Today, Barack Obama made a disappointing choice in speaking out against the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that executing child rapists is unconstitutional. The Washington Post reports his comments as:
“I have said repeatedly I think the death penalty should be applied in very narrow circumstances, for the most egregious of crimes,” said the Illinois senator, speaking to reporters at a hometown press conference. But he added, “I think that the rape of a small child, 6 or 8 years old, is a heinous crime, and if a state makes a decision that under narrow, limited, well defined circumstances, the death penalty is at least potentially applicable, that does not violate our Constitution.”
Obama’s position is even more disappointing because in general he has been a critic of the death penalty’s implementation and worked for reforms in Illinois. Unfortunately, Obama’s comments today smack of the same type of politics of old opportunism that Bill Clinton practiced in 1992.
In the midst of the 1992 presidential election, Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton flew home from the campaign trail to sign the death warrant for Ray Rector, who was executed on January 24, 1992. Rector had mental retardation and right before his execution asked if he could save his dessert “for later”. Many people criticized Clinton for using Rector’s execution for political purposes to shore up his appeal to moderate and conservative voters. He could have commuted Rector’s sentence to life based on his mental condition, which would have been the humane, just thing to do.
The right thing for Obama to say would have been, “Although I think that the rape of a small child, 6 or 8 years old, is a heinous crime, I support the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling, in part because it will make children safer, and in part because I believe that death is a disproportinate punishment in cases that do not include murder.”