Thursday, November 29, 2007

Mike Huckabee's death penalty dodge

So last night during the Republican presidential candidate YouTube debate on CNN, a viewer from Memphis, Tennessee asked a question about the death penalty. Debate moderator Anderson Cooper tossed the question to former Ark. Governor Mike Huckabee, a guy who certainly has talked out of both sides of his mouth when it comes to this issue. Let's pick up the transcript and then we'll be back with a comment:

COOPER: All right. The next question is for Governor Huckabee. Let's listen.

TYLER OVERMAN: Hi. This is Tyler Overman from Memphis, Tennessee. And I have a quick question for those of you who would call yourselves Christian conservatives. The death penalty, what would Jesus do?

COOPER: Governor Huckabee?

HUCKABEE: You know, one of the toughest challenges that I ever faced as a governor was carrying out the death penalty. I did it more than any other governor ever had to do it in my state. As I look on this stage, I'm pretty sure that I'm the only person on this stage that's ever had to actually do it. Let me tell you, it was the toughest decision I ever made as a human-being. I read every page of every document of every case that ever came before me, because it was the one decision that came to my desk that, once I made it, was irrevocable.

Every other decision, somebody else could go back and overturn, could fix if it was a mistake. That was one that was irrevocable.

I believe there is a place for a death penalty. Some crimes are so heinous, so horrible that the only response that we, as a civilized nation, have for a most uncivil action is not only to try to deter that person from ever committing that crime again, but also as a warning to others that some crimes truly are beyond any other capacity for us to fix.


Now, having said that, there are those who say, "How can you be pro-life and believe in the death penalty?"

Because there's a real difference between the process of adjudication, where a person is deemed guilty after a thorough judicial process and is put to death by all of us, as citizens, under a law, as opposed to an individual making a decision to terminate a life that has never been deemed guilty because the life never was given a chance to even exist.

COOPER: Governor?

HUCKABEE: That's the fundamental difference.


COOPER: I do have to though press the question, which -- the question was, from the viewer was? What would Jesus do? Would Jesus support the death penalty?

HUCKABEE: Jesus was too smart to ever run for public office, Anderson. That's what Jesus would do.

Note the wily dodge. Huckabee managed to score points with this crowd of Florida Republicans while not even beginning to address the question.

But out in the blogosphere, he's being called out. Check out this posting from The Fix, which is the Washington Post's main political blog:

Huckabee's response to Jesus and the death penalty was clever, but sidestepped the question. Sadly, the press marveled at yet another non-answer to a question about a serious issue. The question was intended to be a request for a Christianity-based stance on the morality of the death penalty, not a set-up for a one-liner. Huckabee said nothing about the fact that the death penalty is disproportionately applied to African-Americans, that decisions to apply it are based in slipshod police and crime lab work, or any of a host of other related, troubling issues. Quips are nice, but debates are supposed to be about establishing positions, not electing an Entertainer-In-Chief.

Well said. The poster might have added that when Jesus was on the cross, he said, "Forgive them, for they know not what they do."

There actually is a spirited debate going on over the question of Jesus and the death penalty over at the Washington Post site. You can read the exchange -- and post your own message if you'd like -- by going here.


Travis LeMaster said...

I don't see how his answer could be seen as a dodge when he answered the question? There is a fundamental difference when the state (ie. the people) have spoken and someone is sentenced to death for a crime; a crime that society has determined has an appropriate punishment in death.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I misheard his statement and am reading in to it, but I heard him say, Jesus wouldn't support the death penalty, but a politician must.

- karl

Jason said...

Given Jesus' renown as a political philosopher, it shouldn't be too hard to clear things up.

Anonymous said...

He dodged it because he probably understands that Jesus would not support the death penalty, but he can not come close to winning any election without the support of white, Southern, bible-thumping men, so as a politician he can not say what he probably actually thinks because he is afraid of losing votes from his base supporters.

Travis LeMaster said...

Anon -

Why do you think Jesus would be against the death penalty? He commanded us to obey authority, which is given by God.

Remember, the thief on the cross was forgiven, but he still had to pay the penalty for his crimes.

PersianCowboy said...

This is what Huckabee said a few years ago about the death penalty:

"carrying out the death penalty was unquestionably the worst part of my job as governor. 17 times I sat by a phone with an open line to the death chamber, and gave the verbal order for the lethal injection. I never slept well those nights. I did the job that the law prescribed for me to do, but I hated every minute of it."

LightenUp said...

Would obeying authority of the state include slavery, subjugation of women, child labor, extermination of indigenous people, genocide, state authorirized mass murder by tyrants and dictators? Should we obey and carry out the orders of heads of state such as Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein, Adolf Hitler, Mussolini?

To say that Jesus would endorse state killing of captive prisoners or other cruel abuses of power against humanity, is not just is anti-Christian.

x15zoomthru said...

Dancing Around the Issues

Gov. Huckabee in his "dance" around the death penalty question attempted to gloss over the serious issues that are (pardon the pun) the "Elephant in the Room".

As an ordained minister, he shows a shaky knowledge of Jesus' position on the death penalty at best. For example, he is apparently unaware of the fact that Jesus himself released the woman caught in the act of adultery from the death penalty that she in fact deserved under the Law of Moses in place at the time (John 8).

There are many other passages that demonstrate that Jesus, as the New Covenant or New Testament preferred mercy and restoration of the person over condemnation and destruction of their life.

In his Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-6), Jesus establishes a new teaching that outranks the one then in effect: "Up until now, you have heard the commandment 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth', but now what I say to you is: offer no resistance to injury. When a person strikes you on the right cheek, turn and offer him the other." There are two others that mark self-incriminating behavior if not lived: "Blessed are those who show mercy; mercy shall be theirs" (Matt. 5:7) and "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." (Matt. 6:12) Whether one accepts these teachings or not, one has to admit that they are what Jesus taught.

Admittedly, in all probability to stand on these words would be a fatal political position, and a political candidate's advisors would no doubt counsel steering clear of a discussion of them. And to be fair, Gov. Huckabee is not running for President as a pastor, but as a politician.

But as a serious self-proclaimed candidate for President of the United States whose chief sworn duty is "to defend the Constitution", it seems that he surely would be aware of the record number of American citizens who have been recently released from penitentiaries, including death rows after spending years of their lives there, and who only now have been proven to have been innocent all along.

True, it can be argued that if DNA testing had been available when they went to trial, they may not have gone to prison or to death row. So whose fault is that? The point is, the due process of a justice system in place at the time was followed, but that system convicted them and sentenced some to death, although in reality they were innocent. The point is if Gov. Huckabee were aware of these facts, he could hardly have used "due process" being followed as the basis for justifying the death penalty.

A visit to the Innocence Project website ( ) tells the stories of those who were innocent yet convicted, some condemned to die. The stories of these exonerated persons establish an appalling record of sometimes well intentioned, yet flawed processes, or sometimes crass incompetence on the part of public servants who are themselves sworn to serve the cause of justice and protect the rights of all citizens.

Gov. Huckabee could have used the question posed to discuss these facts and to demonstrate that he is an enlightened candidate concerned about justice in the system, if that is, indeed the case.

A simple visit to the Death Penalty Information Center ( will provide facts for every state in the union regarding their record on the administration of justice for all. A visit to the website of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty ( will reveal even more about the state of justice--or injustice--in this nation. If Gov. Huckabee were prepared to serve the Constitutional rights of all Americans, he would be familiar with these websites and the information gathered there.

The fact that Governor Huckabee can refer to a due justice process having been followed in cases only exposes the fact that he is, for all practical purposes totally uninformed of the serious developments unfolding around the death penalty and a criminally flawed justice system that executes the innocent, preys on the poor and minorities, and is sometimes even inhabited by prosecutors who seem to be more concerned about the political points to be gained by executing someone than by making certain they are guilty of the crime for which they are sent to their death at the hands of the state.

When such public officials and systems fail, they fail the Constitution and the vision of the Founders of the nation who created it. These Revolutionaries had seen enough people executed at the will and whims of those in power, with no protection of their rights to a fair trial and to equal justice under the law.

When such systems fail through the weakness or lack of serious concern of elected officials or those seeking election to public office, then it falls to the citizens of the nation to restore the system by removing from office officials who fail justice and the Constitution, and electing officials who will truly take to heart the evidence of a flawed system and who will restore it to the justice system intended by the Founders.

When all is said and done, this is a government of the people, by the people and for the people. It falls to the people to remember that when any human being is put to death in this nation, they are killed in the name of we the people. And it falls to the people to make certain that anyone who is executed is at the very least, truly guilty.

It falls to the people to entrust the lives of all Americans to candidates who have demonstrated that they take that trust seriously. And we will be accountable to the source of all Justice not only for each execution, but also for the officials we elect to administer justice--or injustice--in our name.

At this point in time, I for one am not confident that a vote for Gov. Huckabee would be a vote for one who is prepared either as a man of faith or as a candidate for President of the United States to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of this nation, or to respect the sacred value of every human life, innocent or guilty, in the eyes of the Creator and Jesus.

Anonymous said...

An inconvenient question - LOL - and a lot of "dancing around the issues," for sure!

Tom Bombadil calls it Flip-Flop Christianity.