Tuesday, May 10, 2011

“It’ll Save The County A Lot Of Money!”

When it comes to cutting the budget deficit, hard choices have to be made. Everything must be on the table, we’re told, and true statesmanship consists of having the courage to suggest cuts in domestic programs previously considered untouchable, like Social Security. But will cuts in social spending be sufficient? Once you’ve eliminated public education, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, welfare, child support services, county health services, public libraries, public transportation, public utilities, national parks, subsidies to cowboy poets, and the dog catcher — in short, once we’ve returned to the glory days of 1800 — what’s left to cut if we’re still in the red? Our wars will still be raging and tax hikes are off the table, so chances are we’ll still be throttled with massive deficits. Clearly, we’ll have to strike out in bold new directions to put our fiscal house in order. But where?

Think outside the box:

In 1905, the citizens of Springfield, Ohio, were a little upset that a black man accused of murder was going to have a lengthy and expensive trial. Some were also convinced that he would get off with a mere slap on the wrist, presumably because our justice system was just as soft on crime back then as it is now (“He’ll only get fined for shooting in the city limits,” one citizen complained; Michael Savage’s great-granddad, perhaps?). So they decided to take matters into their own hands. They stormed the jail cell where the accused was being held and beat him to death. Then they shot his body full of holes and strung it up from a telegraph pole for the entire town to see. Journalist Ray Stannard Baker witnessed the event and recorded the aftermath. See if you can recognize Alan Simpson’s ancestor:

That was the end of that! Mob justice administered! And there the Negro hung until daylight next morning — an unspeakably grisly, dangling horror, advertising the shame of the town. His head was shockingly crooked to one side, his ragged clothing, cut for souvenirs, exposed in places his bare body: he dripped blood. And, with crowds of men both here and there at the morgue where the body was publicly exhibited, came young boys in knickerbockers, and little girls and women by scores, horrified but curious. They came even with baby carriages! Men made jokes: “A dead nigger is a good nigger.” And the purblind, dollars-and-cents man, most despicable of all, was congratulating the public:

“It’ll save the county a lot of money!”*

We’re being greased into accepting the idea that everything must be secondary to cutting budget deficits. Okay, then. Why not do away with long and costly trials for those who are plainly guilty of a horrific crime? Not petty criminals,but major felons. The worst of the worst. Why should hardworking Americans be forced to pay the legal costs of someone who is, probably, almost certainly (we think), guilty of a heinous crime, like child molestation, murder, or rape? Why give them three hots and a cot and pay for their cable TV? That’s more than their victims ever got, right? Why not just dispatch them lickety-split and save a dollar? Maybe even put a few liberal public defenders out of work as an added bonus? (I’ve heard this argument many, many times from many, many people. And you’ve had that debate with your Republican uncle, haven’t you?)

We’ve already established the legal precedent that terrorists don’t deserve due process. Take the next logical baby step. Why should common criminals be afforded rights we routinely deny to suspected terrorists? We have to stop pussyfooting around about deficits and get serious. We can’t be hamstrung by quaint legal concepts or impractical theories about unalienable rights. Those luxuries are reserved for solvent nations. If we can boot old and sick people to the curb, why should we be squeamish about handing over Jeffery Dahmer types to the mob? It’ll save us a lot of money.

Since we’re not racists anymore, we don’t have to confine ourselves to only lynching black people. We’re living in more progressive times: anyone accused of a major felony is fair game, be they white, black, yellow or brown. Maybe even include the mentally ill — anyone who isn’t a fetus or a millionaire. It would make for great television. Visionary entrepreneur Donald Trump could host the show. Lynching a white person would prove to the naysayers that he’s not a racist.

It doesn’t really sound that implausible, does it? I can easily picture Scott Walker, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor, or John Boehner sitting around on Fox and Friends calmly discussing the net economic boon of summary executions, can’t you?

*Quoted from The Progressive Movement 1900-1915, Richard Hofstadter (ed.)

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