Those who oppose abortion also tend to be in favor of capital punishment, a contradiction that pro-choice advocates like to point out now and then as proof that the pro-life position is not well-thought-out and therefore not legitimate. But it is also true that those who favor abortion generally oppose the death penalty, so they have their own contradiction to deal with. And if I were feeling contentious, I might suggest that both sides are consistent. The pro-life side consistently sides with the most innocent — unborn babies and murder victims — and the pro-choice side consistently sides against them.
If someone did come along who was against both the death penalty and abortion, he would be considered an enemy by just about everybody. That was Nat Hentoff for you — he was "pro life" by the broadest possible definition and did not care whom he offended. Hentoff, the fierce civil liberties defender who died Saturday at 91, fought tirelessly and constantly against anything that involved one person getting to decide the life-and-death fate of another: abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, war. (He was that way about everything. He was a free speech absolutist who did not believe anybody should try to shut someboedy else up, period. He did not care who the messenger was or what the message was, only that the messenger should not be obstructed.)
I'm not quite there yet, but I'm finding Hentoff's position more and more — not sure if "attractive" is the right word, but at least more and more interesting. The consant push for abortion rights, our growing fondness for assisted suicide, the continuing majority support for the death penalty — add them all up, and it suggests our reverence for life isn't quite where it should be.
The obvious sticking point is capital punishment. Unlike abortion and euthanasia, it does not align power against the innocent and helpless. It would be ludicrous to equate a serial killer on death row with an unborn baby in the womb or an elderly aunt on life support. But all three involve deciding on the fitness of somebody to stay on the planet. There is a conservative argument to be made against the death penalty, which is that it invests awesome power in the state. Some of us don't trust the government to get potholes filled properly. How can we trust it with life-and-death decisions?
The death penalty is so rarely used that it clearly can't be a deterrent, so what justifies its use? Are we really seeking justice or just getting revenge because we can? When capital punishment is sought for just a handful of the criminals who qualify for it, we are conducting a bizarre, grim lottery that serves no purpose but to dole out a death now and then to the unlucky few.
But. Every time I think I'll go the final step and just say "Enough, let's ditch the death penalty," somebody comes along and commits a crime so heinous that nothing less than the death penalty seems suitable. If we take the ultimate punishment off the table, with what will be punish the ultimate crimes?
Maybe I should start thinking of capital punishment the way some advocates think of abortion: Let's keep it legal but rare.
(It should not have to be said, but it does, that it is possible to argue against abortion or euthanasia without judging the actions of individuals who find themselves trying to make tough decisions in difficult situations, like the pregnant unmarried teenager or the spouse of someone being tormented by excrutiating pain. It is the public policy that makes abortion or euthansia an easy choice instead of a deliberate, soul-searching one that is to be resisted.)
Just noticed I haven't said anything about war yet.
OK. War is always the wrong answer.
Except when it isn't.
ELSEWHERE IN THE NEWS
Poet: I can’t answer questions on Texas standardized tests about my own poems. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney says Donald Trump's choice of Betsy Devos as education secretary is a very smart one. Got her work cut out for her.
If you're a conservative who has always argued against the conept of "hate crime" on constitutional and/or philosophical grounds, don't get giddy with delight over hate crime being called in that awful Chicago case just because the perpetrators are black and the victiim is white. If we strip everything not relevant, and we should, what we have is a brutal act by truly bad people against an innocent victim.
President Obama's governance was "both inattentive to detail and law and out of touch with how policies affect people's lives. That is why so many of these policies seem headed for the ash heap of history."
Scary: North Korea says it is capable of test-launching an ICBM at any time. There are other evil, dangerous regimes in the world. This may be the only one that's certifiably crazy.
Nothing to see here, move along: Senate Republicans vote to increase the national debt by $9 trillion over 10 years, but we shouldn't worry because "that's a meaningless number." House Republicans, on the other hand, act quickly to "draw a line in the sand for the promised battle over government regulations."
Manhattan culinary staple China Fan shutters, blaming government overregulation.
They Kant be serious! Philosophy sudents at a University of London college are demanding that such seminal figures as Plato, Descartes, Immanuel Kant and Bertrand Russell should be largely dropped from the curriculum simply because they are white.
Transgender madness update: Five more states take legislative action aimed at restricting bathroom access to those biologically suitable for them, bring to 24 the number of states that have considered action since 2013.
Proud single mom January Jones said she'd rather raise her son alone because a father figure "would be toxic" for him. Kid ain't got a chance.