Bush, Jesus and the Death Penalty
Regarding one of the most fundamental political issues?the right of the state to kill a person?the words of Jesus have had little impact on Bush. In the past two years, Gov. Bush has presided over 55 executions in Texas. That's one-third of the nation's total. Since he assumed office in 1995, his state has snuffed 112 people. In fact, one of Bush's undeniable accomplishments as governor has been to restrict the appeals process so executions could proceed with more dispatch. (In Florida, his brother Gov. Jeb?whose relationship to the carpenter-messiah is not as well-known?is attempting to copy George's "success.") What would Bush's personal savior, who himself was executed, make of this?
Simpleminded death-penalty advocates searching for religious justification can point to the "eye for an eye" chestnut in the Old Testament and ignore that inconvenient "thou shall not kill" commandment. But Bush's number-one political philosopher had some thoughts of his own on this topic. So says the United Methodist Church. That's Bush's church, for the born-again Bush has been a practicing Methodist since he married his wife Laura. In 1980, the United Methodist Church passed a resolution opposing capital punishment that noted, "In spite of a common assumption to the contrary, 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth' does not give justification for the imposing of the penalty of death. Jesus explicitly repudiated the lex talionis (Matthew 5:38-39), and the Talmud denies its literal meaning and holds that it refers to financial indemnities. When a woman was brought before Jesus having committed a crime for which the death penalty was commonly imposed, our Lord so persisted in questioning the moral authority of those who were ready to conduct the execution that they finally dismissed the charges. (John 8:31)."
As it happens, my office is next to the Washington office of a Christian denomination?Newt Gingrich lives on the floor below ours?and one of the workers there, Lisa Henderson, has long been my informal consultant on all matters biblical. I toss her questions such as, "Where do the religious conservatives get that line about wives being subservient to husbands?" In return, she shoots me queries about Judaism, such as, "Do Jews celebrate the Year 2000 New Year's?" So recently I popped my head in the door of her suite and said, "Jesus Christ and the death penalty?what do you got?" Within minutes, she had a slew of citations that ought to make Bush cringe. There's Matthew 5:21, where Jesus is said to have said: "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of judgment." Two lines earlier, Bush's greatest influence is quoted declaring, "Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least [Ten] commandments shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven." In the Book of James, this sentiment is reiterated: "Do not kill...yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law." And there is the good ol' Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus observed, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." That point is also made in James: "For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy."
As the head of the state government that has killed more people than any other?the pace of execution increased 75 percent there from 1998 to 1999?Bush has much blood on his hands. Regarding killing, Jesus' philosophy seems clear. A question for the Governor: Why has the Son of God, who supposedly has brought you salvation, left your heart untouched on this issue of life and death?
At last week's Democratic presidential debate in New Hampshire, Vice President Gore, contending with a strong and assertive performance from Bill Bradley, hailed his own leadership abilities. As evidence, he cited his role in increasing public awareness of global warming: "I decided to take on the issue of global warming and make it a national issue, when everybody was saying, you know, you're going to run a lot of risk there, people are going to think that that's kind of off the edge there. Well, now more and more people say yes it is real. And the next president has to be willing to take it on."
True, Gore has, at times, been something of a leader in this area. But his leadership has been erratic. Throughout this campaign, Gore has done little to reprise his stint as the environmental politician. When I searched The Hotline, the political insiders' daily guide, for the words "Gore" and "global warming," the most recent hit occurred in the middle of the summer, when Gore made an appearance with Bill Nye, "The Science Guy," and criticized GOPers in Congress for blocking environmental spending.
Eight years ago?after he had taken himself out of the 1992 presidential race?Gore published Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit. Conservatives still get off by combing its pages for what they consider to be examples of his gaga green extremism. The book, though, was a well-argued and seemingly heartfelt cry for far-reaching, kick-ass environmental policies. But it contains passages that should haunt Gore, sentences that deserve to be taken off the shelf again and again, whenever anyone is evaluating Gore. At the start of Chapter 14?"A New Common Purpose"?Gore wrote, "I have come to believe that we must take bold and unequivocal action: we must make the rescue of the environment the central organizing principle for civilization." Um, what happened? Has Gore behaved in a manner consistent with this revelation? When you see him on the campaign trail fighting to keep an office in the White House, do you think, "There goes a pol who wants to make the rescue of the environment the central organizing principle of civilization"?
A clue to the disappearance of the Ozone Man?that's what George W. Bush's Pop derisively called Gore in 1992?can be found in the introduction. There Gore confessed, "I have become very impatient with my own tendency to put a finger to the political winds and proceed cautiously. The voice of caution whispers persuasively in the ear of every politician, often with good reason. But when caution breeds timidity, a good politician listens to other voices... [N]ow, every time I pause to consider whether I have gone too far out on a limb, I look at the new facts that continue to pour in from around the world and conclude that I have not gone nearly far enough. The integrity of the environment is not just another issue to be used in political games for popularity, votes, or attention. And the time has long since come to take more political risks?and endure much more political criticism?by proposing tougher, more effective solutions and fighting hard for their enactment."
Somehow, it seems, the "voice of caution" has gotten to Gore. The Clinton-Gore proposals to counter global warming are far weaker than those measures advocated by scientists who have confirmed the existence of a global-warming threat. And if campaigns provide the chance to demonstrate leadership by bringing tough issues to the public, Gore so far has let the opportunity pass. A good guess is that "other voices" have told him to lay off that sky-is-falling, environmental stuff. It only depresses people. And, besides, where else are greenies going to go?
Obviously the problem of global warming has not vanished. The science continues to get clearer and more frightening. Right before Christmas, Peter Ewins, the chief executive officer of the UK Meteorological Office, and James Baker, the undersecretary in charge of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, issued a letter that contained a stern warning. Recent data collected by both agencies, they said, confirm "that our climate is now changing rapidly. These new observations, when combined with our improving understanding of the climate system, increasingly point to human influences as the cause of these climate changes." This pair of scientists noted that the 1990s was the "hottest decade of the last 1,000 years in the Northern Hemisphere." In the United States, 1999 will probably be the second warmest year on record since 1880. And, the two added, the heat is no fluke of nature: "The rapid rate of warming since 1976, approximately 0.2 degrees C per decade, is consistent with the projected rate of warming based on human-induced effects. In fact, scientists now say that they cannot explain this unusual warmth without including the effects of human-generated greenhouse gases and aerosols."
Ewins and Baker criticized the naysayers in the United States who claim the global warming threat is just hype; they mean the corporate community and its allies in conservative think tanks. "Our new data and understanding," they wrote, "now point to the critical situation we face: to slow future change, we must start taking action soon. At the same time, because of our past and ongoing activities, we must start to learn to live with the likely consequences?more extreme weather, rising sea levels, changing precipitation patterns, ecological and agricultural dislocations, and the increased spread of human disease."
Public opinion and public policy lag woefully far behind the science on this crucial environmental issue. (Forget the recent millennium-inspired blather in the punditry about whether the next century will be tagged another "American Century." It probably will be known as the Century of Sizzle. That is, if it's not dubbed the Chinese Century?imagine a billion people with cellphones!?or the Century of the Transnational Corporation.) And where's Gore? He is not throwing caution to the wind. Like George W. Bush, he, too, shows a lack of commitment to the faith he has professed.
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