I am admittedly by default somewhat of a complete and utter partisan douchebag on most issues. I would like to think that I can always sufficiently back up what I believe in with solid and convincing reasoning, but it would be wrong for me to claim that I am above party-line hackery. At the same time I also believe that the “lack of bipartisanship” or the “both sides do it” theories explaining the awfulness of American politics are also flawed (just ask these fine folks who exactly is causing all of this horribleness). Nevertheless I want to take a break for a moment and recognize some really commendable thoughts coming from an unlikely source: George F. Will.
George Will to me will always be the dorky guy in Ken Burns documentaries or the author of the one book my dad owns that was written by a Republican (and that one is about baseball). However he is mainly known as the longtime establishment right-winger for the Washington Post and on ABC. He’s the old school patrician type conservative that the moderates would like to believe still exists, although I personally think that 99% of his politics are pretty psychotic (he is a global warming denier for example). However in some of his recent articles he has passionately written about issues concerning our flawed criminal justice system, particularly those affecting children.
In his most recent article Will gently addresses the concerns raised by Justice Alito in this week’s Supreme Court ruling striking mandatory sentences of life without parole for children. Will reinforces the fact that the majority still allows for LWOP sentences to be handed down to courts, and that the decision just permits judicial discretion in crafting appropriate sentences for specific defendants. In truth the decision was quite conservative in its intended effect, as the court didn’t do something that I would like to happen like establishing a “fundamental right” to childhood or being tried in the juvenile system. Instead the court simply allowed for the flexibility to make an objectively “cruel” punishment much more “unusual”; thus creating a precedent that is ideologically consistent with the previous thinking by the Robert’s court where a nasty+ infrequent calculus is required for a punishment to violate the 8th Amendment.
Will even went on to recognize the basic fact that prolonged solitary confinement is an abhorrent and inhuman practice. This sort of statement might seem to liberals to be rather obvious, but intellectual conservatives like Will (and hopefully the courts) need scientific and sociological evidence to come to this same conclusion. People like Will are starting to come to see the light on issues of juvenile justice due to the increasing evidence of biological immaturity in adolescent brains rather than reasoning that is in line with liberal or humanistic traditions (overtures derived from anecdotal evidence or genral calls for a more humane justice system).
So in short bravo Mr. Will. Your realization of the systemic problems in our criminal justice system might be 3o years too late, but at least you recognize its inequities and are using your power to correct those misconceptions. Who knows, perhaps even people like Mr. Bowtie might even start to make noise about the idiocy regarding the War on Drugs now that they are starting to look at scientific data to form their opinions instead of the conservative default of wrath and punishment.
In all this shift in thinking needs to be recognized by those of us on the left. If our strategy is truly to make life better for those on the who are most vulnerable in our society, perhaps we should actually start to focus our attention to policy issues affecting children, the poor, and even criminals. As evident by George Will’s heart growing three sizes in the last few months, we can never know who we might attract by pursuing these goals.