A funny thing happened at the Republican debate at the Reagan Library in California on Wednesday night, when the evening’s co-moderator Brian Williams asked a question of Gov. Rick Perry of Texas. (Not funny ha-ha, funny peculiar.) Let’s go right to the video.
I love the "in the state of Texas, if you come into our state and you kill one of our citizens, you will be executed" bravado. Most people have no clue precisely how celebrated huntin' and executin' are down there, even when there is credible evidence that an innocent man was killed.
In the history of the death penalty, cheering an execution is nothing new. From the ceremonial "we hang at 8, party at 9" invitation only, black tie gala's (from the term gallows) in medieval England, to the dress up and bring the kids to the lynchings, rampant in the south during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, public support and displays of glee were quite common at executions.
But the modern death penalty prides itself on secrecy, bureaucracy, and the clinical, sterile executions of today's lethal injections. To hear overt whoops and hollers (and keep in mind, this wasn't a Texas audience, but a California audience) over the issue, challenges our very "enlightened" way of disposing of the criminal population today.
The anti-death penalty crowd will, of course, use the video as evidence that they are correct. Conversely (and maybe perversely), the pro-death penalty side will do likewise.
It will be interesting to see if capital punishment becomes a presidential race issue in 2012. Obama supports it, as does the large field of Republican candidates. But if Perry ascends to the nomination (as the accompanying story points out), there are real questions about the length and efficacy of his administration of the death penalty during his 10 years as governor.
It's like the old joke about politicians wanting to vote on few issues to avoid a track record; the more votes you have, the more ammunition your opponent has against you.
Similarly, the more executions you have, the more evidence critics will have in assailing your record (which Perry is running on: "the most executions by a governor in the history of the U.S.").
Good luck with that.
UPDATE: A NYT editorial (9/12/11) addresses the brouhaha.