On Applauding Death During GOP Debates

Peter Wehner sheds some light on the weirdest and most troubling aspect of the recent Republican debates:

We've now had two consecutive GOP debates in which members of the audience have applauded death.

In the first debate, the context was a  question from NBC's Brian Williams to Governor Rick Perry which mentioned that during his tenure Texas had executed 234 death row inmates, more than any other governor in modern times. This elicited applause from the audience. Then, in last night's CNN/Tea Party Express debate, moderator Wolf Blitzer pressed libertarian Ron Paul on what should happen to a person who has elected not to have medical insurance and is then struck gravely ill. In the course of the colloquy, Blitzer asked Paul, "Are you saying the society should just let him die?" To which a few people in the crowd responded with hoots of "Yeah!" as well as a smattering of applause.

The applause during the first debate is perhaps understandable; I suspect what people were expressing is a sense that justice had been done to people who had themselves committed heinous crimes. But the second incident is harder to justify, especially for a party that claims to be pro-life.

Sometimes deaths can be justified; other times they are merely tragic. But whatever the circumstances, there is a troubling coarsening of people's moral sense when they begin to cheer the loss of life. Even if you believe in the death penalty, it strikes me as inappropriate to applaud hundreds of executions. And to cheer even the hypothetical death of a comatose individual because he decided against having health insurance is slightly sick.

I hope the next GOP audience will consist of people who find more uplifting things to applaud than the cessation of a life.

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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