In a debate during the 1988 presidential campaign, Michael Dukakis was asked a question about his opposition to the death penalty in a hypothetical situation in which his wife was murdered. He answered the question in a way that many felt was cold and some have attributed his answer as one reason why his campaign collapsed.
My how times have changed.
At last night’s Republican debate sponsored by PBS and hosted by Tavis Smiley, two Republican candidates said or all but said that they oppose the death penalty.
Ray Suarez: Congressman Paul, support has gradually been slipping for the death penalty among all Americans. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reports a large minority of whites still support capital punishment, while Blacks and Latinos do not.
Now, I know this is mostly a state function, but the president does appoint appellate judges, and of course, the highest appellate judges in the land, the Supreme Court justices, who often review death penalty cases.
Do you think the death penalty is carried out justly in the United States? And do you want to see it continued during your presidency?
Tavis: Thirty seconds, Congressman.
Rep. Ron Paul: You know, over the years, I’ve held pretty rigid all my beliefs, but I’ve changed my opinion about the death penalty. For federal purposes, I no longer believe in the death penalty. I believe it has been issued unjustly. If you’re rich, you get away with it; if you’re poor and you’re from the inner city, you’re more likely to be prosecuted and convicted.
Today, with the DNA evidence, there have been too many mistakes. So I am now opposed to the federal death penalty.
Tavis: Thank you, Congressman. Senator Brownback?
Senator Sam Brownback: We need a culture of life in the United States, a culture that recognizes every life at every stage. It’s beautiful, it’s unique, it’s a child of a loving God, period.
I have difficulty with the death penalty. This is an individual, though, in that case, that has committed a heinous crime. I think we should limit the death penalty to cases only where we cannot protect the society from the individual, such as when Osama bin Laden is caught.
We need to be able to use it then.
But we should use this very limited and only in that circumstance, in order to talk and to teach a culture of life in America.
Granted, Paul and Brownback are not considered top tier candidates for the presidency. Regardless of the outcome of this campaign, though, chances are they will run for elected office again in the future, unless I’ve missed their retirement announcements.
As has been noted before, politicians no longer have to run scared from opposing the death penalty.
Andy in Harrisburg