send a shock through the conservative world – did a lot to feed the explosion of militia movements and the increase in gun paranoia.

  44. 44
    Poopyman says:

    @WereBear:

    Those “squishy swing voters” are also the notorious low-information voters. Good luck penetrating that firewall.

  45. 45
    Davis X. Machina says:

    Those “squishy swing voters” are also the notorious low-information voters. Good luck penetrating that firewall.

    Low information voters aren’t necessarily the problem. High misinformation voters are the problem.

  46. 46
    WereBear says:

    Poopyman, Davis X. Machina: Those “squishy swing voters” are also the notorious low-information voters. Good luck penetrating that firewall.

    That’s why my IF was so emphatic. If it were a Democrat, we’d hear it from the first whisper of running right down to the hour the polls closed.

  47. 47
    different church-lady says:

    You need to call Nancy Grace what she is: a pornographer.

  48. 48
    EconWatcher says:

    I spent a lot of time years ago on death penalty cases and the abolition movement, and I’ve debated it many times with many different kinds of people. I think you’re way too cynical in suggesting that median voters do not care about executing the innocent.

    They do care about that–and many hardcore conservatives care about it too. It’s the one argument that gets some traction. You will get nowhere arguing about the morality of the death penalty (and anyway, it’s awfully tough to say that Israel committed a moral wrong by hanging Eichmann, for example). But only the most hardcore and callous dp advocates will be casual about the possiblity of executing the innocent.

    If you convince people that there’s a real and substantial risk of executing the innccent, you can move them on the death penalty issue. As we always used to say, in America, support for the death penalty is a mile wide and an inch deep.

  49. 49
    Davis X. Machina says:

    But only the most hardcore and callous dp advocates will be casual about the possiblity of executing the innocent.

    Casual approval, yes, that’s the hard core and callous.

    “Oh, well, omlets, eggs, greater good, risk is worth it in the long run” no, not the callous — just the majority, is my guess…

  50. 50
    Glenn says:

    Glad to see TNC bring more attention to the Willingham case, though you are certainly right Steve that it wouldn’t hurt Perry a bit.

    TNC did, however, offer up a painfully strained pro-death-penalty argument in that piece, I guess out of some desire to appear “balanced” or something. Still rooting for him to get a permanent spot on the NYT Op-Ed page, though.

  51. 51
    trollhattan says:

    @47.different church-lady

    You need to call Nancy Grace what she is: a pornographer.

    Gawd, isn’t that the truth. Her obsessions are beyond vile.

    As to Perry and the occasional deathouse screwup–feature, not bug. He’ll automatically get the toughtest-on-crime nod. It’s a little like fishing with a gill net: there’s gonna be some bycatch but we’ll surrender some turtles and dolphins to get those tasty crime tuna.

  52. 52
    Poopyman says:

    @DXM:

    High misinformation voters are the problem.

    Sure they’re a problem, but almost by definition they’re not the squishy swing voters.

  53. 53
    Cheryl from Maryland says:

    For those of us who are too cheap to buy into the NYT pay wall, thank you front pagers for linking to TNC and Mr. Krugman. Linking every time one of their columns appears would be nice.

  54. 54
    comrade scott's agenda of rage says:

    I’m sure he’ll have fun explaining his secessionist tendencies to the press.

    They’ll never ask. I base that on how Half-Term Governor Grifter new dealt with her husband’s 7-year involvement with an active secessionist group in AK.

    Anyone who thinks that our traditional political stenographers will go after right wing politicians needs to talk to those same stenographers’s editors who are simply passing down the pressure from above to “go lightly”.

  55. 55
    Geoduck says:

    There are things about his personal life he really doesn’t want coming out into the open. And if those things did come out, he would have no chance at the Republican nomination.

    To spell it out, there are long-swirling rumors that he’s gay. If it comes out in the open, it’ll be Rove going after him in the primaries.

  56. 56
    daveNYC says:

    I spent a lot of time years ago on death penalty cases and the abolition movement, and I’ve debated it many times with many different kinds of people. I think you’re way too cynical in suggesting that median voters do not care about executing the innocent.

    They do care, which is why they’re willing to do whatever they can to be able to think of the executed person as guilty.

  57. 57
    Singularity says:

    But railroading an innocent person into a lethal execution in an unsexy case? Or a series of innocents? America doesn’t care.

    As opposed to the non-lethal kind? :P

    The Willingham case has been infuriating for years, and Perry has never given any decent excuse for why he would blow off evidence that any sane person could see indicated that an innocent man was on death row. But, sadly, I agree that there will be no serious inquiries into this.

  58. 58
    brashieel says:

    Cheryl from Maryland,

    Krugman has a twitter account where all his columns/blog posts are linked. If you click on them from there, the NYT doesn’t block you, though I think it does count towards the total number of articles you can read conventionally. Just search for “Krugman twitter” and it pops right up.

    Hope that helps.

  59. 59
    Juan says:

    “TNC imagines that if Perry runs for president he’ll be “haunted” by the ghost of Cameron Todd Willingham”
    Quotes mean something. TNC never said that Perry would be “haunted” by Willingham’s ghost. The only use of the verb to haunt comes from the headline which – as you should know – is not written by the author.

  60. 60
    pattonbt says:

    Please, Perry will suffer not from this. If anything, it will harden support for him and show him to be “tough”.

    And anyone who thinks the press core would tackle this issue and make it a focus is insane. It is a disgusting case, one that should have rightfully killed Perry’s career and landed others in jail. Lowest of the low.

    But now, unfortunately, it is too late, and no one wants to drag up such a sordid affair in such nice company don’t you know. The time for this to have meant something is long gone and the perpetrators got away scott free.

    Things like this aren’t talked about in “polite” society. We don’t want to see the monsters we truly are. Now if Perry was gay? Front page news folks! What a scandal! Weeks and weeks of relentless, breathless investigation will follow.

    Yes, I am a cynic.

  61. 61

    […] care: A single “unsexy” case is not the kind of thing that tips a national election, says SteveM at Balloon Juice. Willingham was railroaded, partly thanks to a jailhouse informant who later recanted, and […]

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