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Posted: January 10, 2009 4:02 p.m.

Playing Devil’s advocate

I'm old school, as you already know if you converse regularly with me Sunday mornings. So, it shouldn't be difficult for you to presuppose my position on a multiplicity of issues. It shouldn't surprise you to learn that I firmly support capital punishment. Nor would you be startled at my suggestion as to how best save tax money currently spent sustaining death row inmates: tomorrow morning, feed the condemned that last meal, then parade them out and do away with them!

Executing bad guys who have languished for years at taxpayer expense would save hundreds of millions of dollars, annually. Televising the executions on pay-per-view, with no commercial interruptions, might well pay off the national debt. And the bleeding hearts who demonstrate outside prison walls, demanding to prolong the lives of heinous criminals without regard for their victims, could clear their calendars and get on to more economically viable activities.

Once death row is vacant, playing "Devil's Advocate," I'd consider the national implementation of life without possibility of parole in lieu of the death penalty, for some studies suggest a long-term savings to the taxpayer over the costs of capital crimes cases and requisite appeals.

But the problem with playing "Devil's Advocate" is that you can forget about what's right in favor of what's easy. And when you start defending the indefensible, you have to blur the lines between right and wrong, just to play the game.

How criminals came to have so many rights is a perfect illustration. In 1963, Ernesto Miranda confessed to a capital crime. His confession was thrown out by the United States Supreme Court in 1965, stating that Miranda had not been informed of his right to remain silent, nor to be represented by an attorney. Miranda served time, however, receiving parole after 11 years, but was himself murdered after his release from prison. The assailant refused to cooperate with police, claiming his right to silence under "Miranda rights," and subsequently escaped to Mexico, having never been tried for killing the very man whose name garnered rights for criminals.

These and other matters came up last Tuesday, during a luncheon conversation with my daughter. She wanted to know why I adamantly oppose the federal government stepping in to keep folks in their homes who don't make their mortgage payments. Wouldn't it be better in the long run, she asked, to keep people in their homes? Evicted, won't they build 21st Century equivalents of "Hoover-villes" from the Great Depression, or turn to crime?

The remark about crime piqued my interest. I thought about death row inmates, languishing for years at taxpayer expense, essentially being rewarded for bad behavior while their victims' families continue to suffer.

Looking at the housing situation from various angles, playing "Devil's Advocate," these things occurred to me: if the federal government plans essentially to reward bad behavior by allowing those who default on their mortgages to remain in their homes, should not there be some sort of equivalent reward for responsible folks who do make their payments? If the feds plan to bail out homeowners, developers and companies who have defaulted through irresponsible, deplorable or illegal tactics, should not an equivalent break be given honorable homeowners and developers with a track record of working for good in their respective communities?

Researching this and talking to some knowledgeable folks, I found that, alas, no such break exists for those who do right. Only those who do wrong qualify for bad behavior rewards.
Sort of like Miranda and his killer.

So why should people continue to act responsibly? Why should reputable homeowners and developers struggle to stay afloat when wrong-doers seem to get away with - well - murder?

A really bright fellow hit the nail on the head for me, and I believe what he thinks is exactly right:
At the heart of the matter, the real issue here is individual freedom and responsibility. The rule of law and life as we know it in America is at stake. If the federal government, as a third party after the fact, can amend the terms of legal agreements entered into by individual citizens, it goes beyond mere governmental interference and beyond socialism.

It portends totalitarianism.

The government could easily twist the rules to end individual freedom to enter agreements without federal approval, and assign responsibility for assuring compliance to terms of the deal to government watchdogs.
Oh, yeah, that's the ticket. Let the government do it.

A fellow over in Germany tried that in the 1930's. Little by little individual freedoms were taken away from one group after another, and by the time folks realized what was happening, Hitler had total control.
Like I said, I'm old school. Right is right, and wrong is wrong. Sustaining death row inmates at taxpayer expense rewards bad behavior. Bailing out folks who bit off more than they could chew rewards bad behavior. Individual freedom carries with it responsibility to live up to your word, and if you make stupid decisions you have to deal with the consequences.
Rewarding bad behavior is just plain wrong.

Nat Harwell is a resident of Newton County. His column appears in The Covington News on Sundays.

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