Column: Thank You, Nebraska Republicans!

I’ve never quite understood why Republicans will jump to trash talk big government—gleefully calling to eradicate the IRS, NSA, EPA, CIA, etc.—all while embracing the death penalty. As the abundant field of GOP presidential hopefuls all vie to woo the same group of hyper-conservative white evangelicals which make up the party’s base, not one of them has attempted to make the case against the government killing its own citizens. For years the tea party has engrossed our national conversation with their reflexive distrust of all things publicly funded. Even so the sentence of death carried out by government employees has been sacrosanct.

In the last election cycle, then-Texas Governor Rick (Oops) Perry was asked by then-television anchor Brian Williams about the then-234 people who’d been put to death in his state—more than any other governor in the country. Before Perry was able to answer, the Republican crowd cheered for this power the state has to kill hundreds of prisoners

I don’t get it. If you don’t trust the government and say lamebrain sycophantic things like, “We, right now, have more words in the IRS code than there are in the Bible,” like freshman Senator Ted Cruz did while trying to make his case to kill the IRS, then why have faith in this same government to dole out the ultimate punishment?

Every candidate in the GOP’s Also-Ran Industrial Complex has professed their Christian devotion and their personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Christ was a victim of the death penalty. The Christian cross an ancient instrument of torture and death—a symbol of martyrs and of Christ’s sacrifice.  If any faith would be anti-death penalty—you’d think it’d be Christians. But alas, the death penalty abides in the Christian majority U.S.

The infamous Dubya-dubbed Axis of Evil—Iran, Iraq and North Korea—all use capital punishment. You’d think since we are against these countries because they don’t share our values, we’d not gel with their sentencing guidelines either. But America is still the only western or G8 nation to still use execution as punishment.

So it’s with great astonishment that Nebraska’s conservative majority legislature abolished the death penalty in their state this week. Even going so far as to override their Republican governor’s veto of the bill. As many have pointed out, this is the first red state in nearly 40 years to take this action. “Republican legislators who have voted in favor of abolition said they believed the death penalty was inefficient, expensive and out of place with their party’s values,” reported The New York Times.

The death penalty has devolved into a ghoulish display of our medieval revenge lust shoved up against our modern squeamishness. We no longer hold executions in public view, opting for small, private gatherings. The most sanitized method of death, the lethal injection, has recently given even the most diehard death penalty proponents pause when alternative cocktails have led to botched executions. Because these drugs are in short supply, some states have opted to bring back firing squads or the electric chair. (Why not the guillotine? If we’re going to go old school, let’s really go there.)

Since there’s plenty of evidence it’s not a deterrent and it’s more expensive than a life sentence—then why do it?

I don’t actually know the answer to that. I see no merit whatsoever in killing prisoners. I just know there are a group of Midwestern conservative legislators who against great opposition, have stood up for human rights and more effective government policy. They’ve defied their governor and their party’s platform to bring us one step closer as a nation to the ideals embraced by the rest of the civilized world.

They should be applauded.



Photo by Tommy Woodard