Fool or scoundrel?

Rick Perry, defending himself for having sent an innocent man to his death, assures us that what he did was right, because someone who actually did what the executed man was falsely accused of doing would be “a monster.”

Rick Perry, having signed the death warrant for someone accused of starting a fire that killed his three children based on what turns out to be worthless forensics evidence, justifies his actions on the grounds that the man he sent to his death was a “monster” who “murdered his three children.”

Umm … can you say “petitio principii”?  I thought you could.

If Rick Perry thinks this is a logical argument, he’s a fool.  If he knows better, he’s a scoundrel.

We report, you decide.

[Publius at Obsidian Wings has useful reflections on the politics of the death penalty in Texas.]

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

9 thoughts on “Fool or scoundrel?”

  1. Since Rick Perry had ample opportunity to examine the evidence it seems obvious who the monster is in this.

  2. False dichotomy. Some fools couldn't know better, so shouldn’t be held blameworthy. But if Perry – who, despite what comes out of his mouth, is arguably of normal intelligence – doesn't know better, it's almost certainly because he chooses not to. Foolery is a career strategy. Which gets us back to "scoundrel."

  3. Is it too soon to start a little betting pool about which national TV tabloid program will be the first to feature this story? I would bet on Dateline NBC, but maybe the competition from 20/20 will be intense. In any case, as soon as this is seen nationally, with Perry adamantly protesting that he sent a guilty man to the death chamber, and with the forensic experts calmly laying out the facts, Perry will be toast as a national political figure. I would bet that 60 Minutes will bring up the rear.

  4. Ed Whitney,

    I doubt that Perry will be toast or that most death penalty supporters will care much that he executed an innocent man. First, they will deny that Willingham was innocent, and the forensic experts, after all, cannot PROVE that he was. Second, they will agree with Perry that he was a monster; decent people, after all, don't get themselves arrested for murder. Third, if they are the slightest bit honest with themselves (a big assumption, I realize), then they know that our justice system is not foolproof and that many innocent people have probably been executed. Can anyone believe, in light of more than 130 death row inmates since 1976 having been released because they were innocent, that we've never once executed an innocent person? Willingham is no big deal to death penalty supporters. To death penalty supporters, executing innocent people (who've probably committed some other crime anyway) is merely collateral damage that accompanies capital punishment. It won't happen to decent folks like them, of course.

  5. I agree with Henry that the death penalty enthusiasts will be unmoved by convincing evidence of Willingham's innocence. Many of us saw "The Thin Blue Line" and witnessed the judge in the case talking at length about the importance of protecting police officers from murderers. These Texans are experts at begging the question when doubts are rasied about the innocence of the condemned men on death row. After Randall Adams was set free, the prosecutor still said he was guilty (and that as defense counsel, he would have gotten Adams off).

    But the rest of the country may not be as amused, apart from the Republican base. In Texas, Perry can perhaps write his own ticket. But even Sarah Palin as a running mate could not endear him to the rest of the electorate if he ran for President. I was not too clear on what I meant by "national political figure."

  6. Ed, there've also been several discussions of the case on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360° in the last few weeks. (For a sense of the astonishingly poor quality of Willingham's representation at trial, see esp. Cooper's Oct. 15 interview w/ his first court-appointed attorney, David Henry Martin.) This is on top of the attention given it in the national print media. I suspect Perry & his friends hope to turn the criticism to his advantage by casting it as a case of liberal outside agitators meddling in & disrespecting Texan folkways; so it's useful to recall that much of the criticism is coming from Texans.

  7. Thanks again to K for reminding us that much of the criticism is coming from within Texas. When Perry dismissed key members of the commission last month, some of us were deploring James K. Polk for bringing Texas into the Union to begin with. It is a bit late to be Monday morning quarterbacking the Polk administration, but what else could we do?

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