Bush's Death Watch

By Hitchens, Christopher | The Nation, August 23, 1999 | Go to article overview

Bush's Death Watch


Hitchens, Christopher, The Nation


In rather the same way as new movies are now "reviewed" in terms of their first weekend gross, new candidates have become subject to evaluation by the dimensions of their "war chest." This silly, archaic expression defines other equally vapid terms like "credibility" and "electability" and "name recognition," which become subliminally attached to it. In many cases the crude cash-flow measure is as useful in deciding on a politician as it is in making a choice at the multiplex; you might as well see the worthless movie that everyone else has seen, or express an interest in the unbearably light "front runner," so as not to be left out of the national "conversation."

The hidden costs, alas, include a complete erosion of the critical faculties. I am as enthralled as the next person by the sheaves of money assembled for George Walker Bush. (What did he do to be shorn at birth of his Herbert?) But I'm even more fascinated by the fact that on June 17 he signed his hundredth death warrant. There was an execution on the day of his inauguration as governor of Texas, which I don't count, and there has been one every two weeks or so ever since. Part of a governor's job is to review capital cases: This means that Bush has either (a) been doing little else but reviewing death sentences or (b) been signing death warrants as fast as they can be put in front of him.

This may also be helping him gain some of that much needed "foreign policy experience" about which the pundits have made the occasional frown. State officials from the Philippines and Guatemala have been touring lethal chambers in the United States as part of their research into improved methods, and according to Amnesty International a Filipino official was allowed to watch a killing in Texas in 1997. He wouldn't have had to hang about very long to get this job experience.

The thorny question of race-always such a minefield for the aspiring Republican candidate-also gets a workout by this means. Many people remember the case of Karla Faye Tucker, the born-again pickax-murderess who showed-at least by the standard of Christian fundamentalism-signs of having been rehabilitated. Governor Bush snuffed her in February of last year, over the protests of Pat Robertson and others. But had he commuted her sentence, he would have been faced with executing a black woman, Erica Sheppard, who was next in line on the female death row and had forgone her appeal. Spare a photogenic white girl and then kill a defiant black one? Better to do away with both and avoid the fuss altogether. (Sheppard has since recovered her determination to appeal, and recently took part in a protest against the strip-searching of female inmates in front of male guards, another feature of the Texas criminal justice system.)

Then there's the aspect that touches "communities of faith," or whatever you choose to call them. Governor Bush has proposed that the social safety net be maintained by religious charities, and he hopes to make these points of light his auxiliaries in ending such welfare as we still know. …

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