Very, very briefly, as I have both paying work and pro bono stuff up the wazoo today (why do these things not happen on opposite days, for instance? The fates can’t do at least that for me?):
There is much talk on my side of the internet about the fact that the audience at last night’s Republican debate cheered Rick Perry’s statements about the death penalty (clip embedded below) — much horror, much disgust, and on one level, I’m absolutely with you all on the horror and the disgust. After all, among the things that Governor/Presidential Wannabe Perry said was that he he has “never struggled with” the idea that he might have overseen the execution of an innocent man (go to the Brian Williams question, at about the 10 second mark) — and given that it appears that he did just that, the horror just grows exponentially.
But here’s the thing: Those cheering people, and God save us, Gov. Perry himself, are not strangers to us. They are not from another planet, or even another country. They are us. They are Americans. And in 2009, 65% of Americans said that they support the death penalty.
Now, I’m of the opinion that a pretty large slice of that 65% wouldn’t be cheering the idea, and would want those in power to be very, very certain about who they’ve decided to execute and why — to, in fact, struggle over it. That’s American, too, to support something without necessarily loving it. That’s how I feel about abortion, for instance, and it’s part of what is potentially great about this country: At our best (which, I will grant you, is sometimes difficult to find) we do not demand simple answers. Democracy makes room for gray areas, and we are a democracy.
But having said that, no matter how many would or would not cheer, no matter how many would or would not be thrilled that a Governor doesn’t struggle or lose sleep over putting people to death — those who cheered last night are a part of my American tribe. Or, to paraphase an American who I really rather loathe: You go to the future with the Americans you have, not the Americans you might want, or wish to have.
If we want to see less mindless cheering and more mindfulness, indeed, if we want to end the death penalty — we need to be part of making that happen. And that means engaging people in conversation, writing letters to the editor, supporting political campaigns and grassroots efforts. It means playing a part — and that part is much, much bigger than simply curling our lip and walking away.
The famous “GOP crowd cheers death penalty” clip (I particularly can’t stand the self-satisfied smile on Perry’s face when the cheering starts):