If ever there was more proof needed that the Republican Party has been hijacked by extremists, look no further than the two recent debates held for the GOP’s presidential contenders.
No, I’m not referring to what the candidates said, although some of their remarks also would underscore my point. Rather, I’m referring to the reaction of the audience at curiously inappropriate times.
It began at the Sept. 7 debate, held at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. That’s when NBC News anchorman Brian Williams posed a question to Texas Gov. Rick Perry about his state’s record of executing criminals. “Your state has executed 234 death row inmates, more than any other governor in modern times,” Williams told Perry. “Have you struggled to sleep at night with the idea that any one of those might have been innocent?”
Before Williams even finished the question, the bloodthirsty crowd broke into raucous applause and cheers when the number of executions was mentioned.
Perry then replied, “No, sir, I’ve never struggled with that at all. In the state of Texas, if you come into our state and you kill one of our children, you kill a police officer, you’re involved with another crime and you kill one of our citizens, you will face the ultimate justice in the state of Texas, and that is you will be executed.”
The audience’s reaction must have surprised Williams, too: “What do you make of that dynamic that just happened here, the mention of the execution of 234 people drew applause?”
Trying his best to appear tougher than his colleagues on the stage, Perry said, “I think Americans understand justice. I think Americans are clearly in the vast majority of cases, supportive of capital punishment. When you have committed heinous crimes against our citizens, and it’s a state-by-state issue, but in the state of Texas, our citizens have made that decision, and they made it clear, and they don’t want you to commit those crimes against our citizens, and if you do, you will face the ultimate justice.”
Don’t mess with Texas, bub. (It’s already enough of a mess, thank you very much.)
Unfortunately, Perry is correct in his claim about U.S. support for capital punishment. A Gallup Poll in 2010 found that 64 percent of Americans support the use of the death penalty for persons convicted of murder, while 29 percent oppose it, continuing a trend that hasn’t changed much during the past seven years.
Leaving aside issues — for now — involving whether it’s moral for any government to take the life of a citizen, as well as ignoring the many instances in which DNA and other evidence have exonerated a person after he has been executed, it’s still wildly unbefitting of a civilized society to revel in or relish anyone’s death.
By the way, this isn’t merely hypothetical.
Many human rights groups believe Perry did, in fact, approve the execution of an innocent man in the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in February 2004. Willingham was convicted of murder for allegedly setting the 1991 fire at his Corsicana, Texas, home which killed his three young children.
Investigations by The New Yorker magazine and others found that “junk science” was used at Willingham’s trial and that several experts in fire science cast serious doubt whether the blaze was caused by arson at all. Two days before the Texas Forensic Science Commission was scheduled to discuss a report that earlier findings probably were wrong, Perry replaced three of the nine commission members, including the chairman. The new chair then canceled a public hearing into the matter. After the execution, Perry called Willingham “a wife-beater.”
This, then, is what passes for justice in Texas.
Those of us disturbed by the crowd’s savage reaction at the California debate might have thought it merely was a strange aberration of some sort. Apparently not, given what happened at the next GOP debate, held Sept. 12 in Tampa, Fla., and co-sponsored by the Tea Party Express.
During the event, CNN moderator Wolf Blitzer asked Congressman Ron Paul (R-Texas), who also is a physician, if a sick person without insurance should receive medical treatment or be allowed to die. Paul replied, “That’s what freedom is all about — taking your own risks.” At that point, the audience broke into applause.
Paul continued, “This whole idea that you prepare and take care of everybody...” He was interrupted by Blitzer, who asked, “Are you saying society should just let him die?”
That’s when several people in the crowd shouted, “Yeah!”
To Paul’s credit, he said no one should be denied needed medical treatment and that people in local communities — not governments — should figure out a way to help someone in that situation. At least the congressman isn’t as callous and incompassionate as some of his followers.
Other comments by Paul, however, sharply angered the crowd.
While trying to explain why military spending could be cut without jeopardizing safety, Paul mentioned that America’s foreign policy was a factor in inciting the rage that prompted the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“This idea that whole Muslim world is attacking us because we’re free and prosperous, that is just not true,” Paul said, to a chorus of boos from the audience.
Never letting an opportunity to exploit emotions and elicit a cheap response pass him by, candidate and ex-U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum criticized Paul’s position.
Referring to a recent column written by Paul, Santorum said, “You said that it was our actions that brought about the actions of 9/11. Congressman Paul, that is irresponsible.”
In fact, Santorum’s simplistic, black and white, all or nothing account distorts what Paul wrote.
Paul had stated, “Though it is hard for many to believe, honest studies show that the real motivation behind the Sept. 11 attacks and the vast majority of other instances of suicide terrorism is not that our enemies are bothered by our way of life. Neither is it our religion, or our wealth. Rather, it is primarily occupation.”
Sounds about right to us.
Paul added, “Yes, the attacks of 9/11 deserved a response. But the manner in which we responded has allowed radicals in the Muslim world to advance a very threatening narrative about us and our motivation in occupying their lands.”
Almost any foreign policy expert without political ties would agree with Paul’s thesis. Hell, listen to most of the speeches given by Osama bin Laden or other al Qaeda leaders and you will learn Paul’s assessment is correct.
But the truth, in this instance, contradicts Republican orthodoxy, which supports the military-industrial complex in every circumstance — no matter the costs to U.S. society and safety.
The know-nothing, knee-jerk Republican Party of today would embarrass Abraham Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon. It likely would even make Ronald Reagan red-faced.
The Far Right may have succeeded in
taking over the GOP, but it eventually will lose the nation as it gets
more and more out of touch with mainstream attitudes.
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