Should America Trust Rick Perry With Life-And-Death Power?

Rick Perry is fixing to run for president again.  Let’s hope he’s quickly eliminated, because this man is dangerous.  He has proven that he can’t be trusted with the nuclear codes or any other life-and-death decisions.  His incuriosity, poor judgment, low character, and plain stupidity disqualify him from high office.  When he’s wrong, he not only doesn’t acknowledge it, but doesn’t even realize it.  His failings were brought into clear focus by his shabby mishandling of one of America’s most controversial executions.

1.  The case

Cameron Todd Willingham, 36, was executed by the State of Texas on February 17, 2004, for the deaths of his three children in a 1991 house fire that a nationally renowned arson expert has concluded was an accident.  Willingham’s conviction rested primarily on the testimony of (a) local investigators whose conclusions have been debunked by multiple experts, and methods derided as “junk science,” and (b) a jailhouse snitch, who later disavowed his own testimony, who received leniency in exchange for testifying that Willingham admitted setting the fire, which Willingham denied right up until his death.  Wikipedia says, “Prosecutors charged that Willingham set the fire and killed the children in an attempt to cover up abuse of the girls.  However, there was no evidence of child abuse, and (their mother) told prosecutors that he had never abused the children.”  Yet Texas went ahead with executing Willingham despite flimsy evidence that a crime had even occurred.

2.  Gov. Perry’s mistakes

In 1961, a B-52 broke up in mid-flight over North Carolina and dumped its hydrogen bombs in a farm field.  One broke up on impact because its parachutes failed to deploy, but the other drifted to earth fully armed and nearly went off because 6 of its 7 safeties failed.  Only the last safety, a 50-cent switch, saved the day.  So far as is known, this incident was the closest America has come to an accidental nuclear explosion on its soil, though the world had an even closer call with accidental nuclear war in 1995, when Russian radar operators mistook a Norwegian weather rocket for an American ICBM attack and Russian President Boris Yeltsin was stopped from turning his launch key with only seconds to spare.

When all of the legal system’s other safeties fail a governor is the last safety.  If Willingham was wrongfully executed, and he probably was, you could argue that Perry wasn’t the main perpetrator — he wasn’t the incompetent arson investigator, the lying snitch, the overzealous prosecutor, the gullible jury, or the deaf and blind parole board.  But you can’t persuasively argue that his refusal to read a report calling into question the forensic evidence against Willingham is the kind of judgment we want sitting in the White House.  He was the last safety, and because that safety failed too, Willingham died.  And it didn’t just fail, it failed spectacularly:  When later confronted about this, Perry responded by calling the dead man a “wife beater,” even though no one, not even the prosecutors who called Willingham a child abuse, had ever accused him of that.  Perry apparently plucked it from thin air.  That’s not the kind of person we want in the White House, either.

Now, Perry aspires to be President of the United States.  Seriously.  (At least he’s serious, regardless of whether who else takes him seriously.)  There are many other things we could say about him, none flattering, such as his recent attempt to drive an elected prosecuting attorney from office in an effort to halt her office’s investigation of an alleged diversion of state taxpayer monies to the Texas Republican Party.  I won’t go into that incident here, but it’s part of a pattern of what you might call “Perry governance.”  Getting to the point, when the Texas Forensic Science Commission began a post-mortem review of the Willingham case in 2009, Perry replaced several of its members in an apparent effort to block that agency from coming up with findings that he had, in fact, permitted the execution of an innocent man.

What should we say about such a man?  Rick Perry running for POTUS is like a kid with a pair of scissors showing up at a hospital hiring interview for the chief of surgery position:  He’s so obviously unqualified he should be immediately aRoger Rabbit iconnd forcefully escorted off the premises by the security guards.


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