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Why Perry is the Frontrunner

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Perhaps the most telling moment in last night’s GOP debate was the crowd twice cheering the 234 executions Rick Perry has presided over. This would be grotesque enough if this high rate of executions was the product of a scrupulous criminal justice system. But as the case of Cameron Todd Willingham illustrates all too well, it is in fact possible for someone to get executed in Rick Perry’s Texas on the basis of no reliable evidence whatsoever, and not only will Perry let it go forward but he’ll quash any subsequent investigation. And Willingham is just the beginning — under his watch, Texas has executed juveniles, the mentally disabled, people guilty of “felony murder” (i.e. who didn’t kill anybody), and defendants with inadequate counsel. This is a record to be ashamed of, not one to boast about.

And yet, Perry was cheered. He has become the Republican frontrunner not in spite of being abominable, but in large measure because of it (although his continuing assertions that Social Security is a “Ponzi Scheme” will test the limits of this phenomenon.) It is a scary prospect indeed.  And and unlike on Social Security, his proud role as America’s Executioner Of People Who Sometimes May Even Be Guilty would if anything probably be an asset in the general election too.

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