It would be a lie to say I watched last night’s Republican debate. More accurately, the television was on MSNBC, Brian Williams posed questions, candidates yapped, and I sat on the couch redirecting links from my old blog Unmuzzled Thoughts to this new one. (NOTE to readers: never, ever move your blog — so much trouble. With that said, please do update your blogrolls and RSS feeds! And you may subscribe via email here. Thanks!) So while I did not intently watch the debate, I did listen to it.
One of the moments that propelled me to remove my gaze from my computer screen to the TV is the one depicted above: when the governor of Texas, Rick Perry, spoke of the 200+ people the state has executed during his tenure and the audience applauded as though they were at a Dallas Cowboys game. Here’s the exchange (transcript from the NY Times; video below):
Brian Williams: Governor Perry, a question about Texas. Your state has executed 234 death row inmates, more than any other governor in modern times. Have you…
Have you struggled to sleep at night with the idea that any one of those might have been innocent?
Rick Perry: No, sir. I’ve never struggled with that at all. The state of Texas has a very thoughtful, a very clear process in place of which — when someone commits the most heinous of crimes against our citizens, they get a fair hearing, they go through an appellate process, they go up to the Supreme Court of the United States, if that’s required. But in the state of Texas, if you come into our state and you kill one of our children, you kill a police officer, you’re involved with another crime and you kill one of our citizens, you will face the ultimate justice in the state of Texas, and that is, you will be executed.
Since my laptop was in hand, I tweeted my (horrified) reaction. And apparently, so did hundreds of others who were watching. Here’s a sampling:
@TenuredRadical: Perry gets cheered by the crowd for a record # of executions. Chilling.
@fluffydelberg: Rick Perry says he’s pro-life. He’s presided over 263 executions LOL. OKAY.
@edwardoneill: Christians cheering the death penalty. Do they remember nothing of the Roman persecution of Christians? Guess not.
@houseofwlves: People applauding Rick Perry for “Most Executions as Governor” really makes me bummed. Am I living in Thunderdome?
@michaelschaub: It would be awesome to hear Rick Perry debate Jesus on the death penalty. I don’t know the guy, but I bet he has an opinion on executions.
@csalafia: Hey, Rick Perry, if you’ve never struggled over executions, please don’t call yourself a Christian. Ever.
@thinkprogress: Saddest moment was audience applause for executions. Support or oppose the death penalty, killing 234 people not cause for applause.
What I find interesting is that a quick Twitter search for “Rick Perry debate executions” results in hundreds of tweets like these, which point out some of the GOP’s ideological inconsistencies (pro-life/pro-death, obeying God/playing God, etc.) — and virtually none that echoes the debate crowd’s approving reaction. For example, there are no “Git R Done, Perry!” tweets or “You tell ‘em, Rick!” tweets or “That audience was right on for cheering” tweets.
So what does this mean? That most people on Twitter find such behavior deplorable and/or chilling? (I hope.) That most tweeters are moderate and/or left-leaning (for my readers abroad: in America, folks against the death penalty = tree-hugging, abortion-having, feminist vegetarians)? Or finally, that Christian conservatives (i.e., those filling the majority of the seats at the debate) do not tweet, were not tweeting during the debate, or didn’t find this acclamation worthy of tweeting? I don’t know.
What I do know is that this entire scenario reminded me of the summer of 1997, when I lived in London while in a British studies program. While visiting Hampton Court Palace, I engaged in a brief conversation with a ticket-taker who recognized my American accent. She asked what part of the United States I hailed from. “Louisiana, in the South,” I told her, and then asked in return, “Have you been to the US?” As she tore my ticket, she looked at me with wide eyes and replied seriously, “No. I’m sorry, but I’ve no interest in visiting there. Your citizens believe in killing people, you know, the death penalty.” Last night’s crowd at the Republican debate does not help assuage this mentality.