As the Illinois legislature will soon debate whether we should join the increasing number of states to abolish the death penalty, it brought back memories of an article that I had written for the university newspaper during my collegiate days. For decades, those who opposed the death penalty argued that it was inhumane, at times executed the wrong person, and was racially discriminatory. Regardless of what you think of those reasons, this style of argument would get one labeled as a criminal-coddling, bleeding heart liberal, which is a death-wish, albiet not as much of one as it was in the Center-Right 80s and 90s.
However, I oppose the death penalty for reasons that resemble moderate, conservative, or libertarian perspectives. Why? It doesn’t deter crime, isn’t the toughest punishment, and is the worst violation of the Founding Fathers’ principle of limited government.
From a rational perspective, law-and-order hawks say the tougher the punishment, the less likely the crime will be committed.Ok, let’s say that’s true. First of all, most murders are crimes of passion; at the time of the altercation, the person isn’t thinking of the punishment. Second, as far as premeditated murders, the killer either doesn’t think he will get caught, or couldn’t give a damn. In fact, in the case of say gang-killings, executing him may glorify the act, making him a martyr. A close look at the death penalty in the states demonstrates that forgot about causation, there isn’t even a correlation between between the legality of the death penalty and lower crime rates.
Many of the law-and-order hawks argue that the death penalty is the toughest punishment for the worst crime. Really? I would argue that the death penalty is a weaker punishment than life-in-prison WITHOUT parole. The treatment one receives in prison is awful. Now yes, it’s true that I have no first-hand prison experience; but please trust my judgment when I say that it isn’t the place where being considered cute will help. :). Truth be told, given the option between the type of treatment I would get in prison, as opposed to the electric chair, I would plug it in myself. And I am sure that many guys reading this article would do the same.
Lastly, the death penalty is the worst violation of the Founding Fathers’ most deeply held principle of limited government. You can’t profess supporting a limited government, yet simultanously support granting the government the most unlimited right of all: the authority to execute its own citizens. Conservatives would retort that liberals have no right to talk about limited government because we believe in government activism on fiscal policy. And with regards to the charge that liberals advocate for government activism on fiscal policy, they are absolutely correct. However, when we liberals support such policies, it’s on the basis that government provides things that make us more free. When our government provides aspiring youths with student loans for college, it gives them MORE freedom to pursue a career of their choice, as well as a ticket to a financially secure life. When our government provides workers with healthcare, it makes them more empowered to work at their maximum level of productivity. In other words, we liberals are proponents of government increasing freedom. The death penalty does no such thing. Case closed.
In this article, I hope to have conveyed the message that opposition to the death penalty isn’t something that only liberals can be proponents of. Given the turning tide, now is the best time to put together an ideologically diverse coalition to abolish it. Let’s do it.