The Hannibal Lecter Republicans

January 4, 2007

The past six years have left us with plenty of questions about the true nature of conservatism, such as: Is conservatism a real political philosophy, or has it always been nothing more than a tax-scam for the wealthy?

But for me, one of the biggest questions about right-wingers is this: Why are so many conservatives, who claim to be champions of individual liberty against the tyrannical power of the state, downright eager to give the state the essentially unchecked power to kill?

Furthermore, why do these self-anointed guardians of morality continue to champion this immoral power, capital punishment, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that the death penalty is abused with appalling frequency? Why do these wingers keep baying for blood even when DNA evidence has exposed horrifying numbers of wrongful convictions?

This week’s report from a panel recommending that New Jersey abolish the death penalty has brought these Hannibal Lecter Republicans out in force. Their arguments reflect very little about the state of modern law enforcement, but speak volumes about what passes for thought in conservative circles.

For example, get a load of Guy Gregg, Republican assemblyman:

Gregg added that if the Democrat-controlled Legislature adopts the commission’s recommendations, “they will be eliminating capital punishment for pedophiles who commit heinous acts of violence and murder against our most vulnerable and innocent residents – our children. It also will send a message to cop killers and gang members that they can continue to terrorize and wreak havoc in our communities without just punishment for their crimes.”

The U.S. Supreme Court prohibited capital punishment in 1972. New Jersey reinstated it in 1982 but it has yet to be used on any convicted murderers. That’s because New Jersey, being a civilized area of the country with a respect for human life, treats capital cases with great care. There are separate trials to determine guilt and then gauge the proportionality of the death penalty. The state then gives Death Row inmates the automatic right to appeal directly to the state Supreme Court, which is not shy about throwing back a case when it thinks there’s something fishy about it.

This is all to the good. The last thing New Jersey needs is to gin up a Texas-style death conduit where capital cases are treated with all the attentiveness and human concern of a landscaper tossing twigs into a wood-chipper. But it is expensive to pursue the death penalty. A November 2005 report from New Jersey Public Policy Perspective determined that New Jersey has spent $253.5 million since 1982, or $4.2 million per death sentence, in pursuit of capital punishment. (That figure covers only the cost to state and county government.) It costs considerably less money (about $23,721 less) to maintain a regular prisoner in New Jersey than it does a Death Row inmate, according to the NJPP report.

That’s a lot of money to spend on something that has been shown repeatedly to have no deterrent effect. During my newspaper days, I sat in on a number of murder trials, and not once did I see a criminal mastermind along the lines of the diabolical serial killers fed to us by Hollywood and television. The defendants in the cases were, to a man, profoundly damaged specimens unable to think far enough ahead to worry about consequences. The idea that the death penalty would cause them to rethink anything was ludicrous.

Well then, what about revenge? Shouldn’t the families of the victims at least get the satisfaction of seeing the murderers snuffed out? Why should the killers be allowed to live out their days at taxpayer expense? It is, after all, an article of faith among Bill O’Reilly types that our prisons are simply Club Med annexes with a little extra concrete, where smug convicts pass the time lifting weights and writing appeals.

Anyone who has seen the inside of East Jersey State Prison (to offer one bloodcurdling example) knows this is nonsense. It would give me great satisfaction to know that the killer of one of my relatives would spend his life in such a place, and the “life without parole” sentence being offered as a substitue for the death penalty would ensure exactly that.

Life without parole. Less expensive, more effective as punishment and guaranteed to prevent the horror of allowing the state to execute someone who later turns out to have been innocent. A fine blend of cost-effectiveness and justice, with the added benefit of protecting individual liberties against abuse by the state.

So why can’t conservatives get behind this? Why can’t Republicans find a coherent argument against it, other than to froth and howl about pedophiles and cop-killers rampaging through our streets if the death penalty is eliminated?

I’d like to see a right-winger make a sensible case for continuing the death penalty, I really would. But I’m afraid I’ll have to wait a long time for it — even longer than it’s taken so far for a death sentence to be carried out.

14 Responses to “The Hannibal Lecter Republicans”

  1. JR Says:

    It’s two things.

    One, it’s projection. Republicans have learned that if they scream loud enough about the other guy doing essentially what they themselves have been doing all along, the media will turn its attention to the bad liberals and not the bad conservatives. It is a mistake to believe that republicans consider being labeled Hypocrites a negative thing. They wear it like a badge of honor; it allows them to play the Perpetual Victimhood card indefinitely.

    2nd, a lot of this is explained in John Dean’s book Conservatives Without Conscience. It is literally part of their human nature, and there is a massive, massive study to back that up. Dean found that there’s a certain portion of (conservatives) that would literally follow their leaders, any leaders, over a cliff.

  2. Rick Says:

    I’ll grant you all your points, because I agree with them all. However, I still want the death penalty around because of something you didn’t discuss. That is, the deterrent effect certainly does not have impact on the person when they are committing a capital crime, but it may come into play plenty after they are caught. Law enforcement can threaten the death penalty to gain a confession they might not otherwise have gotten. Prosecutors can threaten the death penalty to get a guilty plea to a lesser charge, and so on. I file the death penalty under “Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.” Which, judging from your research, seems to be about the way New Jersey is handling it. Bravo. More states should do it that way.

  3. mssuicidebomber Says:

    Yes, let the perpetrators of horrific crimes live. Keep them under lock and key and make them wish they were dead.

    As to the deterrent effect. What deterrent effect?

  4. Nordette Says:

    I don’t believe tougher penalties are deterrents to crime. I think when you have a genuinely asocial personality, a person predisposed to both violence and criminal acts, that person doesn’t think about the penalties until caught and he/she commits crime believing being caught’s unlikely. It’s like the old saying that “locks are for honest people.” A dishonest person will break in regardless if they want to get inside bad enough. How we penalize people and for what should be based on justice and protecting society from further acts by that person. That’s it. And given the corruption of our justice system, I’m not convinced the death penalty can be assumed to always be in the interest of justice. It seems more a political convenience and frequently meted out with classist presumptions and predilections.

    Nevertheless, liberals should ask themselves what do you do with criminals who you know beyond a doubt are guilty of heinous crimes? If there’s no hope of rehabilitation and re-entry into society, then what’s the solution? Criticizing systems without offering viable solutions just sounds like whining sometimes. I don’t know the answer because like the rest of humanity, I’m not omniscient.

  5. I think you do Hannibal Lecter an injustice by comparing him to republicans.

  6. madmouser Says:

    I do think the death penalty is a deterrent, at least to the person who dies. That particular person will never commit a dastardly crime again.
    One down and how many to go??? It’s time to thin the herd to quote Dennis Miller.
    I do not really see it as a deterrent but I think of it as a punishment.

  7. 10 life sentences is better than death penalty let them suffer and feel the pain

  8. katerli Says:

    all agreed? good.

    the one caveat I have is that life without parole, often doesn’t mean life without parole. but that’s a whole different can of worms I suppose…

  9. thescoundrel Says:

    I am an independent and I am not a believer in the death penalty. But I tend to vote along Republican right wing lines for one very reason, because all the questionable blood on the hands of the right wingers does not even compare to the innocent blood on the hands of the leftwing abortion on demand killers.

  10. Dana Says:

    Yes, it’s a true political philosophy. I am a TRUE Republican and therefore think that the SMALLER a gov’t is, the better, that it has no business in personal affairs. A true Republican is Pro-Logic and therefore pro science and against the death penalty. True Republicans could not argue against you, because they agree with you on this matter!!?? What makes Democrats like you get such an asine reputation is your inability to see that the faces of Washington have nothing to do with the true political tenets. Neither party these days represents any coherent school of thought. Get your head out of the sand and realize that George Bush has no connection to those with true conservative values aka, those who value are Logic and Reason. Would you like me to assume that you are a piece of shit and behave like Al Sharpton, just because he has somehow come to be associated with the word “Democrat”?

  11. Jason357 Says:

    I agree with Loaded Monkeys, Hannibal Lecter has intellect, rules and standards that Republipukes don’t. I fought for a more productive definition of conservative for a long time, but gave up on it. Bush and his soulless zombies made sure that they made “conservative” a word people would run from. Those same folks are working just as hard to make people run from the word “Christian”. It makes me wonder if the GOP ever had anything good to offer, or if they just had me fooled. Those people are on the dark side, with their lust for blood, death and torture.

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