Cathy Reisenwitz

Oklahoma’s botched execution highlights a sort of conservative conundrum. Clayton Lockett received lethal injection drugs at 6:23 p.m. Tuesday night, and fell unconscious after speaking and struggling for 10 full minutes. He finally died of a heart attack 43 minutes after the drugs began flowing. Lockett and another man scheduled to die on the same day had sued the state, demanding information on drugs they believed to be faulty. Instead, Oklahoma officials refused to disclose which drugs they planned to use or where they came from, and moved forward with the execution.

Here’s the fundamental issue at hand for small-government types: Conservatives are rightly skeptical of government power because they possess a full understanding of the depth and endurance of its corruption and incompetence. Skepticism toward central planning rightly informs the conservative that men in suits shouldn’t decide how people should spend their money. Yet somehow this skepticism fails to inform that perhaps those same men in suits shouldn’t decide who should live and who should die.

By all accounts, Clayton Lockett wasn’t wrongly convicted, and if anyone deserved to die for their crimes, it was him. But that doesn’t change the fundamental fact that, generally speaking, clearly bureaucrats don’t suddenly become any more omnipotent, or even any less lazy, stupid, and corrupt, when they are holding a syringe than when they are holding a checkbook.

This isn’t just conjecture. Since 1976, more than 140 people have been freed from death row after being wrongfully convicted. And according to new research, nearly four percent of U.S. capital punishment sentences are wrongful convictions, and researchers call that a “conservative estimate.” There is simply no reason to expect that the same group of imbeciles which builds too much for diapers in one year alone is going to suddenly become competent when it comes to executing people.

The fact - not the theoretical possibility, but the very real fact - that government bureaucrats execute innocent people is obviously the most compelling reason to strip that power from them. However, it’s hardly the only one.


Cathy Reisenwitz

Cathy Reisenwitz is a Young Voices Associate and a D.C.-based writer and political commentator.