Catholic priorities

Ross Douthat, devout Catholic, wrote an essay about Troy Davis that ran in the Times today which is about everything but Troy Davis. It isn’t about Catholicism, either, or the meaning of American morality, two subjects Douthat holds dear and which he invokes when he considers subjects like all that dirty, nasty, hot hot sex he doesn’t want anybody else having, or why women shouldn’t have the right to have an abortion. Douthat allows his Catholicism to dictate his stance against gay marriage, when he expresses that stance at all. His general tack is to engage in a bizarre mysterianism, writing obliquely about gay marriage while rarely expressing his opposition to it. When pressed by Mother Jones, the best Douthat could offer was “‘You either intuitively believe certain things about cultural change or you don’t…. And it may just be I intuitively believe those things’—that marriage is between a man and a woman—’because they dovetail with my own theological premises about the nature of sex.'”

Well, I couldn’t begin to wade into the miasma of Douthat’s confused and confusing peek-a-boo attitude towards gay marriage. He says that he doesn’t comment on the issue often out of respect for his gay friends. I can think of a better way to respect them, but oh well. The question is what is keeping him from expressing a Catholic’s resistance to the death penalty (his theological premises about the nature of execution) in this piece. After all, the Catholic Church that Douthat so showily reveres has condemned the death penalty as a corruption and sin for Douthat’s entire life. Why would Douthat’s theological premises about gay marriage be determinative but his theological premises about execution be irrelevant? Far be it from me to define the priorities of a god I don’t believe in, but the story of Jesus’s execution is a much bigger deal in the Bible than anything about homosexuality. Take it from Pope John Paul, a man Douthat has written about very admiringly: “I renew the appeal I made most recently at Christmas for a consensus to end the death penalty, which is both cruel and unnecessary…. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform.” Pretty straightforward, and totally different from Douthat’s piece, which dances around on the head of a pin while he considers state sanctioned murder.

Douthat admiringly cites Pascal Emmanuel-Gobry and his argument that it would actually have been worse for Troy Davis to have endured life in prison than to be swiftly executed, given the horrors of American prison life. This is a novel argument, and the kind which earns you plaudits from the professional punditocracy, which prizes ideas that are counter intuitive more than those that are intelligent, righteous, well-expressed, compassionate, or humane. Unfortunately for Douthat and Gobry, there’s a rather glaring data point against this argument; Troy Davis was desperately trying to avoid the outcome that they are suggesting would be better for him. (My conservative friends tell me that we should let people decide for themselves what is best for their lives.) Perhaps one day Douthat and Gobry will find themselves in the position that Davis was in and will be able to tell us if they prefer life in prison or death. As it happens, the man is dead. To invoke what was best for him after the execution neither Douthat nor Gobry bothered to organize against strikes me as an absolutely sickening act. Don’t purport to speak for what was best for someone whose death you did nothing to avert, especially when he made his resistance to that death so profoundly public and explicit.

What strikes me, more than anything, about Douthat and Gobry’s writing is how little of Troy Davis is actually there. There’s armchair sociology. There’s argument through assumption. There’s the convenient highlighting of American opinion about the death penalty that they haven’t bothered to try and prove or locate in context. There is navel gazing and there’s posturing and there’s splitting of extremely thin hairs. There’s almost none of Troy Davis, of the person, or of the insistent, harsh reality of his preventable death. Here is the central fact of the Troy Davis case: a man who very well could have been innocent, and certainly was not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, was put to death by the state of Georgia. That this is non-negotiably condemned by the Catholic Church that does so much to dictate Douthat’s morality is hardly worth mentioning. Petty hypocrisy is the blood that flows through the veins of the conservative movement. But have the guts, intellectual and moral, to actually confront the issue you are considering.

This is Troy Davis.

He was a real person. He was really alive. He was desperate to remain alive. He was strapped to a gurney and poisoned to death by the state, in an action that prevented no future crimes and healed no prior ones. I have a list of flaws longer than your arm, but let the day I write about someone’s death and treat it as an afterthought be the day I die. I won’t take broad stabs at the kind of self-aggrandizing “centrism” that is the staple of our pathetic pundit class, the kind that has earned Douthat endless plaudits from his brethren and a life of privilege and prominence: I am opposed to the death penalty, in all forms, and in all cases. I think it is a grotesque failure of the public conscience.  I think a time will come when it is looked at as the ugly aberration it is. But whatever my own relationship to the deliberate taking of human life, I would hope that I would always have the courage to look the issue in the eye. Here is a man. He was alive. Now he’s dead. Innocent or guilty, attention must be paid. To deny that attention while you rationalize and justify the act is a cowardice I can hardly imagine.

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123 replies
  1. 1
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    Freddie: I expect I’m letting myself in for a lifetime as a flame-throwing target from Coco Loco of the Thousand Names, but I agree with you. Well said.

  2. 2
    KatinPhilly says:

    I was incensed by Douthat today. Your response is perfect, that is all.

  3. 3
  4. 4
    Mark S. says:

    The conservative Catholics I know (my parents and their friends) all love the death penalty. They don’t give a shit about torture. The only things they care about are gays and abortion.

  5. 5
    satby says:

    @SiubhanDuinne: Well, that will make two of us then. Well done indeed, Freddie.

  6. 6
    Mike in NC says:

    I vaguely remember this part from my Catholic upbringing oh so many years ago: “Thou Shalt Not Kill”

  7. 7
    JPL says:

    Freddie, Great post and thank you.

  8. 8
    Snayke says:

    Excellent piece, Freddie. Douthat proves again that he is an asshole.

  9. 9
    Very Reverend Crimson Fire of Compassion says:

    It’s a game. The challenge is to get from conclusion A, that the bloodthirsty cretins who run American “conservatism” endorse, to premise B, which offers some tenuous suggestion of rationality, as long as you don’t look too closely. Or blow on it. Or squint. The lives of every black man in the country aren’t important enough to use in keeping score. A nation of abominations, we are.

  10. 10
    Emma says:

    It is well-nigh impossible to find a real Catholic among conservatives — well, a real anything. Some dismal Old Testament scholars, though.

    Whenever I meet a real “pro-life” person (twice in my lifetime and I’m in my fifth decade) it’s like meeting a fictional character. Easier to believe there’s a real Hogwarts, or a 221B Baker Street.

  11. 11
    gnomedad says:

    After all, the Catholic Church that Douthat so showily reveres has condemned the death penalty as a corruption and sin for Douthat’s entire life.

    Yeah, but this is about killing people, not sex, so the Church needs to butt out.

  12. 12
    gnomedad says:

    @Very Reverend Crimson Fire of Compassion:

    It’s a game. The challenge is to get from conclusion A, that the bloodthirsty cretins who run American “conservatism” endorse, to premise B, which offers some tenuous suggestion of rationality, as long as you don’t look too closely.

    It’s the Republican Modus Tollens.

  13. 13
    maya says:

    The Catholic Church has always been the handmaiden to conquest, torture, massacre and murder – if not the justification for all of it. This surprises anyone?

  14. 14
    Cat Lady says:

    @maya:

    This. Their central icon is a man being hideously tortured for all to revere. How essentially fucked up is that?

  15. 15
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @Cat Lady:

    I have never understood that. NEVER.

  16. 16
    Oliver says:

    While one can assuredly oppose the execution of Mr. Davis on the basis of opposition to the death penalty, one cannot argue that he was an innocent victim of a flawed judicial system. He was by all objective measures clearly guilty of the crime that led to his execution.

  17. 17
    Cat Lady says:

    @SiubhanDuinne:

    Let’s not forget child rape, the justification of and excuse making for which seems to be the other central purpose of the former nazi running the show now.

  18. 18

    @Cat Lady:

    Their central icon is a man being hideously tortured for all to revere.

    The people who made crucifixion a fate to be honored were the same people who crucified about 100,000 people, more or less.

    And the same people who made saints out of other people they tortured and killed.

  19. 19
    Elizabelle says:

    Terrific blogpost, Freddie.

    Many of Catholicism’s tenets are as inconvenient to Catholics who would prefer to look the other way as the New Testament is inconvenient to those who glibly believe “Christianism.”

    (To me, “Christianism” is the profession of faith in a Christian religion which requires no empathy, charity, moral courage, intellectual curiosity, understanding of the Golden Rule or much of anything Jesus ever actually said. Related term: Political Christianity.)

  20. 20
    JPL says:

    @Elizabelle: Political Christianity needs to be added to the lexicon.
    the new PC

  21. 21
    John Cole says:

    To deny that attention while you rationalize and justify the act is a cowardice I can hardly imagine.

    Fortunately, Douthat will be all too happy to continue to display that kind of cowardice.

  22. 22
    Amir Khalid says:

    I think what Douthat’s trying to do here is argue for preserving the death penalty by making people feel more confident about it. Without it, he says, people will lose faith in the fairness of the criminal justice system. Douthat even makes the strange argument that if Davis hadn’t been on death row, the movement to get him a retrial would not have had the same urgency or level of popular support. Like Davis wouldn’t have minded serving life for a crime he insisted he didn’t commit.

    The death penalty is the one criminal penalty that offers no undo fix. That alone is reason enough to do away with it.

    If life in prison is so brutal that execution is kinder than a life sentence, then for God’s sake fix the prisons.

  23. 23
    Elizabelle says:

    @Oliver:

    Please provide any links that support your statement that:

    He was by all objective measures clearly guilty of the crime that led to his execution.

    Troy Davis was unquestionably at the scene of Officer MacPhail’s shooting.

    However, has it been proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Davis personally fired the shots that killed MacPhail? Which is what landed him on death row?

    Lot of eyewitness recantations; not much forensic evidence, if I recall. Great possibility that someone else on the scene killed the officer and deflected blame onto Davis.

    Can you prove your statement?

  24. 24
    Cacti says:

    “The dead know only one thing. It is better to be alive.”

    -Private Joker
    Full Metal Jacket

  25. 25
    Xecky Gilchrist says:

    it would actually have been worse for Troy Davis to have endured life in prison than to be swiftly executed, given the horrors of American prison life.

    …wait…

    These monsters are actually arguing that Davis should be grateful to be killed after being unjustly imprisoned because American prisons are hellholes?

    ETA: what Amir Khalid said: If life in prison is so brutal that execution is kinder than a life sentence, then for God’s sake fix the prisons.

  26. 26
    Cacti says:

    @Xecky Gilchrist:

    These monsters are actually arguing that Davis should be grateful to be killed after being unjustly imprisoned because American prisons are hellholes?

    Sounds awfully similar to the trope that it was better for Africans to be slaves in America, than free in Africa…

    Because Africa’s a real shithole.

  27. 27

    Conservative Catholics are cafeteria Catholics.

    They don’t give a shit about the death penalty, about poverty, about randomly invading foreign countries, or anything that doesn’t “dovetail” with the views of the Republican Party.

    Old news, of course, but still awful, especially in this context.

    At least Douthat wrote about Troy Dvais, which puts him light years ahead of just about all other conservatives. But that’s the soft bigotry of low expectations…

  28. 28
    John O says:

    Perfect, thank you, fdb.

    I’m really starting to despise this Douthat fellow.

  29. 29
    Scott P. says:

    Douthat admiringly cites Pascal Emmanuel-Gobry and his argument that it would actually have been worse for Troy Davis to have endured life in prison than to be swiftly executed, given the horrors of American prison life. This is a novel argument

    Not a novel argument — I’ve been making it for years. Death is a release from pain, and therefore preferable to continuing suffering, which imprisonment undoubtedly is.

    If one’s objection to the death penalty is that it is cruel and inhuman, the same ought to apply to lengthy prison sentences. Similarly, I think most would agree that slavery is a worse fate than death — certainly the thousands of slaves who risked death to escape to Canada would think so. And I would hope that an argument made on humanitarian grounds that it would be better if every inmate on death row were made a slave for life would be rejected as repugnant.

    The point being, of course, that admitting that life in prison is a worse punishment than death does little to establish whether either, both, or neither should be prohibited. It does mean, however, that a purely humanitarian argument that targets only the death penalty is rather grotesque.

  30. 30
    Judas Escargot says:

    Go out on a rhetorical limb: Assume he’s guilty. Assume the witnesses’ recanting and any new evidence was, indeed, irrelevant.

    The question then becomes: why the rush? You could always postpone, and execute the guy six months after reviewing the evidence (assuming the above). You’ve waited since 1989, what’s six more months to review some new evidence?

    But they did rush. Against an obvious public protest. There was no official interest in the consideration of new evidence. So… why?

    Is it really that important that some provincial district attorney not be embarrassed for a few months?

  31. 31
    Cat Lady says:

    @efgoldman:

    It’s cold comfort, but he’ll never be able to return to Boston, even under cover of night. When he lost Jack Connors, it was o.v.a.h. He got a sweet deal in Rome, though, so he gets to kid himself for a few more years. Karma’s going to be a hard cold bitch waiting for him. I wish him nothing but ill.

  32. 32
    John O says:

    @Scott P.:

    I will never serve time in prison, because I would rather be dead (at least in principle) than be confined.

    If I was innocent, I don’t think it would be in principle.

    I support the death penalty. But only if I personally get to decide each case.

  33. 33
    Elizabelle says:

    @Judas Escargot:

    Precisely. Why indeed the rush?

  34. 34
    Ken Pidcock says:

    Hey, did y’all know there’s been a bloggingheads diavlog between Douthat and Dan Savage? Not very good, but you have to give Douthat some credit for being open to it. Actually, I think he imagines himself more persuasive than he is.

  35. 35
    schrodinger's cat says:

    Times op-ed page is a parade of FAIL

    We have Bobo, the polite duplicitous psychopath
    Chunky Bobo, the moral scold
    Mustache of Wisdom, the pompous ass
    MoDo, the mean girl
    Bruni, hired to make MoW look good

    Krugman and Collins are the only two I like. Kristoff is not a great writer but he covers important issues.
    ETA: I also like Mark Bittman.

  36. 36
    Amir Khalid says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:
    You forgot Charles Blow, who does exactly that.

  37. 37
    lamh34 says:

    OT, but right now I”m watching Extreme Makeover: Home Edition where Michelle Obama makes a cameo. The family they are building a house for is the Marshall family. Barbara Marshall is a 15 years military veteran who once out of the service opened “Jubilee House” as a haven for homeless female veterans in Fayateville, NC.

    It’s a damn shame that any soldier who has served this coutnry or who is serving this country should ever be homeless.

    No surprised, I’m already a little misty eyed…lol

  38. 38
    schrodinger's cat says:

    @Amir Khalid: I just blow past whatever he writes, so I forgot all about him.

  39. 39
    Commenting at Ballon Juice since 1937 says:

    Ross Douthat, cafeteria Catholic.

  40. 40
    Cacti says:

    @efgoldman:

    Except that (unsupported supposition warning) most of the folks who have been convicted of capitol crimes are guilty

  41. 41
    cmorenc says:

    All of you seem to have BADLY missed the real central point Ross Douthat was driving at with his essay, which was:
    be careful what you wish for in wanting to abolish the death penalty in the greater interests of justice, you might just get it. He’s right to point out that it’s the fact that what exposed the deep flaws in our justice system to so much public attention wasn’t the fact that he received an unfair, deeply flawed trial conviction courtesy of overzealous, unethical police and prosecutors, but the fact that he was thereby subjected to the death penalty. His argument is that given that it’s going to be politically impossible to mount any direct assault on the majority’s visceral feeling that people who are unquestionably guilty of very heinous crimes deserve the death penalty, it’s far better to harness their other underlying fundamental belief that the justice system needs to be an institution they can trust to be fair, correct. Without the risk of wrongfully putting innocent people to death, his argument is that it will be difficult to get the public to focus on the need to fix the many deep flaws in our current justice system. Douthat was not so much defending the validity of the death penalty as he was advising that it would be more politically productive toward fixing the flaws in the justice system that resulted in Davis’s dubious conviction if we accepted that it’s politically impossible to get rid of it directly, and re-focused public outrage against the other systemic problems with the justice system.

    I agree Douthat does make some egregiously wrongheaded statements in his essay, such as claiming that for many, life in prison without parole is a worse fate than being executed. For that, Douthat deserves scorn. However, that was a tangential point in his essay, and as few times as I agree with Douthat about much of anything, IMHO he has a good point today, and you all are so engulfed with your general distaste for his general air of smug, prissy conservatism that you aren’t open to the fact that he occasionally gets at least part of something important right. Which as a progressive-minded person, pains me to grant him, since he’s so often a prissy dick-head.

  42. 42
    Odie Hugh Manatee says:

    If someone was found to be wrongly convicted, a life sentence means that they can get what remains of their life back. A death sentence allows no such thing, it’s final and irrevocable. We may be able to put a guilty person to death but we can’t dig up and revive a person who was wrongly convicted. Innocent people go to jail and prison all of the time, it happens and everyone knows it. That also means that we have killed innocent people.

    We have murdered innocent people, all in the name of “justice”.

    Murdered. There’s no excuse for it. None.

    ETA: Great post, no matter what Moto4_Loko says.

  43. 43
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @Oliver:

    WHAT??

  44. 44
    Cat Lady says:

    @efgoldman:

    Here’s the plot – he secretly comes back to try to recover something that he hid in his mansion only he knew about (all his private journals chronicling the peccadilloes and the utter decadence of the priesthood in the Vatican and in Boston), and is caught and arrested for conspiracy and withholding of evidence. Martha Coakley tries and convicts him, creating so much turmoil in the Vatican that even the pope is arrested and which vindicates her loss to Scott Brown, who in turn loses to Elizabeth Warren. The End.

  45. 45
    Keith G says:

    Freddie, this is an excellently conceived and written piece. This is what front pagers should aspire to do.

  46. 46
    scav says:

    it would actually have been worse for Troy Davis to have endured life in prison than to be swiftly executed, given the horrors of American prison life.

    And, moreover, while talking about death being an ok alternative to a life of pain and horrors, let’s talk about assisted suicide and Dignitas and the holy Catholic support thereof. Yes?

  47. 47
    Cacti says:

    @efgoldman:

    Except that (unsupported supposition warning) most of the folks who have been convicted of capitol crimes are guilty

    There have been been almost 100 death row inmates exonerated in the just the past 5 years (97 total).

  48. 48

    As the others have said, excellent piece and thanks for wading through another one of Ross’ turgid assaults on logic and decency for us.

    I wonder if Douchehat (via Gobry) is aware he’s ultimately arguing that anyone who gets life in prison should be executed, ‘cos you know, it’s the nice thing to do*.

    Nah, you’re right. Even this rather shallow reflection would cut into valuable time Mr. Pre-Partum Pro-Life’s devotes to stroking his chin-merkin.

    *Also, stated-run assisted suicide. Because once you accept that there are some modes of living that are worse than death” and the state has a right (or duty) to provide relief, you open that floodgates to allowing the state to kill anyone for any reason.

    ”Such as the life as a dimwitted, soft, chin deficient pundit whom everyone wants to kick, perhaps?

  49. 49
    Mark S. says:

    @cmorenc:

    Without the risk of wrongfully putting innocent people to death, his argument is that it will be difficult to get the public to focus on the need to fix the many deep flaws in our current justice system.

    What? That doesn’t make any sense.

  50. 50
    Amir Khalid says:

    @Scott P.:
    Is it your conclusion that life-without-parole sentences are inhumane and also do not belong in a criminal justice system? Or, that if such a system retains the death penalty it should also retain the life-without-parole sentence?

  51. 51
    B W Smith says:

    Very nice post, Freddie. I read Douthat’s piece earlier and could not completely understand his point. I was left thinking that Douthat was offering up Davis as a martyr to prison/criminal justice reform. It struck me as odd that he offered a martyr who very clearly did not wish to be one. So how many martyrs or sacrifices have to be made to the Gods of Revenge to satisfy this purification and give the rest of us faith in the system?

  52. 52
    J says:

    @gnomedad: Thanks for the link to ‘Republican modus tollens’, which is terrific. But the present case, on the Very Reverend Crimson Fire of Compassion’s insightful reading, is more like Republican affirming the consequent.

    If Someone (cf. #9 above) holds B (some bit of solemn, windy ‘Burkean’ claptrap of Douthat’s), then they will have good reason to believe, and believe for that reason, A (Kill, Kill, Kill!). The Republican masses (soi-disant real Americans) certainly believe A, therefore they believe B.

  53. 53
    Cacti says:

    @Odie Hugh Manatee:

    If someone was found to be wrongly convicted, a life sentence means that they can get what remains of their life back. A death sentence allows no such thing, it’s final and irrevocable. We may be able to put a guilty person to death but we can’t dig up and revive a person who was wrongly convicted. Innocent people go to jail and prison all of the time, it happens and everyone knows it. That also means that we have killed innocent people

    On of the most memorable/haunting experiences for me as a law student was listening to a speech from Juan Roberto Melendez, an exonerated Florida inmate who spent 18 years on death row. Convicted on the basis of jailhouse snitch testimony and withheld police reports.

    It made me wonder how many like him weren’t so lucky, and died for crimes they didn’t commit.

  54. 54
    GR says:

    Thank you for this.

  55. 55
    Batocchio says:

    I read Douthat’s piece earlier today (TBogg also skewered it), and it’s atrocious, even by Douthat’s standards. You poked holes in many of his worst arguments.

  56. 56
    Viva BrisVegas says:

    @Cacti:

    Except that (unsupported supposition warning) most of the folks who have been convicted of capitol crimes are guilty

    OK, but which ones?

    Conservatism, where the state lacks the wisdom to regulate against botulism in burgers, yet is wise enough to kill the right person every time.

  57. 57
    Ash Can says:

    Excellent piece, Freddie.

  58. 58
    flounder says:

    Pascal Emmanuel-Gobry’s argument sounds similar to the one I have heard that the Catholic priests that accompanied the Spanish Conquistadors used to make. From what I understand, they argued that if a heathen did not convert to Christianity, every waking second on Earth would increase his suffering in the afterlife. Therefore, killing often and early was the compassionate thing to do.

  59. 59
    Brachiator says:

    Douthat admiringly cites Pascal Emmanuel-Gobry and his argument that it would actually have been worse for Troy Davis to have endured life in prison than to be swiftly executed, given the horrors of American prison life. This is a novel argument

    This is both insane and obscene. It’s almost as though Douthat were arguing that prison itself is cruel and unusual punishment.

    @cmorenc:

    Without the risk of wrongfully putting innocent people to death, his argument is that it will be difficult to get the public to focus on the need to fix the many deep flaws in our current justice system.

    He may be attempting to make this argument, but it is twisted and typically conservative. His focus is on the system, not on individuals who may have been wrongly convicted. As such, it is close to thinking of people like Justice Scalia, who have no problem with a manifestly innocent person being executed as long as the trial was technically correct and all proper procedure followed.

    It is also a deeply incoherent argument to suggest that you must keep the justice system unfair in order to fix it. The obvious conclusion here is that you cannot both fix it and keep it flawed.

  60. 60
    gelfling545 says:

    @Scott P.:

    I think most would agree that slavery is a worse fate than death—certainly the thousands of slaves who risked death to escape to Canada would think so.

    The decision to take that risk was theirs to make, made in desperation certainly, but theirs; and made with at least some hope of a good outcome.

    On the other hand, Mr. Davis’s preferences were not an issue in this matter. Deciding to risk death for one’s own reasons, no matter how compelling, cannot be equated to others making the decision that one would be “better off dead” when one has no choice in the matter.

  61. 61
    Mark S. says:

    @cmorenc:

    Re-reading your comment, I kind of get what you’re saying, but I don’t find it convincing. It’s like saying, “Without the risk of lynchings, it is difficult to get the public to focus on the problem of racism.”

    It’s also extremely rich coming from a mother fucking NYT columnist. If anyone is in the position to get the public to care about the problems of our criminal justice system, it would be an opinion writer for the most widely read newspaper in the country. I don’t recall Chunky writing any columns on the subject before, but I don’t read him much.

    But by all means, let’s keep killing innocent people until the public comes around.

  62. 62
    suzanne says:

    @Ken Pidcock:

    Actually, I think he imagines himself more persuasive than he is.

    I think it chaps Douthat’s ass very much that he isn’t thought of as some leader of the Young Religious Intellectuals. It cracked me up when FourLoko asserted that Catholics were more intellectual than Christians. ‘Cause I can think of a few exceptions to that rule.

    Freddie, good work.

  63. 63
    Johannes says:

    Well said, Freddie.

  64. 64
    JasonF says:

    Anybody who makes an argument that begins “American prisons are so brutal that death is actually better than serving time in prison” and doesn’t end with “and therefore, we must reform prisons to make them less brutal” should be cast out from polite society.

  65. 65
    suzanne says:

    Those who’ve read Mailer’s “The Executioner’s Song” or Mikal Gilmore’s “Shot In The Heart” know how much cultural discomfort Gary Gilmore caused by *wanting* to die and refusing to undertake any actions that would postpone his execution.

    Which tells me that we only have blood lust when we also have the “pleasure” of the torture beforehand.

    We’re a quality people.

  66. 66
    Odie Hugh Manatee says:

    @Cacti:

    Too fucking many. What’s disturbing to me is that too many Americans just don’t care about it. IMO for many it’s because they aren’t wrongly convicted and on death row or someone they love isn’t in that situation or wasn’t wrongly killed by the state.

    If it ain’t happening to them then why should they worry about it? This proves that the system works!

    There’s another reason our lady justice is blindfolded, it’s to avoid embarrassment and shame.

  67. 67
    Alex S. says:

    Very well written.

  68. 68
    Bob says:

    See Freddie, you can be clear, concise and correct. Word.

  69. 69
    The Spy Who Loved Me says:

    Personally, I am pro-choice in most circumstances, am a firm advocate of birth control, and, in certain circumstances, don’t have a problem with the death penalty. That said, I could not rectify my beliefs with the tenets of the Catholic Church and, like so many others before me, became a “former” Catholic.

    My mother, on the other hand, is firmly against abortion in all but the instances of rape and incest. She doesn’t have a problem with birth control. She is against the death penalty, although she says that in certain circumstances she would pull the switch herself. She considers herself a devout Catholic and attends daily mass.

    Different strokes for different folks, I guess.

  70. 70

    @flounder: Except that there is no Get out of Hell Free card. So by that logic killing someone who refused to convert would have been WORSE. The killers a) Started the eternal torment sooner than might otherwise might have been the case and b) Deprived the non-Christian of the chance to convert later in life and thereby escape the torments of Hell.

  71. 71
    Cacti says:

    @efgoldman:

    Of how many? Does that mean everyone in jail for capitol crimes was wrongly convicted? How many? “Most”? A few? A specific percentage? Is it the same in every state? In death penalty states? In life-no-parole states?

    If we go from 1976, the year the death penalty was reinstated by the Supreme Court, there have been 1,266 executions.

    In the same time, there have been 133 inmates who were sentenced to die, who have had their conviction overturned on appeal, and were subsequently acquitted on re-trial, or had their charges dismissed by the State, or were granted an absolute pardon.

    So, your assertion of “most” would appear correct, however…

    Those numbers mean, in the past 35 years, 1 in 10 deathrow inmates was tried, found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by a jury of their peers, and sentenced to die for crimes they did not commit.

    Those are just the ones we know of. If the system could get it demonstrably wrong 10 percent of the time. There’s a good chance that there’s a similar number of cases where the accused wasn’t so fortunate.

  72. 72
    Mark S. says:

    @JasonF:

    Very well put.

  73. 73
    scav says:

    I can almost see it now. The uniformed and somber agents of the state showing up at a mother’s door and handing her a carefully folded flag, thanking her for her child’s sacrifice so that society can lead the unexamined life and and believe in its own fucking perfection. Another dead conscripts for national self-esteem.

  74. 74
    Big Baby DougJ says:

    My own theological premises about the nature of sex.

    I may have to make this a tag.

  75. 75
    hamletta says:

    @cmorenc: I think this is a good point. I went from thinking the death penalty was sadly necessary, to concern about poor legal representation and racism, to horror at the results of The Innocence Project. At that point I was still in favor, in theory, but knew the DP was too often wrongly meted.

    Finally, my mom pushed me over the edge, saying, “It’s just wrong. Thou shalt not kill.”

    Educating people about how common it is for the criminal justice system to fail the accused, how many people who were executed were later exonerated, and reminding them that if you get the wrong guy, that means the real killer is walking around free can at least start the wheels turning in people’s heads.

    Abolition may be a ways off at best, but reforming the system so fewer innocent people are put to death would be a vast improvement.

  76. 76
    Roger Moore says:

    @Scott P.:

    Similarly, I think most would agree that slavery is a worse fate than death—certainly the thousands of slaves who risked death to escape to Canada would think so.

    I don’t think that’s a safe conclusion. They weren’t facing certain death by trying to escape, since they had a decent chance to escape. I’m not sure they were even facing likely likely death; slaves were valuable and their “owners” were reluctant to kill them even for attempting to escape. If slaves really thought their slavery was a fate worse than death, they would have been willing to commit suicide rather than tolerate it further. The evidence suggests few of them did, even though they had the means at their disposal to do so.

  77. 77
    Grumpy Code Monkey says:

    @Judas Escargot:

    No state can afford to seriously review cases like this; to do so would put the reputations of everyone from the arresting officer to the D.A. to the state Attorney General to the Governor at risk, and for God’s sake we can’t let that happen. It’s the conservative black-and-white mindset at work; if the criminal justice system isn’t perfect, then it must be broken beyond repair, and we can’t admit the latter.

    I’m convinced that at least Texas and Florida have wrongly executed at least one prisoner.

  78. 78
    driftglass says:

    If Ross Douthat is not permitted to continue his infantile Wingnut Welfare maunderings at the NYT, the public will never rise up and demand that Wingnut Welfare dribblers like Ross Douthat never be permitted anywhere near any job more influential than McDonald’s hot apple pie up-seller.

    http://bit.ly/oSNnPT

  79. 79
    Chet says:

    @Odie Hugh Manatee: The only individual of my personal acquaintance who’s expressed any outrage over (or even familiarity with) the Davis case is a black coworker, and based on her remarks I’ve concluded that even she isn’t nearly as exercised over the actual injustice involved as she is by the fact that it was a member of her own community who was victimized by said injustice.

    Man, he is a deeply tribal creature.

  80. 80
    Samara Morgan says:

    But what are you, freddie cher,,,,,but another nasty little embryo douthat in an endless stream of nastly little embryo douthats?

  81. 81
    Mark S. says:

    She has awaken!

  82. 82
    milo says:

    Mostly, I lurk.

    This is right, thank you for expressing it so well.

  83. 83
    a hip hop artist from Idaho (fka Bella Q) says:

    Thanks for an excellent post.

  84. 84
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    OK, haven’t read through all the comments, but this:

    it would actually have been worse for Troy Davis to have endured life in prison than to be swiftly executed, given the horrors of American prison life.

    ignores that there is substantially more than a reasonable doubt that Troy Davis was guilty of the crime he was put to death for. Which means that any imprisonment at all was wrong, life without parole or whatever.

    Douchehat needs to die in a klin explosion along with BoBo.

  85. 85
    rikyrah says:

    Douthat is an assclown.

  86. 86
    cleek says:

    religion don’t mean a thing
    it’s just another way to be right wing
    -spoon

  87. 87
    ABL says:

    nice post, freddie. i can’t look at pictures of troy without tearing up. i really (and naively) thought that all the work people were doing, the petitions, the faxes and phone calls would mean something.

    and then suddenly it all meant nothing.

    i still can’t really think about it too much.

  88. 88

    Ross Douchehat should stick to writing about masturbation or coitus-interuptis. At least those columns have the advantage of being unintentionally hilarious.

  89. 89
    R. Porrofatto says:

    @cmorenc: The implication that we need the death penalty to recognize and address that we have a fallible justice system is belied by the front page story this morning in Douthat’s own newspaper about Thomas Haynesworth, who just spent 27 years in jail for rapes DNA now shows he didn’t commit.

    Not to mention that we are one of the few industrialized countries left who actually has a death penalty. The 140 or so countries who have banned capital punishment don’t seem to have a problem with public faith in their justice system.

  90. 90
    Jonas says:

    @cmorenc: I agree that this gets to the nub of Douthat’s argument.

    But it’s a horrible argument on every level. How can you argue that letting an (possibly) innocent man be executed is preferable to not killing him because at some point in the future, not intervening in an unjust death might help advance the cause of another good thing (prison reform). Would Douthat argue that late term abortions should be freely permitted in order to promote more adoptions of unwanted children? Of course not. Or that we shouldn’t pass anti-lynching laws because there’s so much other racism out there to deal with?

    OF COURSE we need to focus on the terrible flaws in our criminal justice system. One place we can start is by fighting its most visible injustices — putting people to death where there is substantial doubt as to their guilt.

  91. 91
    Tom Levenson says:

    Nothing to add. Excellent post. Rage at the particulars — Davis’s state-administered death — and at the general problem of the incompatibility of the simultaneous existence of Douthat and a just deity leave me otherwise speechless.

  92. 92

    To this Quaker, every execution–regardless of the guilt or innocence of the subject–is an echo of the Crucifixion. It’s quite simply the blackest of black magic. See also Rene Girard.

  93. 93
    Xenos says:

    I have a list of flaws longer than your arm, but let the day I write about someone’s death and treat it as an afterthought be the day I die.

    It is about time people thrust basic moral principles back into the face of the self-righteous but anti-human.

    To pivot off of Weigel recent commentary, we can ask: What would Frederick Douglass do?

  94. 94
    Jewish Steel says:

    Damn, Freddie. Righteously said.

  95. 95
    englishmajor says:

    # 50

    This is what front pagers should aspire to do.

    Yes, this is one of the best posts I’ve seen on BJ in a while (though I’m not a regular reader anymore – like sipping from a fire hose) and the comments reflect that. Mostly considered and fairly respectful. Not so much bullshit.

    Thank you for being serious. It makes a person feel like there’s more she can do in this world than loll around and be sarcastic.

  96. 96
    asiangrrlMN says:

    Right on, Freddie. I skimmed over the Douthat article and became enraged. Whether his point is that we need the fear of putting an innocent man to death in order to point out the injustices of our legal system or not, his writing is simply shallow, self-preening, and outrageous.

    Troy Davis deserved better than he got. So did Lawrence Russell, the other prisoner put to death the evening for the brutal murder of James Byrd. The death penalty is barbaric. And, I agree with those who say that if one acknowledges the horror of the prison system without then saying we need to transform the system, that person is horrible, too.

    Douthat can go fuck himself with a rusty pitchfork.

  97. 97
    Xenos says:

    @Judas Escargot:

    The question then becomes: why the rush? You could always postpone, and execute the guy six months after reviewing the evidence (assuming the above). You’ve waited since 1989, what’s six more months to review some new evidence?

    The rush is because they are at risk of losing their human sacrifice to the god of the police state.

    Someone (Kundera, I think) explained this sort of totalitarian compulsion with an anecdote for the time of Stalin. A blind man, entering a restaurant, hung his hat on a picture of Stalin instead of the hook meant for hats. Even though there was no possible intent to insult Stalin, the blind man had to be sent to Siberia because the insult to Stalin could not be left unpunished.

    In Georgia, a cop has been killed by a black man. Even if the state can not figure out which black man killed the cop, the insult, the crime to the social order must be answered. If the right black man can’t be determined, than any one with a chance of being guilty will have to do. But the revenge killing by the state MUST happen.

    At a structural level of analysis this is very much of a lynching.

  98. 98
    Mike G says:

    Since when has Douchehat given a crap about prison reform?

    Today he writes a lame apologia for state-sponsored death.
    Tomorrow, he and his ideological cohorts will go back to opposing prison reform and obstructing anyone else’s reform efforts, driven by their dogma of hate, solipsism, resentment and punishment.

  99. 99
    Triassic Sands says:

    …it would actually have been worse for Troy Davis to have endured life in prison than to be swiftly executed, given the horrors of American prison life.

    Apparently, Troy Davis, who had had ample time to sample the horrors of life in an American prison, didn’t agree with this line of reasoning. Since that fact was obvious, it’s a wonder that deep thinkers like Douthat couldn’t figure it out for themselves.

    When I saw the subject of Douthat’s column, I did something I usually don’t do — I read the column, which only reminded me of the reasons I don’t often read one of his columns. A moral person, instead of arguing, essentially, for the continuation of the death penalty, but with some restrictions, might argue that the death penalty should be ended AND a major movement begun to improve conditions in our prisons. Surely, the Catholic Church would have no trouble with that approach.

  100. 100
    KS in MA says:

    @ABL: Dear ABL, it absolutely did not mean nothing.

    There is somebody who will decide to do some meaningful thing in the world because they cared about Troy Davis. Maybe it will be you. Maybe it will be me. Maybe it will be some nine-year-old kid. They’ll decide to start a foundation, or teach a child, or run for office (as a progressive, of course), or go to law school instead of business school, or some good and generous thing we can’t foresee.

    Most likely we won’t hear about it on the news, since the news is generally about the rotten things people do. But people also do good and generous things, all the time–almost always under the radar– and if you ask them they’ll often tell you it’s because of some particular person they cared about, or some particular experience that moved them.

    We try. We fail. We try again. And often somebody we never heard of decides to try too, because of what we tried to do.

    (Not to get all soppy on you.)

  101. 101
    Darkrose says:

    @Cat Lady: I don’t know who first referred to him as Cardinal Above the Law, but it was dead on.

    Not that his replacement was any better: “Abuse? What abuse LOOK THOSE GAY PEOPLE WANT TO GET MARRIED OMG!@!!!”

  102. 102
    harlana says:

    his argument that it would actually have been worse for Troy Davis to have endured life in prison than to be swiftly executed, given the horrors of American prison life.

    I’m thinking he would prefer to be alive, in prison, while his case is appealed and he is later exonerated. If he is proven innocent, he wouldn’t be dying in prison, he’d be free, asshat! What an soulless idiot. Apparently Douthat is presuming guilt here, so no further discussion on that rather relevant point is necessary(?) He is such a twisted little fuck.

  103. 103
    Amir Khalid says:

    @harlana:
    Da Chunky did, in fact, concede that Davis might not have been guilty. From his opening para:

    He was prosecuted and convicted based on the same dubious eyewitness testimony, rather than forensic evidence. And his appeals process managed to be ponderously slow without delivering anything like certainty: it took the courts 20 years to say a final no to the second trial that Davis may well have deserved.

    So he’s even more twisted than you suspect.

  104. 104
    harlana says:

    Here’s some nice, civilized right wing comments from Breitbart’s site

    and, check out the racist comments from a year ago here!

    my apologies if ABL has already posted this.

  105. 105
    SRW1 says:

    My own theological premises about the nature of sex.

    There is a theological premise about the nature of sex? Really? What is it?

    PS: Be careful about the logical consequences, Ross.

  106. 106
    WereBear says:

    Just as a conservative will prefer injustice that looks like justice, so conservative columnists are charged with writing columns that only look thoughtful.

  107. 107
    harlana says:

    wow, also too, wingers all seem to think the President is seething with hatred for white people, he wants to enslave the white man or some such similar drivel. what, i ask, what has this man ever done to make anyone believe that he hates white people? my God, they are living in their own world of illusion/delusion. Projecting their own fears about being left behind in a changing world, their own positions in life being threatened. I guess we have gone over this ad nauseum, but it still stuns me at times, they really seem to want to string him up to the nearest tree – it scares me for this country and it makes me sad. I’m too exhausted by the madness to get angry anymore.

  108. 108
    Moonbatman says:

    This is Persecuted Political Prisoner and Social Justice Warrior Steven Hayes.

    Just because he of what he did to the rich Fatcat Petit family.

    He is a real person. He is really alive. He is desperate to remain alive

  109. 109

    PEG is one of the most unpleasant pundits working today. It doesn’t surprise me in the least that Douthat’s a fan.

  110. 110
    Surly Duff says:

    @cmorenc:

    His argument is that given that it’s going to be politically impossible to mount any direct assault on the majority’s visceral feeling that people who are unquestionably guilty of very heinous crimes deserve the death penalty, it’s far better to harness their other underlying fundamental belief that the justice system needs to be an institution they can trust to be fair, correct. Without the risk of wrongfully putting innocent people to death, his argument is that it will be difficult to get the public to focus on the need to fix the many deep flaws in our current justice system.

    What? Only if the possibly exists of putting innocent people to death will people put attention on ensuring our justice system provides justice? Only through executions of men like Troy Davis and other prisoners who are killed despite mountains of doubt in their cases or even evidence that exonnerates them of their crimes, can we truly focus more public interest on improving our justice system? That’s his overarching argument? That is even stupider than his point that an execution is more humane than life. Ross Douthat is an even bigger moron than I previously assumed.

  111. 111
    Emma says:

    @Moonbatman: Jesus, Mary, Joseph and unpleasant stupidity. Do you have to crawl out from under your rock this early in the morning?

  112. 112
    Ben Cisco says:

    @harlana:

    Projecting their own fears about being left behind in a changing world, their own positions in life being threatened.

    This, exactly.
    __
    Every time one of these clowns casts an aspersion against POTUS/black lawmakers/anyone not of their clique, you can bet the house it’s because they would do EXACTLY what they’re accusing others of doing, without exception or remorse.

  113. 113
    Trinity says:

    Well stated Freddie. A sincere thank you to you for writing this.

  114. 114
    gogol's wife says:

    I don’t have time to read the whole post, and I’m certainly not going to read chunky Reese Witherspoon, but I agree wholeheartedly with your last paragraph. And I say that as the daughter of a murder victim.

  115. 115
    gogol's wife says:

    @Moonbatman:

    The Petitte family kept Connecticut from repealing the death penalty. Why are they more important than all other murder victims’ families (many of whom supported the repeal)?

  116. 116
    Brian S says:

    @Moonbatman: He is really alive. He is desperate to remain alive

    Not according to that article, but hey, fuck you regardless.

  117. 117
    Kathy in St. Louis says:

    I am a nominal Catholic, getting more nominal every day closer to death. I love the likes of conservative Catholics, who know when life begins, that in vitro is inherently wrong, that the nun out in Arizona who saved the mother’s life when both she and the baby would have perished, really deserved to be ex-communicated. These professional Catholic busybodies who how we should all live, what the Church’s stand is on each and every moral issue. However, when it comes in conflict with their very conservative political beliefs, of which capital punishment is a biggie, they are torn. How can folks who never have to give a thought the the zillion or so other teachings of the Church be so torn on this one? It’s that old blood lust thing that keeps interfering with their journey toward Catholic perfection.

  118. 118
    IrishGirl says:

    Freddie, friggin awesome post. Thank you!

  119. 119
    xian says:

    has douthat ever advanced an argument that wasn’t a tissue of barely coherent sophistry?

  120. 120
    Jamey: Bike Commuter of the Gods says:

    He was strapped to a gurney and poisoned to death by the state, in an action that prevented no future crimes and healed no prior ones.

    And that only covers the practical angle… but then, there’s no use trying to inform the morality of an amoral scold like Ross. His beliefs [I believe] are sincere, but flat-out ill-informed.

    Drives me batty that he has such a bully-pulpit with nothing more to recommend him to it other than the issue of “ideological balance” on the NYT Op-Ed pages.

    Excellent declaration of principles, Freddie.

  121. 121
    Arundel says:

    Fantastic Freddie. Always, always enjoy your thoughtful posts, or sometimes just questions asked aloud. I appreciate your musings and points about a lot of things, thank you.

    As for Douthat, his stunning hypocrisy is self-evident. If I’d only known being such an exhibitionist about being Catholic (but always of course pretending to “grapple” with issues, yet landing at the ordained spot regardless) was so lucrative and respectable, I’d never have given up my altar boy (captain!) robe. I imagine Ross types wearing his.

  122. 122
    Tehanu says:

    Terrific post. Thank you.

  123. 123
    dopey-o says:

    and yet the church of the inquisition, the conquistadors, and child-rapists says that the possession – let alone the use – of nuclear weapons is a grave sin. i have mixed feelings, but it’s all murder, it’s all wrong, and it’s enough to keep me in the catholic church for now.

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