Crime and punishment and sense and sensibility

Liberals oppose the death penalty. They’re really not even comfortable with the idea of punishment — “an eye for an eye makes the world blind.” Instead, forgiveness, rehabilitation, and redemption are watchwords.

Except when it comes to crimes against their political sensibilities. No concepts of forgiveness or redemption here. Instead it’s capital punishment — off with their heads! — civic heads at least, their offices, their jobs, their public trusts.

So it is with Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, whose 1984 yearbook page had a racist photo. Was it bad? Yes. Should we condemn it? Yes. Northam acknowledges as much. But is defenestration, the maximum penalty, appropriate? What of all he’s done since then for racial progress and advancing the interests of people of color? Does one decades-old picture trump everything? Where is the sense, the proportionality, the justice, in reducing a man’s entire life to literally this one photo?

Who among us has led a perfect life, a saint having never done a thing wrong?

Predictably, meanwhile, Republicans ascend to new heights of hypocrisy by piling on against Northam and jeering at Democrats over this.* There’s even an idiotic trope that it’s Democrats who are the racist party, the party of slavery even. Ignoring the last half century of history. As if the very raison d’etre of today’s Republican party isn’t to keep down people of color. Republicans bray for Northam’s head while their own Steve King, who recently defended “white supremacy” still sits in Congress — and their king of race-baiting sits in the White House.

The Northam episode, and Democrats’ extremist intolerance toward any such transgressions, are all of a piece with the left’s whole troubled relationship with freedom of speech and thought. They’re all about tolerance for differences, like sexuality and ethnicity — but not differences of ideas. We see it in political correctness enforced on campuses with Stalinist ruthlessness. Anyone expressing views outside their narrow canon is disgraced, demonized, punished, banished. Like Larry Summers booted out of Harvard’s presidency for daring to theorize that brain differences might lead fewer women into science. Or corporate chief Brendan Eich hounded from his job for having dared to support the wrong side in a public referendum on gay rights. The civic equivalent of capital punishment. Off with their heads.

How is this not exactly the kind of McCarthyism whose denunciation the left has worn as a badge of honor for six decades? They still lionize its victims — people blacklisted and unable to work because of their political opinions. Isn’t that exactly what they themselves did to Larry Summers and Brendan Eich? (But of course repression of the left is a dastardly crime. Repression by the left is all good.)

We see it as well in the excesses of “me-tooism.” Again it’s either you’re a perfect saint or off-with-your head, and nothing in between. No room for repentance, atonement, or redemption. No matter the severity of the offense, or its lack, there’s only one punishment, you must be stripped of your job and all public respectability. And so Al Franken was forced out of the Senate for behavior toward women far less egregious than Trump’s. (Though Sarah Sanders said there’s no comparison because Franken admitted wrongdoing while Trump called his accusers liars.)

It’s an irony that in one part of our culture civil standards are being enforced with Savonarolan severity, when elsewhere they’ve collapsed so far that we elected Mister “grab them by the pussy” as president.

And there he sits grinning and preening in the White House — this monster of depravity in every aspect of his existence — having the supreme shamelessness to tweet “Unforgivable!” about Northam.

* Click here to see a hyperbolic e-mail they sent me.


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