Wednesday, April 23, 2008

My important experiments are stubbornly working and my unimportant ones stubbornly not working, so I find myself with nothing to do in the middle of the afternoon. Hence, reading random news articles. I found this one, which struck a chord:

In Politics, the Gaffe Goes Viral

I did note, first of all, that the idea of a journalist writing a rather incendiary article about how journalists now are out of touch with important issues and seem to be fishing for controversy is, well, rather postmodern to be honest. In a wonderful sort of way, if you ask me.

But what I found more important about the article, and more striking, is the difference in the level of constant surveillance candidates have to put up with today versus even eight years ago. (The difference, this reporter claims, is the blogging revolution: I know I had a blog eight years ago, but that was when I was a whiny teenager and blogs were for whiny teenagers).

He brings up something that I had not heard of, and was frankly appalled to read. It's an interview with George W. Bush in 1999, and here's what he says about it:

"Recall Tucker Carlson’s profile of another candidate, George W. Bush, in Talk magazine in 1999. In it, Mr. Bush gave a profane, intemperate interview in which he said, “I’m not interested in process,” and mocked Karla Faye Tucker, a convicted murderer who sought mercy from him as governor of Texas before she was executed in 1998. “Please don’t kill me,” he whimpered in mimicking her."

Okay. Now, I'm trying, honestly I am, to put all my preconceived notions about our President aside. I'm honestly trying. But it's really, really, really hard for me to think of this act as anything other than sadistic. He's governor, she's a convicted murderer, strapped to the chair; she has no power and he has every power over her fate. I'm not saying he should have pardoned her; I don't know the specifics of the case. But his democratic rival for governor of Texas brought up an interesting point:

"George W. Bush knew that he was not going to reprieve Karla Faye Tucker. He could have told her that the day before," Mauro explained. "He could have told her a week before. But he waited until the six o'clock prime time news, knowing she was strapped to a gurney still having hope about her life, and he grandstanded on her."

And, notwithstanding that, he actually mocked her plea for life in front of a reporter. I don't care if someone is a murderer, I don't care if you have to kill them for the good of humanity or to serve as a lesson for those who are thinking of committing certain crimes, I don't care if they honestly deserve death. Fine, we can have a discussion about the death penalty, and I might disagree with your specific beliefs, and I might not vote for you if you run for office, but believing any of those things or letting someone be executed because of any of those things is a morally gray decision, one that neither makes you good nor bad. However, mocking anyone's plea for life, whether that person is an innocent child or a serial killer, shows a lack of human sympathy that I simply cannot fathom. When someone says "Please don't kill me," and you let them be killed, even if you've done the right thing, it shouldn't be something to laugh about, to joke about, or to mock. Because if you laugh at that, and mock it, you're mocking and laughing at the idea of mercy, and repentance, and compassion for your fellow man, and, well, in my heretic's eyes there isn't much more holy than compassion and repentance and mercy.

Er. Well. Back to the point. George W. Bush mocked a woman on death row's plea for mercy in an official interview, and it wasn't picked up by the national media. There was no backlash. It wasn't the sort of thing that everyone knew. It didn't stop him from being elected, or, well, appointed, President in 2000. I cannot believe that the majority of people, no matter how conservative they were, would look at such a display of sadistic humor in an elected official with tolerance. I certainly hope they wouldn't.

Take, on the other hand, Obama. He calls a certain group of people bitter in a small fund raising dinner that most people thought was off-the-record. While I admit it was a stupid political move, and that I would not like to be called bitter by a candidate for president, and while he certainly alienated that group of people, well, two things strike me as odd. First off is the thought that, well, Obama is right. Those people are bitter. But they have every reason to be bitter. Every year, their paychecks gets smaller and their mortgages get larger, their kids are being shot in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the elected leaders who say that they are looking out for them seem, at best, so out of touch that they fail to offer any help whatsoever to the worsening situation. That's a good reason (several good reasons, in fact) to be bitter. More importantly, however, is that this, off-the-record comment to explain that a certain group of people has been shafted by the current administration and is understandably bitter, and so finds Obama's message of hope and unity hard to swallow, has been picked up by the national media and turned into a controversy. Obama is now an elitist pig, completely out of touch with poor rural voters, and disdainful of them. Versus Bush's comment, in an official interview, which is laughingly, disgustingly, sadistic, had no such ripples.

On the one hand, I want a press that will pick up a comment like Bush's and hound him about it until everyone knows that the speaker has, apparently, psychopathic tendencies. On the other hand, I don't want a comment like Obama's to be turned into a needless controversy. Is my own bias showing here, in that I think Obama will be a great president and Bush was a horrible one? Yes. But I hope there's more than that to my gut reaction. After all, there's a significant difference between accurately labeling one group of people as bitter and mocking a dead woman's plea for mercy.

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