Monday, September 26, 2011

E.J. Dionne on the Shifting Center and Capital Punishment

Brian Gallagher noted in a recent comment on a posting here how far the center has moved to the right in American politics and culture in recent decades.  In light of Brian's observation, I'm struck by something E.J. Dionne reports today at Truthdig.

In an essay entitled "Only Conservatives Can End the Death Penalty," Dionne writes, 

It’s hard to imagine now, but in 1966, more Americans opposed the death penalty than supported it—by 47 percent to 42 percent. But the crime wave that began in the late 1960s and the sense that the criminal justice system was untrustworthy sent support for capital punishment soaring. By 1994, 80 percent of Americans said they favored the death penalty and only 16 percent were opposed.

Since then, the numbers have softened slightly. Over the last decade, the proportion of Americans declaring themselves against capital punishment has bumped around between 25 percent and 32 percent. The mild resurgence of opposition—caused by a decline in violent crime and by investigations raising doubts about the guilt of some prisoners on death row—has opened up political space for action.

I suspect that this is one snapshot among many that, if put together in a larger collage, would show how far the pendulum has swung to the right politically and culturally (and religiously) in the final decades of the 20th century and the start of the 21st century.  And to repeat I point I've made ad nauseam on this blog: the reason I find centrism a suspect solution to many of the serious problems that plague us now is that the center, as it's presently comprised, incorporates far more of the right than of the left--and centrists (who by definition follow the center) continue moving right as the center itself moves in that direction, allying themselves ever more overtly with those on the right end of the political, cultural, and religious spectrums.  

And excluding those on the left end of these spectrums ever more overtly as well . . . .

As Matthew Avery Sutton points out today in the New York Times, it's entirely possible that the American people will elect a right-wing, anti-statist, apocalpyse-dreaming Christian as president in 2012.  And if that happens, centrists--with their moral cowardice and willingness to keep validating the positions of the extreme right, while discrediting those of even the moderate left--will bear no little responsibility.

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