And the Boston Bar Association's claim that the death penalty provides only an "illusion of ultimate punishment" is either meaningless or untrue. The death penalty is surely more of an "ultimate punishment," whatever that term means, than imprisonment.
All these arguments are so morally and intellectually weak that one must search elsewhere for the reason people believe that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev must be allowed to keep his life.
Where shall we search? Given that opposition to the death penalty is deemed a progressive position -- meaning a left-wing position -- one has to place this opposition within the general framework of leftism. Two major characteristics of leftism, as explained in my last column, are a sympathy with, if not full adherence to, pacifism, and an unwillingness to confront evil.
It is true of global evil. The left didn't fight Communists nearly as much as it fought anti-Communists ("Cold Warriors," was a common left-wing epithet). In our time, the left doesn't fight Islamism nearly as much as it fights those who fight Islamism ("Islamophobic" is the epithet for such people).
And it is true of individual evil. The left regards murderers, rapists, thieves and other violent criminals more as victims than as contemptible. Violent criminals do what they do because of poverty, racism and inequality, progressives argue. And these are not the only reasons violent criminals aren't to blame. Secular progressive thought also denies free will, viewing all our behavior as ultimately attributable to genes and environment.
Between blaming society and denying free will, progressives are more interested in understanding violent criminals than in punishing them. That explains why in Norway, for example, the maximum sentence for murder is 21 years in prison, and few Norwegian murderers spend more than 14 years behind bars.
In their hearts, most progressive opponents of capital punishment think Norway has it right -- including with regard to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, whom they see as a young, naive victim of his older Islamist brother and his Islamist mother. On the other hand, the hearts of proponents of capital punishment focus on the photo of Tsarnaev placing a bomb next to an 8-year-old, and believe in that moment he forfeited his right to live. On this issue, the right and left not only have differing ideas, they have different hearts.
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