In 1979, the acerbic novelist and literary critic Mary McCarthy sat down for an interview on public television’s “Dick Cavett Show.” Prompted to name some of her colleagues she thought were overrated, she mentioned (among others) left-wing playwright, screenwriter and memoirist Lillian Hellman, calling her “a bad writer, and a dishonest writer.”
Cavett: “What’s dishonest about her?” McCarthy: “Everything. I said once in some interview that every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the.’”
Hellman was by all accounts a prickly personality. One recent biographer called her “A Difficult Woman.” Those outside the Stalinist Left might prefer the phrase, “a nasty piece of work.” At any rate, she didn’t take McCarthy’s epic insult lying down. She sued McCarthy, Cavett, and PBS for $2.25 million. The case dragged on until it was dismissed after Hellman died in 1984, but McCarthy’s words live to this day. It’s an early example of the Streisand Effect: Hellman is remembered not just for her successful plays, films and books such as “The Children’s Hour,” “Watch on the Rhine,” and Scoundrel Time.
Thanks to her lawsuit, she also has been immortalized as the most prodigious liar of the 20th century.
Hellman and her nemesis McCarthy came to mind while I was reading one of the many prescriptions being offered by salivating liberals for the upcoming Joe Biden-Kamala Harris agenda. One David M. Perry, a historian and journalist associated with the University of Minnesota, wrote an op-ed column for USA Today under the headline: “As Trump and Barr ramp up executions, Biden must rally America to end the death penalty.”
I wouldn’t go so far as to say of Perry what McCarthy said of Hellman. For one thing, scattered among his assertions are some statements that aren’t demonstrably untrue. For another, to be a lie a falsehood has to be written with knowledge of its falsity, and I’m sure Perry believes every word of what he wrote for USA Today. Furthermore, his piece is, as I say, only one of many similar items that could be criticized, so why focus on him alone?
Nevertheless, Perry’s essay struck me as thoroughly false.
Start with its opening statement:
The American people have spoken and elected Joe Biden to be our next president.
Is that so? More than 74 million Americans voted for Donald Trump instead, and most of them think they’ve been cheated. Apparently, a substantial slice of “President-elect” Asterisk’s voters agree that their own side benefited from cheating. Is that just the result of what the DNC/MSM insist on calling “Trump’s lies about the vote tallies,” his “baseless claims” and “conspiracy theories” about election fraud? The Biden vote surpasses not only Trump’s total but also—by much wider margins—Hillary Clinton’s in 2016 and Barack Obama’s in 2008 and 2012. How much of that vote is real, and how much of it was manufactured?
I won’t go into detail about that. Others, including Peter Navarro and Mark Levin, have done it very well already. I’ll add only that the standard riposte to conspiracy theories—that they require an astonishing degree of omertà on the part of the conspirators—is unavailable here. If JFK was killed by his own CIA, or the moon landings were faked, or 9/11 was an inside job, why hasn’t some insider spilled the beans about it by now? But in the present case, the hills are alive with bean-spillers: ordinary people—many of them Democrats, but honest citizens first—who have sworn in affidavits that they witnessed, or were dragooned into participating in, illicit activities that padded the vote for Biden and Harris.
The links in the previous paragraph represent the merest sampling of what has been alleged. But none of it matters. The whole question is now moot, unless we retake the House and the Senate in 2022 and then impeach Their Fraudulencies together, thereby installing Speaker Kevin McCarthy as next in line for the presidency. What remains for us is this: We must act, here and now, not only to prevent wholesale election fraud from ever happening again, but also to counter the pernicious policy agenda of its perpetrators.
One item on that agenda, as we have seen, is the abolition of capital punishment. Take it away, Mr. Perry! He continues:
In a civilized country, the process of smoothly handing over power from one side to the other would consist, at the bare minimum, of precluding irrevocable decisions by the outgoing administration. Attorney General William Barr’s reaction: Kill as many people as he can as quickly as possible.
Quite a bloodthirsty fellow, that William Barr. Not “civilized,” like you and me.
Recalling Winston’s Churchill’s comment on Adolf Hitler’s “Night of the Long Knives”—how it “showed that the new Master of Germany would stop at nothing, and that conditions in Germany bore no resemblance to those of a civilized country”—I observe that, compared to Hitler’s henchmen, Barr is a piker. (In case people don’t know, the Night of the Long Knives refers to the summary execution of thousands of innocent Germans, on Hitler’s orders, in a single night in 1934. I mentioned the event, and Churchill’s reaction to it, in this piece I wrote for American Greatness in 2019.)
The five murderers slated for execution in the Trump presidency’s last days are Brandon Bernard, who with others robbed, kidnapped and murdered a young married couple in 1999 (he died by lethal injection on December 10); Alfred Bourgeois, who tortured and murdered his own 2-year-old daughter in 2002 (he paid the price on December 11); Lisa Montgomery, who murdered a pregnant woman so she could cut the child from her womb and abscond with it in 2004 (she is to die on January 12); Cory Johnson, a drug dealer who killed 10 people in furtherance of his business in 1992 (he’s due on January 14); and Dustin Higgs, who with an accomplice kidnapped and murdered three women in 1996 (he’ll go to his reward on January 15).
If someone can’t tell the difference between these long-overdue executions and something like what Hitler did, then he has marked himself as—to use C.S. Lewis’ words—a moral idiot.
We’ll delve deeper into Lewis’ thoughts on that in a moment. But first, let’s continue with Perry:
The Trump administration’s final spasms of state murder make one thing clear: Biden must abolish the federal death penalty. Every state should follow suit. No longer should lives be subject to the political whims of prosecutors, judges and rogue outgoing presidents.
“State murder.” One might just as well speak of imprisonment as “state kidnap” or the levying of fines as “state robbery.” Quoting Lewis again: “All killing is not murder any more than all sexual intercourse is adultery.”
Rather than burden the reader with a line-by-line exegesis of Perry’s entire essay, let me skip over some of it and go to this bit:
The Supreme Court has repeatedly found, in ever-increasing specificity, that people with intellectual disabilities are exempt from execution.
To the contrary, the court has “found” no such thing. No one ever put such a rule into the Constitution for the justices to “find.” The court simply invented the rule and imposed it on the rest of us, without the consent of anyone authorized to speak for “We the People.” The rule has nothing whatever to do with the Constitution itself.
One of the conspirators in Lincoln’s assassination, David Herold, was a simpleton, but what of it? He was hanged with the others. Was that “unconstitutional”? Again, only a moral idiot would say so.
Finally, Perry writes this:
At this moment, alas, I genuinely don’t know whether we can save these lives, though we must try through both the courts and public pressure. But after this, regardless, we’re going to need to tyrant-proof America in so many ways, so the next rogue regime can’t ignore norms when it suits them. When it comes to the death penalty, Biden should immediately commute all federal death sentences to life in prison, then rally the nation to finally commit to abolishing the death penalty for once and for all.
So, according to Perry, “we must try” to save the lives of the vile murderers listed above, and Biden “must” abolish the federal death penalty. That “one thing,” he says, is “clear.”
Perry doesn’t argue for those assertions so much as he simply issues them and lets them stand naked, as if they were self-evident, axiomatic, obvious to everyone. But are they really so?
Let’s turn again to C. S. Lewis. As a writer, he was brilliant but not especially acerbic, not prone to throwing out insults the way Mary McCarthy did. If readers are wondering what that jab at moral idiots is about, it comes from “Why I Am Not a Pacifist,” a lecture Lewis delivered to an audience of Oxford pacifists early in World War II. (It’s available online, in a two-part audio-visual format, here and here. Valuable context is provided here.) In that address, he called self-evident ideas “intuitions,” which, in the field of good vs. evil, only a “moral idiot” can fail to see. But he warned that “nothing is to be treated as an intuition unless it is such that no good man has ever dreamed of doubting it.”
So, are Perry’s imperative assertions true intuitions in that sense? If so, then they would be indisputable, and the following people would not have said the following things:
St. Paul: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’ . . . But if you do wrong, be afraid, for [the person in authority] does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”
St. Augustine: “Surely, it is not without purpose that we have the institutions of the power of kings, the death penalty of the judge, the barbed hooks of the executioner, the weapons of the soldier, the right of punishment of the overlord, even the severity of the good father. All those things have their methods, their causes, their reasons, their practical benefits. While these are feared, the wicked are kept within bounds and the good live more peacefully among the wicked. . . . It is not without advantage that human recklessness should be confined by fear of the law so that innocence may be safe among evil-doers, and the evil-doers themselves may be cured by calling on God when their freedom of action is held in check by fear of punishment.”
John Calvin: “If [rulers] sheath their sword and keep their hands unsullied by blood, while the wicked roam about massacring and slaughtering, then so far from reaping praise for their goodness and justice, they make themselves guilty of the greatest possible injustice.”
Henry Fielding: “To speak out fairly and honestly, though mercy may appear more amiable in a magistrate, severity is a more wholesome virtue. . . . The passions of the man are to give way to the principles of the magistrate. Those may lament the criminal, but these must condemn him. . . . To desire to save these wolves in society may arise from benevolence, but it must be the benevolence of a child or a fool, who, from want of sufficient reason, mistakes the true objects of his passion, as a child doth when a bugbear appears to him to be the object of fear. Such tender-heartedness is indeed barbarity, and resembles the meek spirit of him who would not assist in blowing up his neighbour’s house to save a whole city from the flames.”
Ed Koch: “During my 22 years in public service, I have heard the pros and cons of capital punishment expressed with special intensity. . . . Because I support the death penalty for heinous crimes of murder, I have sometimes been the subject of emotional and outraged attacks by voters who find my position reprehensible or worse. I have listened to their ideas. I have weighed their objections carefully. I still support the death penalty. . . . The death of anyone—even a convicted killer—diminishes us all. But we are diminished even more by a justice system that fails to function. . . . When we protect guilty lives, we give up innocent lives in exchange.”
Martin Luther: “A murderer forfeits his life, and it is right that he should be killed by the sword. . . . The Sword is indispensable for the whole world, to preserve peace, punish sin, and restrain the wicked. . . . And therefore if you see that there is a lack of hangmen, court officials, judges, lords or princes, and you find that you have the necessary skills, then you should offer your services and seek office.”
Will Rogers: “American murder procedure is about as follows: foul enough to commit a crime, dumb enough to get caught, smart enough to prove you was crazy when you committed it, and fortunate enough not to hang for it. . . . Of course, the best way out of this crime wave would be to punish the criminals, but, of course, that is out of the question! That’s barbarous, and takes us back, as the hysterics say, to the days before civilization.”
Theodore Roosevelt: “It certainly ought to be possible by the proper administration of the laws to secure swift vengeance upon the criminal. . . . Men who have been guilty of a crime like rape or murder should be visited with swift and certain punishment, and the just effort made by the courts to protect them in their rights should under no circumstances be perverted into permitting any mere technicality to avert or delay their punishment.”
Mike Royko: “Anything less than the death penalty [for murder] is an insult to the victim and society. It says . . . that we don’t value the victim’s life enough to punish the killer fully.”
OK, that’s enough. Death penalty foes, David Perry among them, are not advancing moral intuitions. That much is clear. Instead, whether wittingly or not, they’re peddling lies. The Left’s pro-criminal agenda was thwarted, for awhile, by the presidency of Donald Trump, and liberals screamed bloody murder about it the whole time. Now they think the world is theirs to do with as they wish, not just on crime and punishment, but on everything.
It will be tougher to fight them without Trump in the White House, but that’s the task at hand. Are we up for it? Like Mary McCarthy getting sued for dissing Lillian Hellman, we can’t expect the lying Left to leave us alone after taking Trump’s scalp. As the popular Trump meme put it, “In reality, they’re not after me. They’re after you. I’m just in the way.”
Now that he’s out of the way, we’d best get ready for what comes next.