December 18, 2003

The Scourge of Richard Cohen, Vol. C

(Ed. -- The following is a bit of mean spiritedness that will be an on-going feature of this blog. Normally the author will endeavor to be reasonably fair, but this is an exception.)

At the speed of light, hereís the big C, which more properly should be the little c since, as Albert Einstein first posited, E=mc2. And using roman numerals, that would mean that E = 10,000,000. That will come in handy in about 9,997,997 years for those who script copyrights for movie credits and other arcane users of roman numerals who still appreciate and delight in the semantics of such antiquated numerological semiotics. Of course, there are a lot of assumptions inherent in such a statement, not the least of which is that there will still be humans around who will still remember the meaning of the ancient symbols in 9,997,997 years, much less that there will still be movies as we understand them today. Given the pace of technological change, and the evolution that can take place over that time span, who knows what sort of entertainment our descendants will enjoy then? Thinking about something like the library on Terminus, Iíve often wondered what historical research would be like once there was more material than could even be queried adequately in one lifetime, no matter how sophisticated and efficient the Googolplex search engines might be by then. But, I digress.

Although I am pressed for time, I thought Iíd save you the trouble of responding to some of those spam e-mails weíve all been getting lately and give you a little more Dick for the holiday season. Frankly, I donít know if I deserve acclamation for scourging Richard Cohen for so long (though admittedly, with decreased frequency of late), or condemnation for failing so miserably to stop the inanity offered up twice a week by the Washington Postís most predictable partisan hack. This is necessarily the shortest headline youíll see on a Scourge the rest of my natural life since it is hard to imagine that Richard will still be publishing his column long enough for me to scourge enough of them to get to M, or worse, that I would still be stuck in the non-creative rut of writing Scourges nine years from now. Oh the humanity! After all, at some point, even the publishers of the Washington Post will realize that at least half his columns are oh-so politically correct, recycled, boilerplate talking points from the DNC.

Speaking of regurgitated tripe, Dickís back to whacking his favorite trope Ė his opposition to capital punishment. Iíll give Mr. Cohen a little credit for consistency, even when it means standing up for Saddam Hussein. Of course, Emersonís oft-misquoted aphorism seems apropos here:

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

While jumping on the rickety bandwagon of those who choose to defend Saddam must be more than a little challenging, I can only observe that this seems to be taking the whole the-enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend meme just a little too far. But why? What motivates Richard Cohenís dislike of capital punishment, beyond the opportunity to call those of us who support it Neanderthals? The only thing Iíve been able to discern thus far about Mr. Cohenís beliefs is a utopian idea that somehow the criminals can be reformed or that we must not stoop to their level. I wonder why utopians have so much trouble accepting that most of us have no interest whatsoever in seeing Saddam Hussein reformed and we don't think it's possible to stoop to his level no matter how hard we might try. I certainly canít believe that anyone takes seriously the argument that being caged for the rest of his life so he can reflect upon his crimes is a harsher punishment that taking his life from him.

Now, there are some legitimate concerns about the application of the death penalty within our current system of justice. If it is true that it is better that one-hundred guilty men go free than an innocent man be convicted, then it must also be true that it is better that one-hundred heinous murderers are sentenced to life without parole than one innocent man be put to death. Unfortunately, it has become difficult to work to improve our system of jurisprudence when it comes to the death penalty since opposition to it has become so dogmatic. The actions of former Illinois Governor George Ryan in commuting all the death sentences in Illinois stem more from an almost fervent religious belief in our fallibility than any attempt to try and improve the system. Some of the men who got a new lease on life from Governor Ryan are amongst the most wicked men on earth. But when Governor Ryan through out the baby with the bath water, he made no attempt to distinguish between any cases that perhaps merited further discussion and investigation and those cases where the right decision had unequivocally and unambiguously been made.

Which brings us to Saddam. At least Mr. Cohen spares us the existential hand wringing about whether Saddam can get a fair trial and acknowledges that he is a beast that, well, deserves the worst punishment we should offer. We just happen to disagree on what that punishment is. Watch in shock and awe as Mr. Cohen attempts a Clintonian conflation of morality and legality meant to confuse the simple and confound the concerned in Let Saddam Live:

That title is funny, in a sad sort of unfunny way, isnít it? Industrial strength irony has been resurrected since this is exactly what France, Germany, Russia, and all his buddies at the UN had been doing for a long time Ė letting Saddam live, while so many died.

This column may be the most futile of my long career.

The competition is stiff.

I am about to plead for Saddam Hussein's life. I do so not because I have the slightest doubt that he is a killer, responsible for taking the lives of many thousands, but because sparing his life would send a message to the world that judicial death -- so often abused -- is no longer acceptable.

It is always a highlight in my day when the actions of a nation to depose and dispose of the most brutal madmen of the last fifty years are considered the moral equivalent of some third world execution following a show trial. The Iraqi Governing Council is apparently no better than Robert Mugabe in Dickís eyes. Of course, the question as posed by Mr. Cohen could be addressed by trying to eliminate the abuse of capital punishment where it exists, but thatís a little to obvious to a mind that thinks like Dickís.

Such a day will come, no doubt about it.

Perhaps by E AD. Or E CE if you prefer.

The death penalty is already illegal in most of Europe, and renunciation of it is required for admission to the European Union.

See, all the kool kids arenít doing it! Poor Dick has Euro-envy. Again. If Dick gets a bump on the head do you imagine that twelve little yellow stars circle his noggin against a light blue background? Of course, the EU wonít even consider letting Turkey in to its Franco-German-weíll-abide-by-the-rules-we-want-to-abide-to club, so why should Iraq care what Europe does or doesnít do.

Many other countries keep the death penalty on their books but have not had an execution in so long that the prospect of one is remote.

Unless, of course, someone within their borders manages to be responsible for the deaths of perhaps one million people. Then weíll see if the situation is comparable.

This, of course, is not the case in the United States. Here, the death penalty not only remains on the books but executions are common.

Common? Thatís a relative term, and Iím not sure I would concur. But Iíll accept that the some parts of the US still believe in holding all of its citizens fully responsible for their actions.

Along with such pariah nations as Sudan, the United States still executes children (under 18) and the mentally feeble -- and, inevitably, the innocent.

More moral equivocation with the US being compared to Sudan. Itís not pretty, is it? But Iím curious, when is the last time a person under 18 was put to death in the United States? I donít know, but Iím guessing it has to be at least 50 years ago Ė and even most of Europe still allowed the death penalty 50 years ago. Sure, some criminals have been convicted and sentenced to death for crimes they committed before they were 18, but given an activist judiciary and publicity-seeking politicians like George Ryan, thereís always the possibility that those sentences will be commuted before they are carried out. Anyway, it takes a long, long time to exhaust all the mandatory appeals on the books to carry out any death sentence, so Iím quite certain that it is unlikely that anyone under the age of 18 will ever be put to death in the US. And last time I checked, the Supreme Court made it illegal to carry out the death penalty on the mentally feeble. But letís not let facts get in the way of a poor rant.

President Bush has already endorsed the death penalty for Hussein. "I think he ought to get the ultimate penalty," he told ABC's Diane Sawyer. But Bush, a primitive in such matters, was somehow not the first to call for Hussein's death.

Primitive. Jeez. But Dickís right about one thing, I think the Iraqi citizens in Ambassador Bremerís briefing were probably the first to call for Saddamís death after he announced, ďWe got him.Ē

That honor may belong to Joe Lieberman, who, in the manner of John Ashcroft with the Washington snipers, said the United States ought to shop for a jurisdiction that permits the death penalty.

Itís not often youíre going to see Joe Lieberman slandered by a true believer with a guilt by association reference to John Ashcroft, whom we all know would be the Devil incarnate, if the Angry Left were to believe there was a such a thing as the Devil.

For some reason -- probably an oversight -- he did not suggest Virginia or Texas.

Maybe because heís a Senator from Connecticut? Or because Saddamís trial and subsequent execution will happen in Iraq, where, incidentally, all the states that border it still do utilize the death penalty, sometimes rather commonly.

Instead Lieberman merely ruled out the International Criminal Court in The Hague, because it is not empowered to impose the death penalty.

As if thatís the only reason to rule out the ICC.

The court is now trying the former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic -- and has already convicted others from the wars in the former Yugoslavia -- but it sorely lacks a gallows, and for that matter a torture chamber.

Is this an implication that there are torture chambers in the United States? Or at least in Virginia and Texas?

"So my first question about where he's going to be tried will be answered by whether the tribunal can execute him," Lieberman said in response to a question from Tim Russert on "Meet The Press." Calling Hussein evil, the Connecticut senator said, "This man . . . has to face the death penalty."

Joe Lieberman continues to be the only Democrat running for president who can be taken seriously.

Probably most of the Democratic presidential candidates agree.

Probably? Are you sure?

In the United States the right of the government to take life is almost universally accepted -- if not applauded.

Applauded? We donít rejoice in the application of the death penalty, Dick. But we donít shy away from it either where it is appropriate.

In Europe there is no such consensus.

Huh? I thought Richard had just said that there was such a consensus in Europe in the opposite direction.

That's because in the past century, much of the continent suffered under fascist or communist governments that routinely murdered their own citizens, often "legally."

And these are the people we are now supposed to admire and follow? When ďEuropeĒ has had a democratic government for oh, letís say 200 years, then weíll talk.

It's true, of course, that these governments also jailed and tortured people without killing them, but only death is irrevocable.

I think Senator John McCain might note that some of the effects of torture are just as irrevocable. Last time I checked, I donít think chopped off tongues, ears, or hands grow back either. How can Dick so casually dismiss the physical pain, mental anguish, and the damaged and destroyed families of all those tortured and killed by Saddam Hussein? Silly question.

Life in prison is a lifetime of punishment.

Sorry, I was wrong in the rambling preamble. Apparently Richard Cohen does still try to argue that life in prison is worse than death. I guess he never saw the videos of Richard Speck.

In many ways Iraq was the equivalent of a European totalitarian country.

Huh? Not even Hitler killed as many of his own citizens so routinely. But then again, I guess we can consider Stalin as a European. And anyway, whatís with Dickís fixation on Europe? Why not compare Iraq to, oh, I donít know, Sudan?

Call it Baathist if you will, Ö

Or if you want to be correct.

Ö but Iraq under Saddam Hussein was essentially fascist, with the death penalty meted out willy-nilly, sometimes for serious crimes, sometimes for trivial infractions such as possession of a cell phone.

Is there a point here? Saddamís not going to be tried for a defined code of punishment that was out of line.

The Iraqis no doubt expect to treat Hussein as he treated them.

How ridiculous is that?

It would be marvelous if they were disappointed.

After all, the Iraqiís have had nothing but disappointment from the international community for the last 35 years. Why change now?

We can do better than an eye for an eye.

But only once for Saddam.

We can establish the principle of limited government that should be so dear to American conservatives such as Bush: Among the things government should not do is take a life.

Richard Cohen is an idiot. There, I said it. To state that you cannot have limited government unless you do not allow capital punishment is to be willfully ignorant of the entire history of the United States. The US Constitution, the embodiment of limited government that Europe just canít quite get the hang of, explicitly allows for capital punishment. Always has, letís hope it always will.

Except for the principle, I don't care about Saddam Hussein's life.

Like any card-carrying illiberal utopian in good standing, Dick cares about mankind, but not men. Saddamís eventual execution serves two purposes. One is punishment and a small measure of retribution for his crimes. The second is as a message (which Dick is so fond of sending) that everyone can and will be held accountable for their crimes now and in the future.

I care about him the same way I care about your more prosaic murderer -- not at all.

Message: I (donít) care.

But the principle is important.

I agree. The principle is important, which is why Iím making the effort to respond.

The death penalty vindicates the killer's mentality: Life can be taken.

Taking life is part of nature. One of the primary attributes of civilization is that we try to temper and mitigate it as much as possible, especially with respect to other people. The ďkillerís mentality,Ē if there is such a thing, is that the rules of civilization that apply to everyone else do not apply to him or her. This is not a subtle difference.

When a California killer named Hung Thanh Mai, who had murdered a cop at a routine traffic stop, faced the jury during the penalty phase of his trial, he said he was prepared to die. "Personally, I believe in an eye for an eye," he said. "I believe in two eyes for an eye. If you take down one of my fellows, I'd do everything to take down two of yours."

And your point is what Dick? That one amoral anecdote can condemn the motivation for justice that is as old as the history of mankind?

President Bush, Joe Lieberman and much of America will probably have it their way. Saddam Hussein will be tried -- probably in Iraq -- found guilty and executed.

Gee Dick, I guess that means youíre out of step with America. Again.

In his reptilian brain, he will understand. He would have done the same thing himself.

See, those of us who still believe that capital punishment is a valid response to certain crimes used to be Neanderthals, but now Dick thinks we have devolved even further in our thinking into reptiles. No doubt, in Richard Cohenís low estimation of our thinking we will continue to devolve until we are nothing more to him than prokaryotic cells. But, is that any worse than implying we are morally no different than Saddam?

Posted by Charles Austin at December 18, 2003 10:27 PM

"Along with such pariah nations as Sudan, the United States still executes children (under 18) and the mentally feeble"

Maybe Cohen is referring to the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, whose death warrant was signed by the then newly elected Cohen-hero President Clinton. Oops!

Posted by: Andrea Harris at 06:55 AM

A big "C" congrats on reaching triple digits! Whew, hard to believe you've been working at it this hard for so long.

Take a good rest after these labors and have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Posted by: MarcV at 03:04 PM