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Reagan's common sense on capital punishment, crime, and moral absolutes

By Steve Farrell
web posted July 3, 2006

A victory for state rights, justice, and a safer America came last Monday when the Alito-led Supreme Court upheld a State of Kansas law that favors capital punishment when the evidence for or against imposing death is equal.

My morning newspaper's headline screamed in response: "Supreme Court splits over capital punishment." Followed by the opening salvo: "a splintered ruling … revealed deep division among the justices over the fairness of capital punishment."

Again, when it comes to the old media, victories for right over wrong are "etched out" by "divisive Neanderthals" and victories for wrong over right are won by clear majorities of "peacemaking progressives" Any questions?

Among the "divisive Neanderthals" for capital punishment stands former President Ronald Reagan, one of the most popular American Presidents. In a 1981 speech, he responded to the capital punishment question thus:

Well, I had an answer to that on my desk for several years while I was Governor. It was a list of the names of 12 criminals, 12 murderers, who had all been sentenced to prison, who had all served their terms or been paroled, and released. And at the time the list was on my desk, their total number of victims then was 34, not 12. I think capital punishment in the beginning might have reduced that figure considerably.

To the point and witty. Typical Reagan. Who can argue with that sort of straightforward logic? Yet, President Reagan had a larger point in mind. He continued:

But in the end, the war on crime will only be won when an attitude of mind and a change of heart takes place in America, when certain truths take hold again and plant their roots deep in our national consciousness, truths like: Right and wrong matters; Individuals are responsible for their actions; Retribution should be swift and sure for those who prey on the innocent.

We must understand that basic moral principles lie at the heart of our criminal justice system, that our system of law acts as the collective moral voice of society. There's nothing wrong with these values, nor should we be hesitant or feel guilty about [punishing] those who violate the elementary rules of civilized existence. Theft is not a form of political or cultural expression; it is theft, and it is wrong. Murder is not forbidden as a matter of subjective opinion; it is objectively evil, and we must prohibit it. And no one but the thief and murderer benefits when we think and act otherwise.

Reagan, unlike today's class of politicians, was unafraid to mention ‘the unmentionables.' Eternal rights and wrongs. Advanced civilizations make laws consistent with them. And something more: Bad stuff happens when we give ear to utopian schemes that reject such things: not just more crime, but more government, less liberty and less prosperity. President Reagan continues:

A tendency to downplay the permanent moral values has helped make crime the enormous problem that it is today … [And] it has occurred to me that the root causes of our other major domestic problem, the growth of government and the decay of the economy, can be traced to many of the same sources of the crime problem. This is because the same utopian presumptions about human nature that hinder the swift administration of justice have also helped fuel the expansion of government.

Many of the social thinkers of the 1950's and '60's who discussed crime only in the context of disadvantaged childhoods and poverty-stricken neighborhoods were the same people who thought that massive government spending could wipe away our social ills. The underlying premise in both cases was a belief that there was nothing permanent or absolute about any man's nature, that he was a product of his material environment, and that by changing that environment – with government as the chief vehicle of change through educational, health, housing, and other programs – we could permanently change man and usher in a great new era.

Well, we've learned the price of too much government: runaway inflation, soaring unemployment, impossible interest rates. We've learned that Federal subsidies and government bureaucrats not only fail to solve social problems but frequently make them worse.

The cure?

It's time … that we acknowledge the solution to the crime problem will not be found in the social worker's files, the psychiatrist's notes, or the bureaucrats budgets. It's a problem of the human heart, and it's there we must look for the answer. We can begin by acknowledging some of those permanent things, those absolute truths I mentioned before. (1)

Amen. Clear, honest, visionary thinking about right and wrong, the failures of utopian schemes that attack God and morality, and the better, higher solutions that God and morality offer – and this, from one of those "divisive Neanderthal men." Would to God there were more of them in American politics today! I'm glad to say, at least on this issue, Justice Samuel Alito has joined the ranks.

NewsMax pundit Steve Farrell is associate professor of political economy at George Wythe College, editor of the Liberty Letters, and the author of the highly praised inspirational novel "Dark Rose" (available at amazon.com). Contact Steve

Footnotes

1. "Public Papers of the Presidents, Reagan," 1981, pgs. 844- 845.


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