Thoughts on the California Primary

More thoughts when I feel like it, but for now, can I just say that the Republican candidates for attorney general are terrifying?  Here’s part of what they had to say in the Voter Information Guide:

My office has prosecuted over 1,000 dangerous criminals under “Three Strikes and You’re Out” and obtained more death penalty convictions than any other district attorney in California.

Illegal immigrants are crowding our prisons, costing us billions. As Attorney General, I’ll challenge the federal government for its failure to control our borders, making it pay the bill for these prisoners. I will fight liberal, activist judges who have invented new “rights” for prisoners, causing the potential release of thousands of violent criminals from prison.

Dumping prisoners into our communities before they have served their time is not a solution to our budget problems. Instead, we should eliminate the absurdly expensive health coverage California currently gives inmates. California prisoners receive better health care than most Californians. This will end on my watch as Attorney General. I have sponsored laws to keep hardened criminals behind bars, to streamline the Death Penalty and to protect crime victims and their families.

Yes, those are your only choices if you’re a Republican or crossover Republican. Warning: lots of exegesis to follow.  Anyone who posts “you don’t know that!” or something to that effect will be laughed off the blog.  These statements are what the candidates most want people to know about them, and they’re telling.

I voted for the first one and eventual winner, Steve Cooley, because while his bragging about his death penalty record is a little too morbid and far too self-congratulatory (the death penalty being, in the best of circumstances, a necessary evil), but it’s at least relevant, and he doesn’t propose anything illegal, immoral, unconstitutional, or heinous, instead focusing on the prosecuting criminals part, which is actually his job.  There’s even an appealing bit about going after white-collar criminals and corrupt politicians.

The second guy, John Eastman, doesn’t seem to remember that part of the job description, because his entire plan is to politicize everything.  Everything is immigration or activist judges or taxes or business regulations.  Seriously; read the whole thing.  An attorney general with a fixation for undermining the opposing party is an attorney general who isn’t doing enough about actual crime, because serious crimes are not really that political.  There’s the death penalty bit, yes, but everyone agrees that the cannibal murderer should be punished.

And that isn’t even the bad part.  The warning lights really start going off when he mentions “inventing new ‘rights’ for prisoners.”  I’m sure his PR department would be quick to assure people that the scare quotes only refer to the made-up rights, not the Constitutional rights that belong to every U.S. citizen and the human rights that belong to every human being, but the phrasing gives the impression that he doesn’t really think criminals deserve rights at all, and perhaps only grudgingly respects their Constitutional rights.  (The made-up rights themselves probably cover cases like retrials when a verdict is later called into question; the lack of distinction many conservatives make between accused criminals and convicted criminals is another disturbing trend.)  Indeed, it’s likely that he doesn’t really view criminals as people at all, but as simple problems to eliminate, even more than Cooley with his notch-in-the-steering-wheel mentality.  Someone who doesn’t view other people as human is called a sociopath.  Someone who doesn’t view people he’s responsible for as human is very, very dangerous.

And then there’s Tom Harman.  He wants to streamline the death penalty.  I can only assume he views the chance of wrongfully convicted people being executed as an acceptable loss.  Highly irrevocable actions should be difficult.  Then again, maybe “streamline the death penalty” just refers to his healthcare plan.

This is the most subtle of the problems with these statements, but also one of the worst.  It sounds like Harman wants to abolish healthcare for prisoners altogether.  Certainly he wants to pare it down to the bare bones.  The trouble, of course, is that with income-free prisoners, there’s no such thing as bare bones: the government has to pay for everything.  “Just let him die of appendicitis” is not an option.

When a criminal is convicted to a prison term, the government is taking responsibility for him.  Ideally, it is accepting the responsibility to reform him and release him as a productive member of society; realistically, it is accepting the responsibility to care for him until his term is up.  Because it is eliminating his ability to earn his own money, it is responsible to provide for him, and because he can neither keep employer-provided health insurance nor earn enough to pay for medical costs out-of-pocket (as if any of us could), it is responsible for his healthcare, as well.  And, as aforementioned, there’s no way to do this other than paying for everything.  He did unintentionally make a good case for a single-payer healthcare system, though.

All three candidates seem to have blinders regarding what causes crime: not specific causes, but the fact that crime has causes at all, other than certain people just being born criminals, and that there might be ways to deal with crime other than locking said people up for life, killing them, or shipping them to Santa Rosa Island (Hughes won a gratifyingly pathetic 1.3% of the vote, by the way).  Not that criminals shouldn’t be punished, even punished severely–they should–but all punishments smack of closing the barn door after the horses are out.  After all, the crime was already committed, and no amount of justice ever fixes that.  Preventing a crime is infinitely better than prosecuting one.  I’m not promoting any idiotic crime-free hippie utopia, but merely the old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  Crime can’t be eliminated, but by addressing root causes, it can be reduced.  We don’t get a word about prevention from any of these candidates, nor any acknowledgment that there might be ways to reduce crime other than killing and/or permanently imprisoning anyone who commits one.  Being tough on crime is good, but only when coupled with attempts to keep crime from happening in the first place.  That, above all else, is what convinces me that none of these candidates are fit for the office of attorney general.

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