Let's look at the transcript:
[BRIAN] WILLIAMS: Governor Perry, a question about Texas. Your state has executed 234 death row inmates, more than any other governor in modern times. Have you...Okay, the applause interruption really does look bad. But that's not Perry.
Have you struggled to sleep at night with the idea that any one of those might have been innocent?So... "might have been innocent." Where is the information that Texas "for certain" executed "an innocent man"? I know Perry didn't "sign the death warrant," because — pay attention, Andrew Sullivan — and I'm quoting the Washington Post here: "Decisions to seek the death penalty are made by local prosecutors. Unlike in some states, the governor does not sign death warrants or set execution dates." And I'm not seeing any information in that recent article about the execution of a man known to be innocent. So what is Sullivan posturing about?
Here's Perry's answer:
PERRY: No, sir. I've never struggled with that at all. The state of Texas has a very thoughtful, a very clear process in place of which -- when someone commits the most heinous of crimes against our citizens, they get a fair hearing, they go through an appellate process, they go up to the Supreme Court of the United States, if that's required.This time the applause is fine. Perry has shown respect for the legal process and for the scope of his role as governor. He's expressed support for the death penalty in an articulate and circumspect way, and most Americans do support the death penalty. He was asked to confess that he agonizes about the possibility of mistakes, and he gave a sober — not emotive — response that refers to the safeguards of the legal process and the proportionality of the punishment.
But in the state of Texas, if you come into our state and you kill one of our children, you kill a police officer, you're involved with another crime and you kill one of our citizens, you will face the ultimate justice in the state of Texas, and that is, you will be executed.
WILLIAMS: What do you make of...
WILLIAMS: What do you make of that dynamic that just happened here, the mention of the execution of 234 people drew applause?Again, Williams —skillfully — lures Perry into the realm of emotion. Perhaps he's looking for a big moment, perhaps something like what happened to Michael Dukakis in the second presidential debate in 1988. Dukakis was against the death penalty, and the question asked by Bernard Shaw invited him to show some passion and fire about crime — what if your wife were raped and murdered? — and Dukakis stayed doggedly on his track, expressing coolly rational rejection of the death penalty.
In last night's debate, Perry declined the invitation to show passion about death — the death of the convicted murderer — and, like Dukakis, he stayed coolly rational. In Sullivan's words, he "shows no remorse" or "reflection" — but he did show reflection, reflection about the soundness of the system of justice. He didn't show remorse. Remorse is what you ask a criminal to show. It was fine for Perry not to be lured into displaying angst over executions. But then I thought it was fine for Dukakis to keep from getting sidetracked by Shaw's melodramatic hypothetical. All we're talking about is the public's response to the candidate and the journalist's effort to create excitement. The difference is, most Americans support the death penalty, and they don't need elaborate expressions about the deep significance of death when it's the death of a convicted murderer.
Perry does well at this point:
PERRY: I think Americans understand justice. I think Americans are clearly, in the vast majority of -- of cases, supportive of capital punishment. When you have committed heinous crimes against our citizens -- and it's a state-by-state issue, but in the state of Texas, our citizens have made that decision, and they made it clear, and they don't want you to commit those crimes against our citizens. And if you do, you will face the ultimate justice.That's the answer, plainly and appropriately stated. Sullivan's straining to use this to portray Perry as evil is — to my mind — and I oppose the death penalty — demagoguery.