Death penalty: When executions bring cheers

At the Republican debate in California, Gov. Rick Perry stood firmly in support of the death penalty, to the delight of conservatives and the dismay of liberals.

It was a “creepy and disgusting” new low in American politics, said Glenn Greenwald in When Gov. Rick Perry was asked at last week’s Republican debate in California about presiding over 234 executions, the conservative audience burst into cheers and applause, as if Perry had just scored a touchdown. The crowd clapped and hooted again when Perry said he’d never lost a moment’s sleep worrying that he’d executed innocent people. That’s a telling statement, given that Perry’s Texas has executed minors, the mentally incompetent, and quite possibly an innocent man—Cameron Todd Willingham, who was put to death after Perry refused to hear exculpatory evidence. What we heard from both the crowd and Perry, said Will Bunch in the Philadelphia Daily News, was not a somber, reasoned defense of the death penalty. “It was bloodlust, pure and simple.”

“Capital punishment draws strong emotional reactions on both sides, doesn’t it?” said James Taranto in But in its self-righteousness, the Left misread the crowd’s cheering; it was an expression of “defiance,” not bloodlust. Polls show that 64 percent of the public supports the death penalty for convicted murderers, which is also true in what liberals call the “civilized nations” of Europe and Canada. It’s just that their lawmakers don’t listen to them. America still has the death penalty because our elites don’t dictate to us. That’s what the crowd was celebrating. Because of the lengthy appeal process in this country, said John R. Guardiano in, convicted murderers can delay their dates with justice for 10 years or more, while their victims’ families suffer every day. The audience cheered because “they’ve had enough of judges and lawyers overruling their will.”

Soon, Perry will have a chance to earn more cheers, said Andrew Cohen in Texas was scheduled this week to execute a convicted murderer, Duane Edward Buck; his lawyers have asked Perry to stay the execution, because an expert witness said during the trial that Buck’s race—he’s black—“increased the likelihood of his being dangerous in the future.” Another inmate, Hank Skinner, is due to die in November, even as he fights for new DNA tests that he insists will prove his innocence. Will Perry grant these men a reprieve, so legitimate legal questions can be fully explored by the courts? Or will he give the crowd what it wants?

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