Friday, March 13, 2009

The American Blood Lust: Alive and well in 2009

CORRECTION: Benard Madoff has not yet gone to trial. This article incorrectly stated that he had been tried. To date, he has not.

As I watched the news coverage of the Bernard Madoff trial and his subsequent conviction earlier this week, I was struck by both a sense of relief that Mr. Madoff was no longer free to continue perpetrating his schemes on innocent people and sadness by the absolute lust for revenge I saw in some of his victims. The story repeated itself over and over as news outlets interviewed victims and asked their feelings about the fact that Madoff, who at 70 had been convicted of over $50 billion dollars in financial fraud, could be sentenced to over 150 years in prison for his crimes.

Repeatedly, I heard victims express that, even though Madoff would spend the rest of his life in prison, it still wasn't enough to satisfy their blood lust. From the tone of the interviews, the death penalty would have possibly sufficed but, too bad, it wasn't on the table.

All because of money.

Don't get me wrong, I get that people lost their life savings and some, like a 60 year old New York trial lawyer interviewed by Fox News, will probably have to continue to work a number of more years than they'd originally planned. But, in the end, it still is a financial crime. Madoff didn't kill anyone, he wasn't on the street selling drugs to neighborhood children, and, while his crimes did impact the lives of thousands of people, he isn't really a danger to society.

I think what surprised me, and surprises me almost every time cases like this come to our national attention, is our absolute need for revenge. It's not good enough that he's punished, we want him crushed. And for what reason? Is Madoff spending the rest of his life in prison going to assure that his victims get their money back? Will their lives be any better once he is incarcerated and suffering than it was while he was living in his multimillion dollar penthouse? Of course not, but that doesn't stop us from lusting after his complete destruction.

Wouldn't it make more sense to give Mr. Madoff a shorter prison sentence then make him work to pay his investors back? He's a smart, ambitious, man who could easily make millions of dollars a year that could be paid back to his victims instead of the measly $500,000 that many of them will get back in compensation for losing millions. Wouldn't that be a greater, yet fairer, punishment? Still, the American psyche demands, not only punishment, but extreme punishment. It doesn't matter if we have to continue to suffer as long as the offender is in greater pain we are. We don't want justice, we want revenge. Blood.

I'm disappointed and I think this entire case could have been handled much better. Still, in the end, it's never justice that wins; it's always our deep and abiding thirst for revenge.

And that is a true American shame.


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