The Current Crisis

Not So Great Escapes

The yakking about Andrea and Russell Yates merely filled a lull in the War on Terrorism.

By 3.20.02

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Washington -- I am reluctant to enter the cacophony over Andrea Yates. In fact, I suspect the discussion is exaggerated in all its intensity and speculations. Certainly there is more of it now than back when the crime was discussed.

Possibly this is because the nation is in a heightened state of public awareness owing to the War on Terrorism. That war is temporarily in a period of lull. But the nation remains anxious, and so there follows the yakking from every perspective about every aspect of the Yates case, her culpability, her husband's culpability, the verdict, the nature of mental health, postpartum depression, and on the cacophony descends into the truly cheap. The feminists want to make their case. Other monomaniacs join in. Once again we see the wisdom of that simple timeworn apothegm, talk is cheap. After all, how many of the commentators will pay any price for the imprudence of their remarks?

Essentially the Yates case was like any other murder case save for its grisliness: a mother killing her five children by methodically drowning them. Society had to act. It had to decide if she was guilty of murder. It had to make a statement about women who kill their children. Do they get the death penalty or life imprisonment or years of psychiatric treatment?

Society responded intelligently, though I side with the judgment laid down by Charles Krauthammer when he wrote in his syndicated column: "Andrea Yates was clearly mentally deranged, not as proved by the murders -- that would make the murders self-acquitting -- but as demonstrated by her non-criminal behavior: self-injury, severe withdrawal, bizarre behavior, occasional catatonia, delusion, hallucinations.…Andrea Yates' mental illness is now masked by the Haldol she should have been taking at the time of the murders. I find it hard to see how she can be deemed by society to be truly responsible for her crime….This is not a matter of sympathy. I have infinitely more sympathy for the five innocents who died so terribly. This is a matter of justice. Guilt presupposes free will. Did Andrea Yates really have it?"

My only problem here is that if society had held that Yates was mentally ill, would it be notifying the citizenry of how profoundly serious murder is by sending her to a mental hospital? That is a major problem with mental health questions. They usually deny guilt and often diminish the loathsomeness of evil. As society learns more about mental health and how to treat it society is going to have to figure out how to reemphasize the evil of a criminal.

Not much mention of this is going to come up in the cacophony provoked by Yates's trial. Instead we are having the present "media frenzy" starring such unlikely characters as Yates' family and loquacious husband, who is turning himself into a target for feminist wrath.

Typical of the feminists' know-it-all mentality, they consider themselves experts on how the Yateses lived in the intimacy of their home. They feel Russell Yates is culpable for the children's deaths and for his wife's condition. He is defending himself. He is also becoming a media expert on other matters. The other night he appeared on "Larry King Live" and maundered on about his family life. My guess is that the feminists loved it. So did those ghouls who spin their TV dials to every show that focuses on misery and the macabre.

Well, soon the Yates fascination will fade. The War on Terrorism will pick up. The chatterboxes will weigh in with their expert advice on geopolitics, modern warfare and whatever related topic extends from this war. It is far from over. Prosecutors, intelligence officers, and members of the military expect more strikes against us here and abroad.

So soon the Yates case will be behind us, and that will be a very good thing. Caring for the mentally ill is a matter that demands a very exacting debate. Such a debate is not likely to take place on "Larry King Live" or as carried on by feminists and Russell Yates.

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About the Author
R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. is the founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator. He is the author of The Death of Liberalism, published by Thomas Nelson Inc. His previous books include the New York Times bestseller Boy Clinton: the Political Biography; The Impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton; The Liberal Crack-Up; The Conservative Crack-Up; Public Nuisances; The Future that Doesn't Work: Social Democracy's Failure in Britain; Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House; The Clinton Crack-Up; and After the Hangover: The Conservatives' Road to Recovery.