European Dignity, American Rights

For many years, a delegation of European Union ambassadors to the United States would troop off to Foggy Bottom for an annual meeting with the Secretary of State at which its members would solemnly demand that the U.S. abolish the death penalty on the grounds that it was a violation of human rights. Every year, the Secretary of State or his representative would politely explain that capital punishment was not a federal responsibility but a question to be determined by individual states. And every year this would make not an ounce of difference; the ambassadors would duly turn up the following year and make the same request.

For all I know, this quaint ceremony continues still, in all its showy pointlessness — like the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. The European Union has adopted the abolition of capital punishment as one of the main aims of its common foreign policy. It regularly sends out diplomatic delegations to urge lesser breeds without the law — the Philippines, Indonesia, the U.S. — to conform to its high “European values” on this matter. I suppose that, when the financial roof is falling in and the wind is howling through broken windows, giving self-righteous moral lectures to your IMF creditors is one way of keeping warm. (Not the best way, of course, but one way at least.)

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