Most Ethics Dunces named on Ethics Alarms are being chided for one, possibly anomalous, instance of ethics cluelessness, but not Richard Cohen. He is a lifetime, career-long ethics dunce. It is noteworthy when he writes something that doesn’t reek of ethics confusion.
Today he is blogging about the death penalty. There are coherent, powerful arguments that have been and can be made against the death penalty, but Cohen doesn’t bother with any of them, which, as a reflex old-school liberal, he should at least know by heart. No, he attacks the decision of Eric Holder to approve his Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s request to seek the death penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving Boston Marathon bomber as “political cowardice using one invalid argument after another, and by the way, curse you, Richard Cohen, for forcing me to defend Attorney General Holder.
Here are Cohen’s “arguments”:
- The death penalty is a horrible crime on par with Tsarnaev and his brother intentionally killing and maiming innocent spectators of the Boston Marathon. Such an absurd statement carries a high burden of proof, which Cohen doesn’t even attempt to meet.
- “[The death penalty] is the sine qua non of lack of thought, a medieval tick of the political right, a murder in the name of murder that does absolutely no good, unless it is to validate the killers’ belief in killing.” Ironically, Cohen’s post is the sine qua non of lack of thought. Since the death penalty has been around continuously since well before Medieval times, calling it a medieval tick is about as fair and accurate as calling religion, warfare, and property laws medieval tics. Of course it does good: the fact that a vicious anti-social murderer is permanently removed from society and no longer uses up resources, space and oxygen that can be better employed in the furtherance of humanity is an absolute good, and that those contemplating similarly heinous acts are on notice that the same fate awaits them is also good.
- Killing him is not going to change anything. Yes! A paid and award-winning columnist actually wrote this! Locking Tsarnaev up won’t change anything either; indeed, punishment virtually never undoes the crime leading to it, which, in Cohen’s fevered brain, argues against any punishment whatsoever. Except that he chooses only to apply this non-reasoning to the death penalty, because, well, you tell me.
- The death penalty “is on its way out in much of the world and even the United States.” This is the “Everybody doesn’t do it” variation on the “Everybody does it” rationalization. Don’t make me list all the stupid, unethical policies that much of the world pursues that the U.S. does not. The argument Cohen is making would have precluded the United States ever coming into existence.
- “We don’t even know anymore how to execute someone — witness the prolonged and allegedly agonizing death of Dennis McGuire, who recently took over 20 minutes to die.” Really despicable, Richard: you know damn well that this fiasco was the direct result of relentless litigation from anti-death penalty zealots who have exploited the sympathies of foolish judges to create the myth that an execution has to be impossibly humane. there are plenty of quick, easy, painless ways to execute a monster. Your pals have just been too successful in blocking them.
And that’s it! That’s Cohen’s entire brief against the death penalty. This slop is even unfair to death penalty opponents—it makes their argument look far lamer than it is. Is Cohen capable of making an intellectually valid case against the death penalty? If so, he was obligated to do so, and didn’t come close.
Then, for his grand finale, Cohen attacks Holder for not placing his personal opposition against the death penalty above his duty to execute the laws he is sworn to uphold. “How he’s reconciled his personal views with his public policies I cannot know — and, I bet, neither can he,” Cohen writes. This is naive and incompetent, the blather of an opinion columnist who has never had a real job. A public servant in law enforcement does not have to reconcile his personal views with his public policies, because his duty is to follow and enforce the law, whether he personally agrees with the law or not. That is true of police officers, judges, prosecutors and Attorney Generals, and if Holder could not do what Richard Cohen is criticizing him for doing, he would be even less qualified for his job than I think he is.
The death penalty is too important an issue to be discussed in such an inept, ignorant and unintelligent manner. Cohen’s post is unethical, unprofessional, and a disgrace.
Source and Graphic: Washington Post