The instant article tells the story of Judith Clark. Clark was a member of the 'Weather Underground" a violent radical leftist group. One of the founders of that group was Bill Ayer's who later mentored Barack Obama. Clark was part of the group that stayed underground after its formal dissolution in 1976 . She was part of a conspiracy of her group and others that robbed a Brink's armored car in Nanuet, New York on October 20, 1981. The robbery was accompanied by the killing of a security guard and of two police officers.
Clark was convicted of three counts of armed robbery and three counts of murder, and was sentenced to three consecutive twenty-five year-to-life sentences, with eligibility for parole in 2058. There is no doubt that she did what she was accused of and no doubt that she received due process.
By my lights Clark got off very lightly. In a more civilized era than our own she would have been hanged. But, she wasn't. And now she has reappeared.
Clark claims, or rather the true believers acting in her behalf claim that she has repented, that she is remorseful, that she has taken responsibility for her crime, that she has been rehabilitated, and that she has become a model prisoner. They think she should be released, 41 years before the end of her sentence because she is so good. And, they talked Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New York into commuting her sentence to the level where the Parole Board, if it so wished, could release her.
So Clark's case was plead to the Parole Board. And the public roared in disapproval thinking it unjust that she should breathe free air whilst her victims lay in the dirt. I can't say I blame them.
Cuomo, is, like most politicians, a weasel. If he were truly convinced that justice was no longer served by keeping Clark in prison, he would have commuted her sentence to time served, but he didn't. He wanted the leftist litterati of New York to support him in his future political endeavors, but he was afraid of the anger of an enormous swath of middle class and working class of New Yorkers. So he waffled, and the Parole Board, seeing the trap, hung him out to dry.
Thus, bringing the wrath of Paul Berman down not on the Parole Board, but on the 10,000 citizens who opposed freeing Clark. Berman says: "The 10,000 signatories want to keep her in jail out of a sense of justice, or of vengeance. It is a principle, for them." Well, those are principles.
Berman goes on to ask: "But what is the principle? I think it is a principle, implacable and unyielding, that renders people deaf to human suffering." Huh? Whose suffering? The suffering of the three men Clark and her crime partners slaughtered in cold blood? The suffering of their families, who had to trudge through endless days without them. No, not their suffering. Clark's suffering of from the just punishment she has received from a merciful state.
Berman then begins his rhetorical pirouette. He says: "It is a principle without a human element—a principle that chooses to overlook the human face and the details." That is simply a lie. They know the details, they know the human faces. Not just the face of the killers, but the faces of the slain, the faces of their families, the faces of communities wracked with grief.
But, Berman is not done yet. He must turn the victims into the criminals and the criminal into a victim. "It [the popular insistence that Clark must serve her sentence] is the original sin in this tale of tragedy: heartless cruelty pursued in the name of a severe ideal. It is one more crime, on top of the other crimes—one more crime committed by people who, as they go about committing it, think all the better of themselves."
To which I can only say Holy $#;+. Clark is a murderer. She became a murderer out of her revolutionary zeal. Berman claims she was an "idealist", just like her Stalinist father. He then equates one form of "idealism", one that is understandable and, at least forgivable in the leftist literary circles in which Berman runs, with the rather ordinary belief that murderers should be punished for their crimes. And he then uses that equation to turn the moral universe upside down. Clark may be a criminal, but her victims are heartless and cruel, which makes them just as evil as Clark.
No it does not. Clark is the evil one. "Idealism" excuses nothing. Hitler was idealistic in his own warped way, So were the number 2 and 3 villains of the 20th Century, Stalin and Mao. Hitler is not excused, Stalin is not excused, Mao is not excused, and Clark cannot be excused.
And the ones who want Clark to complete the just sentence that was imposed on her. They are not evil in any way. They have done nothing wrong. They have been exemplary citizens.
Not only am I disgusted by Berman's moral inversion, but I am also disappointed by Tablet. It claims to be "a daily online magazine of Jewish news, ideas, and culture." The insistence on justice is one every Jew should know and espouse. The Torah, in Parshat Shof'tim (Dt 16:18-21:9) is quite clear about this:
You shall appoint judges and officials for your tribes, in all the settlements that the Lord, your God, is giving you, and they shall govern the people with due justice. ... Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may thrive and occupy the land that the Lord, your God, is giving you. (Dt 16:18–20)You may respond that Jews are also supposed to show mercy and compassion. To which I think the correct response is to say, yes, we should be merciful and compassionate just as is our Creator (Lv 19:2, Ex 34:6), but we must discern to whom we will be merciful and compassionate. We must also understand that mercy and compassion are ideals, but justice is a commandment. We, limited creatures that we are, must do as we are commanded first before we try to imitate God, by our own very limited lights.
Even here the the equation Berman sets up fails. The first object of our compassion should be the widows and the orphans. (Dt 14:29 Ps 146:9). Yes, the ones that Clark made into widows and orphans, not Clark, who is neither. Yes, she is human, made in God's image, and deserves compassion and mercy. But, she has received more mercy than she has earned by committing murder because she was allowed to live.
I have a couple of side notes. First. I was an undergraduate at the University of Chicago at the time when Clark sojourned there. I did not know her, all though I am pretty sure that I saw her on some occasions. It is a small school. She was expelled for taking part in a "sit-in" demonstration over the firing of some sad sack instructor. The administration was tough about that. Berman tells how Clark's father inveigled his literary friends to appeal the expulsion to the President of the University. He was tougher and more insightful than Berman and Andrew Cuomo. He said "No. She’s a bad one." If some of our spineless current college administrators were equally tough, there would be fewer terroristic acts on campuses like the assault on Charles Murray a few weeks ago.
Second: And much more importantly, this story is a small window into the class warfare that has infected America's politics over the past couple of decades. Berman gives a great glimpse into the world of the leftist intellectuals that spawned Clark, and him. In that world, Stalinism was an understandable quirk of youthful idealism. Even more radical ideologies are understandable, and the murderous actions they impel are excusable.
Against this world is set the world of ordinary working class people. They are the cops and firemen, the first responders who will lay their lives on the line to protect the good order of society and the lives and property of ordinary people. They honor those who have fallen in the line of duty. They cannot understand why anyone would think a cop killer like Clark deserves to walk free.
Berman's attack on the people who opposed freeing Clark is just like Hillary Clinton's declaration that Trump's supporters were a "basket of deplorables". It is an open declaration that the left may love the working class in theory, but that they loathe the working class that really exists in our time and space. This is all too clear to the actual working class, and is the meaning of Hillary's failure.
Be warned. Trump is just a buffoon who got lucky, the Washington Establishment is already grinding him down. He will make no real difference. As the spiritual said: "God gave Noah the rainbow sign. No more water, the fire next time."
Finally. Humor. Berman makes a great deal about how Clark's father was involved with the magazine "Dissent". In the movie Annie Hall, Woody Allen says that: "I had heard that 'Commentary' and 'Dissent' had merged and formed 'Dysentery'." Actually, both Dissent and Commentary are still being published.