Wednesday, December 17, 2003


Democrats shift on death penalty
By Brian C. Mooney, Globe Staff, 12/7/2003

The highlights:
Soft on crime. Through the 1970s and '80s, Republicans flogged their Democratic opponents with those three words. George S. McGovern, Jimmy Carter, Walter F. Mondale, and Michael S. Dukakis all opposed the death penalty.

In 1988, Dukakis's stock crashed after he was asked whether he would favor the death penalty if his wife was raped and murdered. He replied with detachment: "I don't see any evidence that it's a deterrent, and I think there are better and more effective ways to deal with violent crime. We've done so in my own state."

He went on to lose 40 states to George H. W. Bush.

In 1992, party orthodoxy shifted. A self-styled "new Democrat," Governor Bill Clinton of Arkansas not only favored capital punishment, he also returned to Little Rock during the campaign to sign execution papers for a convicted murderer.

In 2000, Al Gore and Bill Bradley, the Democrats vying to succeed Clinton, favored capital punishment. And the trend basically continues in this presidential campaign cycle.

All six upper-tier candidates are on record as supporting at least some application of the death penalty. Moreover, four were opponents who have modified their views -- Howard Dean, John F. Kerry, Joseph I. Lieberman, and John Edwards. Richard A. Gephardt has been a consistent death penalty supporter, and Wesley K. Clark initially said after joining the race in September that he backed a moratorium on executions, but has voiced support of capital punishment as a punishment option for "the most heinous crimes."

The three Democrats who steadfastly oppose the death penalty are all lower-tier candidates in the polls -- Dennis J. Kucinich, Carol Moseley Braun, and the Rev. Al Sharpton. All three have said they would seek to abolish capital punishment.