The Execute-tive Branch: Can Sadam's Death Sentence Help the President
Many commentators have viewed the sudden announcement of a verdict and death sentence in the capital trial of former Iraqi President Sadam Hussein for the mass killing of Shi-ite's in the town of Dujail after a failed attempt on Sadam's life in 1982 as an advantage for President Bush and the Republican Party (whose fate seems tied to his in an election being viewed as a referendum on Bush's rule). Some, including respect NYT columnist Paul Krugman (November 6, 2006) have suggested that the administration may have consciously created such a result as an "October suprise" designed to shift the momentum of an election widely seen as headed toward gains by the Democratic Party in Congress.
Whether or not the timing of this result was politically manipulated to serve either embattled Shi-ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki or embattled Republican President George W. Bush, it testifies to the solid relationship between executive authority and the death penalty that has been a distinctive feature of "governing through crime" American style. The rise of crime, and especially violent crime, as a priveleged social problem against which government must mobilize, has cast the death penalty as a powerful tool of response. While in the past capital punishment may have been self defeating in highlighting the oppressiveness of those in power, in contemporary American democracy it has become a key bond between executive office holders (particularly governors and presidents) and their electoral publics. The ability to seek and deliver capital punishment against feared murderers has become one of the keys to the success of American governors in defining themselves as the most worthy candidates for the highest executive office, that of President. This is marked by a striking reversal of the post New-Deal pattern in which successful Presidential candidates were almost always identified with their career as federal politicians. From Truman through Ford this pattern suggested an eduring shift from state to federal experience as a prerequisite to presidential power. But starting with Democrat Jimmy Carter's 1976 victory over consummate federal politician Gerry Ford, governors have won all but one presidential election. The 1988 election was charged with issues of crime and capital punishment. Governor Dukaki's link to the parole of Willie Horton was widely credited with preventing a succesful counter attack.
Look for the administration to continue to emphasize capital punishment as a key tool in the war on terror (in the absence of any evidence that this is likely to deter terrorists).
Federal Politicians v. Governors as Presidential Nominees and Winners 1980–2004
Bush II *
- Bold indicates that the candidate’s most important political experience previous to the run for president was in the federal government.
- Italic indicates that the candidate’s most important political experience previous to the run for president was being governor of a state.
- *Bush lost the popular vote and won the electoral college only after intervention by the Supreme Court
But while it may help bolster support for Bush and the Iraqi prime minister, its role as a deterrent to future human rights violations is in doubt considering that death squads are murdering hundreds of Iraqi's with the apparent tolerance of the Iraqi prime minister.