The Long View 2006-11-06: Wretched Excess


Twelve years ago, dissatisfaction with W brought both houses of Congress to the Democrats. This time, it looks like the House may swing, but the Senate may not. We shall see.

Wretched Excess

So how many stunning rebukes to the Bush Administration have we seen in the past few days? There was Stars & Stripes; there was Richard Perle (who claims he was quoted out of context, but it is never good when the Prince of Darkness is only equivocally on your side); there was the Simpsons belated Halloween show. I lost count of the number of scandals, accusations, and expose' books that have been brought to the public's attention recently, all of them to the effect that the Republicans are liars and child-molesters. That is why I am not altogether surprised to see that, nationally, the Republican poll numbers had suddenly risen to a near statistical dead-heat with those of the Democrats. This comment in today's New York Times sums up the situation well enough:

Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, the Democrat leading his party’s effort to win control of the House, said, “It’s inevitable that there would be some tightening in the end.”

Still, Mr. Emanuel, who has been careful this campaign to avoid the public expressions of optimism voiced by other Democrats, added, “This is making me nervous.”

You can overdo any kind of advertising. It is a shame that Gestalt Psychology has so thoroughly fallen out of popular consciousness. Studies of voter behavior done from a Gestalt perspective showed many years ago that political advertising for one side sometimes had the effect of increasing turnout for the other side. The advertising just reminded people of the category of "politics": the semantic content of the ads was much less important.

The Republican Party, the party of Lee Atwater, would be in no position to complain if it were undone by unprincipled campaign tactics. However, it now seems that the Democrats' prospects would be far more certain if they had employed a little less venom, and injected it from fewer directions.

* * *

Regarding the death sentence just handed down to Saddam Hussein, we note three classes of objection. From The New York Times, we have the fatuous:

The editorial called for deferring the death penalty "long enough to allow the completion of a second trial, in which Mr. Hussein is charged with ordering genocidal massacres against the Kurds."

From the European Union, we have a principled response:

BRUSSELS, Nov 5 (Reuters) - The European Union urged Iraq on Sunday not to carry out the death sentence passed on Iraq's former leader Saddam Hussein after his conviction for crimes against humanity.

"The EU opposes capital punishment in all cases and under all circumstances, and it should not be carried out in this case either," Finland, current holder of the rotating EU presidency, said in a statement.

By far the most interesting was this bit of confusion from the Vatican:

VATICAN CITY, Nov 5 (Reuters) - Vatican and Roman Catholic officials said on Sunday that former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein should not be put to death even if he has committed crimes against humanity because every life is sacred...Roman Catholic Church teaching is against the death penalty except in the most extreme circumstances, stating that modern society has all the means needed to render a criminal harmless for the rest of his natural life without capital punishment...Jesuit priest Father Michele Simone, deputy director of the Vatican-approved Jesuit journal Civilta Cattolica, said ..."Even in a situation like Iraq, where there are hundreds of de facto death sentences every day, adding another death to this toll will not serve anything..."

As I have had occasion to point out before, the paradigm case for the ethical use of the death penalty would be when the continued incarceration of a convicted murderer incites violence and kidnapping by his followers, who hope to liberate him. That is precisely the case with Saddam Hussein. According to his American guards, in fact, he himself still claims to believe that he will return to power someday. Vengeance is irrelevant. The death of that man will solve a great deal.

* * *

The Presidium of the Central Committee of the Republican Party sometimes favors me with email. Just recently, they sent me this request:

With four days to go, a handful of House and Senate races will determine control of Congress. No matter where you are, you can put us over the top in this fight. How? Just pick up the phone, log on, and use your free minutes to contact 30 Republican voters in battleground states this weekend.

I have had bad experiences with political telemarketing. The callers all seem to be natives of the South and West; frequently, they do not know the local pronunciation of the names of the candidates. As it happens, I do live in a battleground state, so no one would suspect I was calling from a cubicle in Mumbai if I participated in this effort.

But no.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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