The politics of macho

In 1992 when he was running for President in a tight Democratic primary race, Bill Clinton rushed back to Arkansas where he was governor to preside over the execution of Ricky Ray Rector.  According to a New York Times article at the time

Mr. Rector, 40 years old, was convicted in November 1982 and sentenced to die for the 1981 shooting death of Police Officer Bob Martin in Conway, Ark. He was also convicted of another murder that occurred two days earlier….

After shooting Officer Martin, Mr. Rector turned the gun on himself, destroying part of his brain. His lawyers said that even though he could speak, his mental capacities were so impaired that he did not know what death is or understand that the people he shot are not still alive.

“He is, in the vernacular, a zombie,” said Jeff Rosenzweig, a lawyer for Mr. Rector before the execution. “His execution would be remembered as a disgrace to the state.”

Mr. Rosenzweig said Mr. Clinton was harshly criticized as being soft on crime in 1980, when he was defeated by Frank White, his Republican opponent, in his first re-election bid. Mr. Clinton defeated Mr. White two years later and has been re-elected three more times.

Bill Clinton needed to show that a Democrat could be just as tough on crime as any Republican.

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin

Twenty-two years later we have Oklahoma governor, Mary Fallin, threatening to defy the Oklahoma Supreme Court while her allies in the legislature start to impeach justices.  Why?  Because they wanted to proceed with two executions.

States like Oklahoma have tried to protect drug companies by passing laws prohibiting the disclosure of what’s in their lethal injections. But attorneys have argued that state secrecy about what’s in those lethal injections violates the ban on “cruel and unusual punishment,” and some courts have agreed, including a court in Oklahoma that blocked Lockett’s execution. When the state Supreme Court backed the lower court, Fallin said she would defy it, insisting the court only had authority over civil, not criminal matters. Then the court shamefully reversed itself, after a state legislator promised to impeach the justices for staying the executions. Fallin forged ahead with the killing of Lockett and Charles Warner.

Now she is investigating what happened.  I think we know already.  Mary Fallin was so anxious to prove her toughness that she abandoned all good sense and tried to execute Clayton Lockett.  We all know how that worked out.

Then there is the critique of President Obama’s foreign policy from those who seek more military intervention in places like Ukraine and Syria.  The President has his own ideas as reported in the New York Times

On a day in which he announced new sanctions against Russia for its continued threats to Ukraine, Mr. Obama said his foreign policy was based on a workmanlike tending to American priorities that might lack the high drama of a wartime presidency but also avoided ruinous mistakes.

“You hit singles, you hit doubles; every once in a while we may be able to hit a home run,” Mr. Obama said at a news conference with Mr. Aquino. “But we steadily advance the interests of the American people and our partnership with folks around the world.”

He was mocked in some circles with it being characterized as the “Ichiro” foreign policy after Ichiro Suzuki, the former Seattle Mariner and now New York Yankee who has made a very successful career out of hitting singles.  It shows that one doesn’t always have to hit home runs; home run hitters tend to strike out a lot.

Mr. Obama offered this trip as Exhibit A for the virtues of an incremental approach: He nudged along trade negotiations with Japan, consoled a bereaved ally in South Korea, cultivated ties with a once-hostile Malaysia and signed a modest defense agreement with the Philippines.

“Why is it that everybody is so eager to use military force,” Mr. Obama said, “after we’ve just gone through a decade of war at enormous cost to our troops and to our budget. And what is it exactly that these critics think would have been accomplished?”

I was hoping that the era of macho politics was fading, but now, it seems that women governors need prove themselves just a tough as a man.  No one is saying that Clayton Lockett is a wonderful man who doesn’t deserve punishment, but perhaps Mary Fallin should take a page out of the President’s book and slow down.  Mr. Lockett wasn’t going anywhere and neither are the other inmates on Oklahoma’s death row.

Photograph: AP/Cliff Owen

 

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