Monday, April 15, 2013

The Politics of Suspicion

George Will has just written a good column about the railroading of the "Central Park Five," black and Hispanic teenagers who were falsely accused of carrying out the "wilding" attack in Central Park in 1989. Will is trying to make a conservative case for investing more in public defenders and eliminating the death penalty:
Finally, this recounting of a multifaceted but, fortunately, not fatal failure of the criminal justice system buttresses the conservative case against the death penalty: Its finality leaves no room for rectifying mistakes, but it is a government program, so . . .
What interests me about this column is the responses from liberals on the Post's web site, which are mostly hostile. I find this baffling. So Will makes a comment about government programs that is unnecessary; big deal. So he probably downplays the part race played in those accusations. He knows his audience; he is not trying to persuade liberals, who already oppose state executions. He wants to persuade conservatives. To do this he has to establish himself as somebody who doesn't see racism everywhere, and he has to put the argument in terms conservatives will understand: do you trust the government to decide who deserves to die?

The insistence that only people on the right side can be credited with good ideas annoys me. Ideas are good or bad regardless of who advances them. If Will can persuade a few thousand conservatives to turn against execution, who cares if his motives are pure or if his arguments would persuade me? Liberals are a minority of Americans. To accomplish our goals, we have to have allies. Why push potential allies away because their thinking is insufficiently correct?

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