Political Animal


September 08, 2011 8:00 AM What Perry has ‘never struggled with at all’

By Steve Benen

If I had to pick the most memorable exchange of last night’s debate for the Republican presidential candidates, at least for me, it would have to be the Q&A about Rick Perry and the death penalty. Here’s the video:

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For those who can’t watch videos from your work computers, Brian Williams noted that Perry signed off on the executions of 234 people*, more than any other governor in modern times. This, remarkably, immediately generated applause from the audience. The question was, “Have you struggled to sleep at night with the idea that any one of those might have been innocent?”

Perry responded, “No, sir. I’ve never struggled with that at all. The state of Texas has a very thoughtful, a very clear process.” Asked what he made of the audience’s bloodlust positive reaction to the question and answer, the governor said, “I think Americans understand justice.”

Putting aside questions of propriety regarding capital punishment, the problem here is that it’s fairly easy to find examples of unjust executions in Texas. He’s never struggled with this? Why the hell not?

Indeed, consider the larger context. In the same debate, Perry was asked about climate change and he responded that the science “is not settled,” and trying to address the climate crisis would have a “monstrous economic impact on this country.” He doesn’t care what “some scientist somewhere” says.

Taken together, we’re learning quite a bit about how Rick Perry thinks. Scientists tell him, after rigorous, peer-reviewed, international research that global warming is real, and Perry responds, “I don’t care.” A deeply flawed judicial process puts potentially-innocent Americans on death row, and Perry responds, “Let’s get the killin’ started.”

The governor balks when presented with evidence on evolution, abstinence education, and climate change, but embraces without question the notion that everyone he’s killed in Texas was 100% guilty. The scientific process, he apparently believes, is unreliable, while the state criminal justice system is infallible.

Intellectually, morally, and politically, this isn’t just wrong; it’s scary. The fact that Republicans in the audience found this worthy of hearty applause points to a party that’s bankrupt in more ways than one.

* fixed

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • Mac on September 08, 2011 8:07 AM:

    Nothing like applauding the murder of innocent americans. Go GOP!

  • berttheclock on September 08, 2011 8:09 AM:

    No, the truly scary thing is there are many in the electorate who think and believe the same.

  • c u n d gulag on September 08, 2011 8:09 AM:

    I couldn't watch it last night.

    Not in the sense of 'could not' because I was otherwise occupied, but rather 'couldn't' because I want to retain some glimmer of sanity for as long as possible before the real political shitstorm of madness begins.

    But, based on what you just wrote Steve, I'd say WE HAVE THE EVENTUAL REBUPULICAN PRIMARY WINNER!!!

    Thoughtless, remorseless violence, and mindless refusal of expertise and science, smell like victory in today's Republican Party.

    Congratulations, Governor Perry!


  • bleh on September 08, 2011 8:16 AM:

    While I agree with what I think is your implicit point, ie, that majority Republican opinion is intellectually and morally stunted, I don't agree at all that this means the party is politically bankrupt. Quite the contrary!

    Most voters don't think about their votes much, and what thought they put into them is not much about matters moral -- and little or none is about matters intellectual. They vote on their perception of "character," and that's primarily an emotional judgment.

    And to this audience, Perry has "strong character." He is clear on his beliefs, and he is willing to act on those beliefs in the face of uncertainty and opposition. This is the same sort of response George the Lesser was trying to encourage when he said, "I'm the Decider."

    This is why Perry is in some ways the more dangerous opponent for Obama. Because he's losing people's trust in his ability to lead against opposition and in uncertain situations. And it's why the audience -- Obama-haters to a person, I would guess -- liked Perry.

  • DMC on September 08, 2011 8:18 AM:

    Yet Perry claims he will always choose life.

    It was perhaps the most disgusting thing I've ever witnessed in American politics when the crowd cheered the number of executions he's presided over. I blanched.

  • rrk1 on September 08, 2011 8:24 AM:

    Perry was true to form: Never admit to error. Never back down. Project not only confidence but certainty. And that's what he did last night. He doesn't care if he comes off as an arrogant, ignorant ass. His base loves it. Just listen to the applause. This is pure Texas machismo. Bush II was no different.

    Perry is scary as hell, but what's even scarier is his following who see him as a credible, desirable leader. What does it say about a crowd of people who revel at the announcement of over 200 people on death row in Texas? Has our moral fiber become so thin that serial public executions, televised of course, are waiting in the wings? If such spectacle appeals to the Rethug base, and I suspect it does, I can imagine Perry advocating it.

    Perry is a corrupt hustler, and is the best campaigner of the sorry bunch. Romney won't beat him, and Huntsman is too 'liberal'. The fire-breathing, blood-thirsty, fire-and-brimstone teabaggers won't be able to resist Perry no matter how he disgraces or humiliates himself. This is not an intellectual battle. It's all in the gut.

  • Brenna on September 08, 2011 8:25 AM:

    I watched the debate in abject fascination. These people were aliens to me. Their views are so different than democratic values.

    To me, Perry came across as a mindless, arrogant. loquacious Texas loudmouth. Exactly like Steve described: I don't care what scientists say, I'm right. That's his attitude. Take it or leave it. You'd think him talking about SS as a Ponzi scheme, which obviously means he'd probably gut it (although he assured seniors that under his presidency their own SS was safe - yeah, I've got some bridges in Minnesota to sell ya) would scare Americans 45+ right over to the dems side. But who knows? The climate might be right for this kind of talk. There's a lot of people will vote for ANYONE but Obama.

    Bunch of fools.

  • Jerry Elsea on September 08, 2011 8:29 AM:

    Perry is wrong about Americans being "clearly, in the vast majority of cases, supportive of capital punishment." The list of non-death penalty states is 34 and growing -- not because citizens find capital punishment deplorable on religious or moral grounds but because it's so expensive to pass all the legal obstacles on the path to execution.

    Thirty-five years ago, when the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for states to reinstall the death penalty (as long as it isn't "cruel and unusual punishment"), Americans overwhelmingly favored execution for the most heinous crimes. Today, however, various polls show a majority or near-majority endorsing life imprisonment without chance for parole.

    Texas, with its 474 executions in the modern era, is far and away the leader in capital punishment. No surprise there. Its appeals system is the most streamlined, thus cheapest. California, by contrast, leads the nation in condemned prisoners on death row, 715, but it has executed just 13 in 33 years -- thanks to the rigid appeals system -- and none in the last six years. The most common cause of death on San Quentin's death row is old age.

    Perry takes Texans' enthusiasm for capital punishment and projects it nationwide. Wednesday night's applause notwithstanding, I doubt the candidate will get much traction on that issue. Look for him to continue signing those death warrants, though. It's a way for a governor to look tough. And still mighty popular among citizens who don't think things over: It's wrong to kill people (the rationale goes), so let's kill 'em for doing it.

  • Daryl McCullough on September 08, 2011 8:29 AM:

    To me, this is a telling point about the difference between liberals and conservatives, and I don't mean a cheap shot about conservatives having no conscience. To a conservative, "doing the right thing" means following the right process, sticking to the right principles. To a liberal, "doing the right thing" means achieving a just and compassionate OUTCOME.

    I think that this difference in the meaning of justice explains so many points of disagreements between liberals and conservatives. Conservatives oppose abortion, and so they favor strict anti-abortion legislation. The fact that the outcome will be anti-life (more women dying in childbirth, dying of illegal abortions, etc.) doesn't have any power to change their minds, because banning abortions is the right thing to do. Similarly for "abstinence only" sex education: it's the right thing to do, because pre-marital sex is wrong, and the fact that the consequences are horrible--more sexually transmitted diseases, more unwanted pregnancies, more abortions--doesn't make any difference to them. They base their economic policies on an abstract notion of what's fair, what's the proper role of government, and the consequences--in terms of growing inequality, economic stagnation, rising unemployment, falling median wages--have no impact on their policies.

  • DAY on September 08, 2011 8:35 AM:

    berthteclock has it right.

    Perry is a graduate of the john Wayne school of politics.
    "Ya gotta break some eggs to make an omelet, Little Lady."
    "I don't hold much truck with that book larnin' nonsense, Pilgrim. Real men pick up the reigns, git 'er done!

    And that appeals to a vast number of Americans who struggled through high school, because they didn't see the sense of it. Not when they could be like the real men in the TV truck commercials.

    We have often noted the victimhood felt by the Right. These people feel it every day, at work, from a boss that wears a necktie- or worse, a fe-male! With Perry, they will finally get their vicarious revenge.

  • Chief on September 08, 2011 8:35 AM:

    e: the death penalty. Approximately 10 years ago, the Repub governor of Illinois declared a moratorium on executions in Illinois. A commission or some group studied the situation.

    Long story short: Of the 25 people on death row in Illinois, 13, that's right over half, were exonerated. They were innocent. Prosecutorial misconduct, withholding evidence, whatever. 13 of 25 were released and compensated for the wrongful conviction.

    Perry is truly scary if he really believes that every person who was executed on his watch was guilty and society is better off with them dead.

  • Danp on September 08, 2011 8:41 AM:

    To a conservative, "doing the right thing" means following the right process, - Daryl M

    You mean like filibusters, secret holds, hyping WMD in Iraq despite the opinions of intelligence agencies, eliminating or defunding enforcement of banking regulations, banning collective bargaining, and instituting one-sided Voter ID laws? I just cannot imagine what you mean by "the right process".

  • Live Free or Die on September 08, 2011 8:41 AM:

    I watched the debate. It was good. In the normal world, I would say Mitt won the debate hands down. But since Republicans dont believe in science and I do not know goes on in their heads, who knows? I know one thing. The death penalty thing will not hurt Perry in the primaries.

  • Kathie on September 08, 2011 8:42 AM:

    Wow. I actually pine for the dumb shoulder giggles of George W. Bush after watching this evildoer. Incredible that Perry is considered a "good Christian" by his teabag flank after executing an innocent man and sabotaging the subsequent investigation.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on September 08, 2011 8:42 AM:

    "The governor balks when presented with evidence on evolution, abstinence education, and climate change, but embraces without question the notion that everyone he’s killed in Texas was 100% guilty. The scientific process, he apparently believes, is unreliable, while the state criminal justice system is infallible."

    Very, very nicely said.

  • R. Porrofatto on September 08, 2011 8:42 AM:

    Call me Pollyanna, but I'm pretending the audience was applauding at the thought of 234 fewer Texans.

    (Okay. It was really their insatiable Gooper bloodlust, and my apologies to Texans.)

  • Grumpy on September 08, 2011 8:44 AM:

    The solution is obvious:
    Put climate change denialism on trial in Texas.

  • Bardi on September 08, 2011 8:45 AM:

    I imagine that something similar happened in Germany in the early thirties.

  • PhillyCooke on September 08, 2011 8:48 AM:

    May I add one more question to your list?

    Since when are Republicans proud of how many murderers their state produces?

    Shouldn't the question from Brian Williams have been, "Why are so many of your citizens committing capital murder?"

    Texans seem to love killing each other, and that apparently extends to those in the governor's mansion.

  • rea on September 08, 2011 8:51 AM:

    The question and Perry's answer need context. Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in Texas during Perry's tenure, and he was unquesionably innocent, convicted on the basis of junk science and perjured jailhouse snitch testimony. Perry responded by firing members of a commission investigating the matter.

  • Unstable Isotope on September 08, 2011 8:55 AM:

    Perry's confidence in his own decision-making is why I think Perry will win the nomination. We've been told since Bush that the worst thing a politician can do is change his mind (remember "flip flopper"). Romney is a flip-flopper plus he's the father of the hated Obamacare.

    A lot of people think his SS remarks will hurt him. Perhaps, but all he has to mumble about is "personalization" and Chile and he'll squeak through.

  • delNorte on September 08, 2011 8:56 AM:

    Asked what he made of the audience's bloodlust to the question and answer, the governor said, "I think Americans understand justice."

    I would be willing to bet that most of those who applauded would describe themselves as "pro-life" and would also claim that America is (or was) a "Christian country."

    Jesus preached forgiveness and "turning the other cheek," not eye-for-an-eye justice, which has more in common with survival-of-the-fittest than it does Christianity. Then again, to paraphrase Woody Guthrie, if Jesus was to preach like he preached in Galillee, these same religious folks would practice some Texas justice on his ass.

  • atlliberal on September 08, 2011 8:57 AM:

    You have to have a conscience for these kind of things to bother you. He sleeps at night just fine because he doesn't really care if any of those people are innocent.

    Perry reminds me of the stereotypical snake oil salesman.

  • truthbetold on September 08, 2011 9:03 AM:

    Was able to watch the debates last night because of the heavy rains in my area and the flash flooding and now the flooding. Kept an eye on the basement for water and an eye on the debate. No water in basement but lots of water all around, area schools closed today and some local businesses as well as roadways.
    The only thing I can say about the debates and the flooding is crap floats!

  • wvmcl2 on September 08, 2011 9:08 AM:

    Written on a bathroom wall:

    Here I sit
    With loins a-flexin'
    Giving birth
    To another Texan.

  • j_h_r on September 08, 2011 9:21 AM:

    scariest moment:

    the debate audience, before Perry gets a chance to respond, interrupting the QUESTION with applause.



    Were there a lot of out-of-towners in for support, or is the Simi Valley, California area just that f***ing full of bloodthirsty psychopaths?

    Do they even HAVE the death penalty in California? Do they want one that badly?

    What the f***.....

  • dweb on September 08, 2011 9:24 AM:

    I think we also have the perfect GOP slogan for 2012:

    I Don't Care!!!!

  • jim filyaw on September 08, 2011 9:30 AM:

    ask the typical perry supporter/tea bagger what government can do well, and you get a quick "nothing!" in justifying his enthusiasm for capital punishment, perry assures us that the byzantine processes of the justice system are fool proof. there's no real inconsistency here. perry and company are utterly consistent in indulging their hatreds, their delusions, and their interests. the existence or absence of reasonable, rational support for whatever they are pushing is relevant only so far as it profits them. pat robertson would approvingly quote charles darwin if it helped him sell whatever he was pushing. this has been clear as a bell since the advent of the gipper and falwell.

  • T2 on September 08, 2011 9:34 AM:

    Rick Perry:
    Pushes a bill requiring women to view a sonogram of the fetus before they can have an abortion ( they pay for the sonogram as well). Because he's Pro-Life.
    Executes hundreds of people. Because he's Pro-Life.

    I have seen lots of Perry and last night was typical. The guy is dumb. Just listening to his garbled attempt to both praise and blame Obama for killing Bin Laden was a great example of 1) inability to speak extemporaneously and 2) inability to make a coherent sentence.
    Frankly, I thought Huntsman and Romney sounded, well, like decent candidates. The rest are fools, idiots, buffoons or worse.

  • Emohumanist Trollop on September 08, 2011 9:49 AM:

    Yeah, I couldn't watch the clip either. The thought of dominionists (or whatever the fuck they think they are) applauding capital punishment in Texas is a sign that Texas, Peoblicans and Jesus himself have not evolved whatsoever. I know, I didn't watch so I shouldn't have a comment but the play by play was enough to elicit a dire response.

  • Kathryn on September 08, 2011 9:58 AM:

    Danp is right, many, way too many voters do not give their vote serious thought and they love certainty. They have forgotten what the certainty of Bush Jr. wrought. The certainty of Rick Perry could well destroy any hope in a future for these same voters but many will not realize it until it's too late as was the case with Bush Jr. who succeeded in bringing this country to it's knees.

    Pres. Obama must begin to project certainty, cut his answers in half and clearly show the lies in Perry's positions. It can be done, but goes against his grain.

  • Snow Man on September 08, 2011 10:09 AM:


    You need to correct this. It's not "Texas has 234 death row inmates," but that Perry has signed off on the executions of 234 people, the most by any governor.

  • Stetson Kennedy on September 08, 2011 11:50 AM:

    Tea baggers cheered because they think it pisses off liberals. It is there raison d'etre - they have no "principals" to speak of, they merely support anything they think will piss we progressives off.

    I was struck by something Digby posted from our great Viking pundit - Erik Erikson. He was agreeing with something Mann Coulter said, that the reason he liked Sarah Palin was because of her enemies. Not because of her policy prescriptions, not because of her ideology, but because these dimwits think she pisses off liberals (I hate to break it to them, Mama Grizzley doesn't piss me off, far from it, I find her hilarious. Although I don't think she intends to be taken that way).

    If you want to see the reasons for a morally, intellectually, and factually bankrup party, look no further than there.

  • Jerry Elsea on September 08, 2011 11:50 AM:

    Whoops! in my 8:29 a.m. post today, I said the list of non-death penalty states is 34 and growing. I got it turned around. It's 16 and growing. The point is the same, though.
    Americans are increasingly satisfied with life without parole for those who commit the most heinous crimes. Intriguingly, Romney's Massachusetts is one of those states without the death penalty. What a contrast with Perry's Texas.

  • JM917 on September 08, 2011 12:05 PM:

    Rick Perry isn't running for President.

    He's running for Caudillo--for Duce--and dare I allude to the H-word?--for Fuehrer.

    And that's what the GOP base wants to elect: a swaggering, gun-totin', hang-em-high macho Boss. If this were Russia, he'd be labeled as a krepkii khozayin, a "tough guy," which is what old farts there, nostalgic for the good ol' days, still fondly call Stalin.

    Everything he says and does reinforces these expectations among his base. The Texas focus group guy who responded to the question about Perry's giving the go-ahead to the questionable execution by saying admiringly that "It takes balls to execute an innocent man" spoke for the Repug base everywhere, and in particular for all those in the Reagan "Library" audience who whooped and hooted for the 234 executions.

    I repeat: The Repugs don't want a President. They want a Caudillo.

  • bob somerby on September 08, 2011 1:19 PM:

    some poll data RE death penalty:


  • Lance on September 08, 2011 1:34 PM:

    Perry responded, “No, sir. I’ve never struggled with that at all. The state of Texas has a very thoughtful, a very clear process.”

    What he forgets is as Governor HE'S supposed to be part of the "very thoughtful, very clear" process. But he's not, just because he's not "struggling" with it.

    If he REALLY believed in Capital Punishment he'd put more effort into making sure it is fair and just. He's just pandering to the bloodlust of his constituents.

  • Just a guy on September 08, 2011 4:18 PM:

    At the risk of bringing down invocations Godwin's law on my head, is there much doubt left that the tea-baggers are just the schutzstaffel of the Republican party?

  • Just a guy on September 08, 2011 4:25 PM:

    I beg your pardon. I meant to compare them to the sturmabteilung, not the SS.

  • opit on September 08, 2011 10:53 PM:

    I think the days when one should consider the invoking of Godwin's Law as anything but inevitable for the state corporate ( 'perswonhood' and all ) should be long past for any but pundits.
    Not that the memes don't flow here with mindless echo from those who think themselves 'savvy' and superior.
    Holocaust 'Denier'
    Evolution 'Denier'
    AGW 'Denier'
    Notice a pattern here ?

  • POed Lib on September 09, 2011 4:45 PM:

    Perry is simply a thug. He's basically the moral equivalent of .... well, I'm not gonna make the analogy. But he is another dictator in preparation. He is the Alpha Male. And the Alpha Male makes a good director of security, not a president.

  • Anonymous on September 09, 2011 4:48 PM:


    The little ditty? Whenever I have the profound misfortune of being in Texas, I visit every bathroom I can and write that. Texas is the most disgusting place in the country.