I was there on Wednesday, when Nebraska became the most conservative US state by some measure to repeal the death penalty of it's own accord. I felt the tension, at times feeling near-resigned that the 32 votes that sent the repeal to the governor's desk would be cut by political pressure to the 29 which would not be enough to override his veto. This nearly happened, but in the end the bill was sustained by the 30 votes which were exactly enough; with Tyson Larson of O'Neil coming within micrometers of flipping to the good guys to make it 31. There were at least half a dozen senators who spent this journey riding the fence between voting for/against the filibuster on the bill and the proper bill itself; and in watching the final debate on Wednesday it was clear that their flip-flops were not the result of bloodless calculation but of painfully sincere internal conflict. It is only by the merest butterfly flap that this conservative state did the shockingly right thing.
Which brings me to say that though I hate 'horse-race' politics as much as anyone I cannot help but to remember the thrill of it all more than anything, the sight of yays and nays adding up on the board until the very last name, (Lincoln's own Baker) put repeal over the top, the explosion of applause. As much as I try to realize that good should be done for it's own sake and fear those who seek to be a part of some Great Historical Epic, I cannot help but to have been enthralled by the gravity in that room, in the eyes of the world beaming down on my little prairie city and being personally invested in something.... well, Great. I was a part of something historically Great and Good and nothing can take this away from me. I know that's not the point of it. I know that getting the state out of the killing business is the point of it, that grinding away at the hierarchical worldview and self-righteous misanthropy that the death penalty embodies is the point of it. It's not about giving any buzz of pride or purpose to myself and I know that but still 'I' was there and 'I' Was a Part of This. You understand? And though I hate 'Great Man' style thinking as much as anyone I cannot help but feel the greatest admiration for Senator Chambers, who is my hero thank you very much, at the way he stood confident and composed while his life's work hung on an atomic edge. How the man stood sonfident and composed for forty years.
There was, quite naturally, a great deal of religious talk in the room, from both sides. This is not really my cup of tea but of course I cannot control how other people reason. Religion is rorschach; and what struck me about the religious arguments of death penalty supporters was how their faiths seemed much more about aggrandizing themselves than aggrandizing their god; speaking of 'not bearing the sword in vain' and generally betraying a belief (or more openly boasting than 'betraying') that all people outside of their pure communities of like minds are barbarians who must be controlled by fear to stave off chaos. Senator Brasch of the rural northeast and North Platte's own Mike Groene were especially guilty off such talk. With Groene in particular hilariously claiming that 'justice does not change.' As this man however mentally ill does not seem to be mentally challenged I assume he knows that English common law once executed people for minor pilfering and a hundred other things, that the death penalty has never been the natural common sense penalty for murder but has in fact been a means for authority that knows itself to be artificial to assert itself through horror. And if 'justice does not change' than what anyway is the point of having living legislators debating proposed laws for the living?
Such chowderheads have suffered a deep blow to their-self image here; that of being part of the Red Nation of manly asskickers showing those hippie wimps on the coasts what's what. They will naturally try to reinstate the death penalty here as quickly as possible through either the unicam or the ballot. They could succeed, just as they could have just as easily have won this round as lost it. But they aren't as guaranteed to succeed as they might think. The status quo is on our side now. There is meaningful power in this. And there is some truth the fear of liberal slippery slopes. Once everyone on a block realizes that all of them together have been secretly agreeing with the hippies this whole time things do begin to snowball. We see this with current gay marriage and weed legalization movements. Perhaps support for the death penalty remains a make-or-break requirement for the majority of Nebraska voters or perhaps not. We shall see. Come what may the great triumph for liberty that happened on Wednesday can never be taken from us, and we will never yield.