Former NY Times Columnist Tells Maddow 'Macho,' 'Violent' American Culture Ruining Politics of Crime

Former New York Times columnist Bob Herbert appeared on Thursday night on The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC to discuss how the death penalty demonstrates how America is marred by “such a macho culture, such a violent culture” that we would actually execute murderers and politicians haven't completely banned it.

For her part, Maddow tried to imply that there’s race-baiting politics involved, which is like preaching to Herbert’s choir. She insisted a new resurgence of tough-on-crime politics is typified by how Fox News is “trying to hype the issue of urban crime with racial overtones.”

MADDOW: Do you think that we are capable of absorbing a profound political issue like this into presidential politics, or do you think this gets glossed over?

HERBERT: I think it’s going to get glossed over. You know, I`ve been watching it for so many years. I have written a lot about the death penalty. And it’s really bizarre. It almost doesn’t matter what the individual politicians really think about the death penalty. We have such a macho culture, and such a violent culture that no politician is willing to take a chance on being perceived as soft on crime. Now, Rick Perry, I`m convinced, you know, is very much pro-death penalty. So, his decisions seem to be in line with his own personal philosophy.

MADDOW: He has killed enough people, too, to justify that as governor, yes.

Wait, wait. When a governor allows a death penalty to be administered without granting clemency, is he “killing people”? A prisoner dies, but in Maddow’s parlance, she’s making the governor of Texas sound like Rick the Ripper. But Herbert didn’t mind:

HERBERT: Right. But many other politicians that I have covered are in their hearts or in their minds opposed -- have been opposed to the death penalty, but would never come out against it.
I remember that the death penalty used to be an issue in New York City mayoral races, and the mayor had nothing to do with death penalty cases.

MADDOW: I keep expecting there to be a big resurgence, the sort of tough on crime politics. And we`ve seen, frankly, Fox News Channel, particularly in their daytime hours, sort of trying to hype the issue of urban crime with racial overtones.

HERBERT: Right.

MADDOW: It`s been happening over the last few months, but it doesn`t seem to get much traction. When you talk about tough on crime politics in the Republican Party, for me that resonates as an issue from the ‘90s -- but I feel like I’m not seeing it now.

HERBERT: You know, you`re not seeing it on the national level, but you still have tough-on-crime policies on the local level. I mean, you have the district attorneys, you have governors. Look how many governors are standing up and making a big deal out of the fact that they are in favor of the death penalty, and we have this chaos that you are describing with the lethal injection drugs.

And the governors are out there saying, you know, no, no, no, I don’t care what they do about the drugs, we’re going to figure out a way to kill these prisoners anyway, you know? They feel it`s a political winner and they’re just going for it.

Later, Herbert went back to the brutish-America line and the old saw that our barbaric executions of murderers make us look vicious in the eyes of the world and the guardians of “international norms,” just as we damaged America’s global image with the detention of terrorist suspects. (Neither Herbert nor Maddow starting talking about the detention of a Somali terror suspect on a boat for two months at Team Obama’s discretion. That might ruin the moment.) Herbert insisted:

But if the United States keeps giving the back of its hand to international norms, we`re going to -- we`re going to pay a price. We're already perceived in many parts of the world as a barbaric nation, you know, because of our military incursions, our military posture -- because of this death penalty issue, which resonates so strongly in other places, much more strongly than it does among ordinary Americans.

And, you know, and then people aren't talking about it anymore, but all the problems that we had with torture and with detainees and that sort of thing. And I think that it has taken a toll, and it`s going to continue to take a toll. And we really need to be paying much attention to the way the rest of the world perceives us.

Herbert also strangely claimed that liberals haven’t been as savvy or partisan as conservatives when it comes to Supreme Court nominations. The left “has tended to gloss over this issue,” and not the right:

And I think one of the important aspects of this story that gets overlooked, and which the left should be pushing as well, is the importance of Supreme Court appointments. So, the right has understood for decades how important this has been, and they have been working in the trenches to gain control of the federal courts for the longest time. The left has tended to gloss over this issue. And now, we`re getting all these 5-4 decisions, and here, once again, in a life and death situation, you have a 5-4 decision on the Supreme Court, split right down along ideological lines.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis