How about Some Bleeding-Heart Conservatism?

The Democrats' plan to demonize the Romney-Ryan ticket is obvious to everyone.  "Mitt Romney killed my wife."  "Paul Ryan shoves Granny off the cliff."  "We big-hearted Democrats could shower endless benefits on everyone if only those hard-hearted Republicans would let us make 'the rich' pay 'their fair share.'"

One can only pray that Romney and Ryan will be skillful enough to debunk, and American voters astute enough to see through, the Democrats' poisonous message.  But while praying for a good defense, can't we also field a good offense?

There is a class of distressed people in America who are crying out for what might be called "bleeding-heart conservatism."  By that I don't mean more of George W. Bush's "compassionate conservatism."  We don't need conservatism with an open wallet, seeking to woo voters with new entitlements they presumably can't provide for themselves.

Bleeding-heart conservatism instead concerns itself with an indisputable responsibility of government: to protect the citizen, with the full force of the law, against wanton criminal violence.  And, unlike bleeding-heart liberalism, the conservative's heart should bleed for crime's victims, who really do deserve our pity and succor, not for crime's perpetrators, who really don't.

No one ever skewered bleeding-heart liberalism better than the 18th-century English novelist and jurist Henry Fielding.  Here's what he wrote in An Equiry into the Causes of the Late Increase of Robbers:

To desire to save these wolves in society may arise from benevolence, but it must be the benevolence of a child or a fool, who, from want of sufficient reason, mistakes the true objects of his passion, as a child doth when a bug-bear appears to him to be the object of fear.  Such tenderheartedness is indeed barbarity, and resembles the meek spirit of him who would not assist in blowing up his neighbour's house to save a whole city from the flames. ...

Here likewise is the life of a man concerned, but of what man?  Why of one ... by whom the innocent are put in terror, affronted and alarmed with threats and execrations, endangered with loaded pistols, beat with bludgeons, and hacked with cutlasses, of which the loss of health, of limbs, and often of life, is the consequence; and all this without any respect to age, or dignity, or sex.

Let the good-natured man, who hath any understanding, place this picture before his eyes, and then see what figure in it will be the object of his compassion. [1]

Compassion toward criminals is cruelty toward their victims.  That was Fielding's insight, and never in modern times was it made more blindingly obvious than when CNN anchor Bernard Shaw asked the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis if he would support the death penalty were his own wife Kitty to be raped and murdered.  Dukakis coolly replied: "No I don't, Bernard, and I think you know that I've opposed the death penalty during all of my life."

Dukakis met Shaw's plea for empathy with the victims of crime by flatly refusing to show empathy even with his own nearest and dearest.  This stark exposure of "bleeding-heart liberalism" as, in truth, stony-hearted liberalism was the death of Dukakis's campaign.  His opponent George Bush carried 40 states, including big "blue" ones like California, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.  The Dukakis debacle changed forever what Democratic presidential nominees would dare say about the death penalty.

Nevertheless, it's the Dukakis policy of sparing murderers' lives that prevails today.  In more than 99 percent of cases, the murderer continues to eat, sleep, and breathe while his victim lies cold in the ground.  Even in Texas, infamous execution capital of the nation, more than 96 percent of murderers go on living at public expense, never getting within sweating distance of death row [2].

And meanwhile, innocent people continue to be slain in their thousands, year after year -- the death toll of another 9/11 every few months [3].

But what if murderers started dying by the thousands?  Researchers have been looking into the potential effect of that possibility, and they estimate that anywhere from 3 to 50 future murders would be deterred by every execution actually carried out [4].

So we have two alternative scenarios: almost all murderers continue to live while their victims continue to die; or the murderers die instead, and their would-be successors, confronted by what Fielding called "the certainty of destruction" [5] should they shed innocent blood, think better of it. 

In the first scenario, the carnage continues indefinitely; in the second, future victims and their cowed would-be murderers both survive to see another day.  The wave of executions subsides in tandem with the crimes themselves as murder is quickly reduced to a small core of undeterrables.

Convoluted rules and procedures invented by the Supreme Court prevent, for now, our trying out that second alternative [6].  But the sheer ignorance and negligence of conservative politicians are also to blame.

I exempt liberals from this reproach.  After all, to admit that the policy they champion is getting thousands of innocent people killed would violate their entire view of the world and, more importantly, of themselves.  John Calvin once wrote that if rulers "sheath their sword and keep their hands unsullied by blood, while the wicked roam about massacring and slaughtering, then so far from reaping praise for their goodness and justice, they make themselves guilty of the greatest possible injustice" [7].  And you might just as well tell a liberal that the world is flat as that he is guilty of the greatest possible injustice.

Conservatives, however, have no such excuse.  Willful ignorance is not an option for us.  Interest and duty both demand that we take up this issue, educate the public about it, and force a sea change, by constitutional amendment if necessary, in our nation's death penalty policy.

This is where Romney and Ryan could be of immense public service while also increasing their chances of scoring a great success in November.  Let the Democrats trot out their dubious sob stories about people losing their benefits because Republicans refuse to soak the rich.  Romney and Ryan can call up an endless supply, should they care to notice it, of even more heart-rending stories of people losing their very lives because of the Democrats' obdurate refusal to give murderers their just deserts [8].

That's how bleeding-heart conservatism could turn out to be a key to victory.

Karl Spence is author of Yo! Liberals! You Call This Progress?  His work has appeared in the Chattanooga Free Press, American Thinker, and National Review.

[1] Fielding, An Enquiry into the Causes of the Late Increase of Robbers and Related Writings, ed. Malvin R. Zirker  (Oxford: Clarendon, 1988), pp. 156-157.  Spelling and punctuation modernized by this writer.  The reference to blowing up houses reflects the fact that urban fires such as the great London fire of 1666 and the San Francisco fire of 1906 were fought that way.  They'd create a firebreak with explosives, just as they do now with chainsaws and bulldozers in fighting forest fires.

[2] During the governorship of Rick Perry (January 2001 to date), some 15,000 Texans have been murdered, almost 250 murderers have been executed, and just over 300 convicts remain on death row.

[3] In 2010, even after two decades of decline in the murder rate, almost 15,000 Americans were murdered -- that's five 9/11s in a single year.

[4] The low-ball figure of 3 is mentioned in this New York Times story.  The high-ball figure of 50 is mentioned in Solicitor General Robert Bork's brief for the United States as amicus curiae in Gregg v. Georgia.  Philip B. Kurland and Gerhard Casper, edd., Landmark Briefs and Arguments of the Supreme Court of the United States: Constitutional Law (Washington, D.C.: University Publications of America, 1977)., v. 90, pp. 293-296, 332-339.  More about the science on deterrence may be found here and here.

[5] Fielding, op. cit., pp. 165-166.

[6] For a dissection of the Supreme Court's death penalty jurisprudence, see Raoul Berger, Death Penalties: The Supreme Court's Obstacle Course  (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982).

[7] Calvin, "On Civil Government" (Book IV, Chapter 20 of Institutio Christianae Religionis), Harro Hopfl, ed.  Luther and Calvin on Secular Authority  (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991), pp. 60-62.

[8] Examples can be multiplied endlessly, and many readers could supply their own from personal experience.  A few such stories may be found here, here, here, here, here at Note 1 and Note 9, here from Note 6 to Note 8, and here at Note 42.

The Democrats' plan to demonize the Romney-Ryan ticket is obvious to everyone.  "Mitt Romney killed my wife."  "Paul Ryan shoves Granny off the cliff."  "We big-hearted Democrats could shower endless benefits on everyone if only those hard-hearted Republicans would let us make 'the rich' pay 'their fair share.'"

One can only pray that Romney and Ryan will be skillful enough to debunk, and American voters astute enough to see through, the Democrats' poisonous message.  But while praying for a good defense, can't we also field a good offense?

There is a class of distressed people in America who are crying out for what might be called "bleeding-heart conservatism."  By that I don't mean more of George W. Bush's "compassionate conservatism."  We don't need conservatism with an open wallet, seeking to woo voters with new entitlements they presumably can't provide for themselves.

Bleeding-heart conservatism instead concerns itself with an indisputable responsibility of government: to protect the citizen, with the full force of the law, against wanton criminal violence.  And, unlike bleeding-heart liberalism, the conservative's heart should bleed for crime's victims, who really do deserve our pity and succor, not for crime's perpetrators, who really don't.

No one ever skewered bleeding-heart liberalism better than the 18th-century English novelist and jurist Henry Fielding.  Here's what he wrote in An Equiry into the Causes of the Late Increase of Robbers:

To desire to save these wolves in society may arise from benevolence, but it must be the benevolence of a child or a fool, who, from want of sufficient reason, mistakes the true objects of his passion, as a child doth when a bug-bear appears to him to be the object of fear.  Such tenderheartedness is indeed barbarity, and resembles the meek spirit of him who would not assist in blowing up his neighbour's house to save a whole city from the flames. ...

Here likewise is the life of a man concerned, but of what man?  Why of one ... by whom the innocent are put in terror, affronted and alarmed with threats and execrations, endangered with loaded pistols, beat with bludgeons, and hacked with cutlasses, of which the loss of health, of limbs, and often of life, is the consequence; and all this without any respect to age, or dignity, or sex.

Let the good-natured man, who hath any understanding, place this picture before his eyes, and then see what figure in it will be the object of his compassion. [1]

Compassion toward criminals is cruelty toward their victims.  That was Fielding's insight, and never in modern times was it made more blindingly obvious than when CNN anchor Bernard Shaw asked the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis if he would support the death penalty were his own wife Kitty to be raped and murdered.  Dukakis coolly replied: "No I don't, Bernard, and I think you know that I've opposed the death penalty during all of my life."

Dukakis met Shaw's plea for empathy with the victims of crime by flatly refusing to show empathy even with his own nearest and dearest.  This stark exposure of "bleeding-heart liberalism" as, in truth, stony-hearted liberalism was the death of Dukakis's campaign.  His opponent George Bush carried 40 states, including big "blue" ones like California, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.  The Dukakis debacle changed forever what Democratic presidential nominees would dare say about the death penalty.

Nevertheless, it's the Dukakis policy of sparing murderers' lives that prevails today.  In more than 99 percent of cases, the murderer continues to eat, sleep, and breathe while his victim lies cold in the ground.  Even in Texas, infamous execution capital of the nation, more than 96 percent of murderers go on living at public expense, never getting within sweating distance of death row [2].

And meanwhile, innocent people continue to be slain in their thousands, year after year -- the death toll of another 9/11 every few months [3].

But what if murderers started dying by the thousands?  Researchers have been looking into the potential effect of that possibility, and they estimate that anywhere from 3 to 50 future murders would be deterred by every execution actually carried out [4].

So we have two alternative scenarios: almost all murderers continue to live while their victims continue to die; or the murderers die instead, and their would-be successors, confronted by what Fielding called "the certainty of destruction" [5] should they shed innocent blood, think better of it. 

In the first scenario, the carnage continues indefinitely; in the second, future victims and their cowed would-be murderers both survive to see another day.  The wave of executions subsides in tandem with the crimes themselves as murder is quickly reduced to a small core of undeterrables.

Convoluted rules and procedures invented by the Supreme Court prevent, for now, our trying out that second alternative [6].  But the sheer ignorance and negligence of conservative politicians are also to blame.

I exempt liberals from this reproach.  After all, to admit that the policy they champion is getting thousands of innocent people killed would violate their entire view of the world and, more importantly, of themselves.  John Calvin once wrote that if rulers "sheath their sword and keep their hands unsullied by blood, while the wicked roam about massacring and slaughtering, then so far from reaping praise for their goodness and justice, they make themselves guilty of the greatest possible injustice" [7].  And you might just as well tell a liberal that the world is flat as that he is guilty of the greatest possible injustice.

Conservatives, however, have no such excuse.  Willful ignorance is not an option for us.  Interest and duty both demand that we take up this issue, educate the public about it, and force a sea change, by constitutional amendment if necessary, in our nation's death penalty policy.

This is where Romney and Ryan could be of immense public service while also increasing their chances of scoring a great success in November.  Let the Democrats trot out their dubious sob stories about people losing their benefits because Republicans refuse to soak the rich.  Romney and Ryan can call up an endless supply, should they care to notice it, of even more heart-rending stories of people losing their very lives because of the Democrats' obdurate refusal to give murderers their just deserts [8].

That's how bleeding-heart conservatism could turn out to be a key to victory.

Karl Spence is author of Yo! Liberals! You Call This Progress?  His work has appeared in the Chattanooga Free Press, American Thinker, and National Review.

[1] Fielding, An Enquiry into the Causes of the Late Increase of Robbers and Related Writings, ed. Malvin R. Zirker  (Oxford: Clarendon, 1988), pp. 156-157.  Spelling and punctuation modernized by this writer.  The reference to blowing up houses reflects the fact that urban fires such as the great London fire of 1666 and the San Francisco fire of 1906 were fought that way.  They'd create a firebreak with explosives, just as they do now with chainsaws and bulldozers in fighting forest fires.

[2] During the governorship of Rick Perry (January 2001 to date), some 15,000 Texans have been murdered, almost 250 murderers have been executed, and just over 300 convicts remain on death row.

[3] In 2010, even after two decades of decline in the murder rate, almost 15,000 Americans were murdered -- that's five 9/11s in a single year.

[4] The low-ball figure of 3 is mentioned in this New York Times story.  The high-ball figure of 50 is mentioned in Solicitor General Robert Bork's brief for the United States as amicus curiae in Gregg v. Georgia.  Philip B. Kurland and Gerhard Casper, edd., Landmark Briefs and Arguments of the Supreme Court of the United States: Constitutional Law (Washington, D.C.: University Publications of America, 1977)., v. 90, pp. 293-296, 332-339.  More about the science on deterrence may be found here and here.

[5] Fielding, op. cit., pp. 165-166.

[6] For a dissection of the Supreme Court's death penalty jurisprudence, see Raoul Berger, Death Penalties: The Supreme Court's Obstacle Course  (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982).

[7] Calvin, "On Civil Government" (Book IV, Chapter 20 of Institutio Christianae Religionis), Harro Hopfl, ed.  Luther and Calvin on Secular Authority  (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991), pp. 60-62.

[8] Examples can be multiplied endlessly, and many readers could supply their own from personal experience.  A few such stories may be found here, here, here, here, here at Note 1 and Note 9, here from Note 6 to Note 8, and here at Note 42.