November 2006 will not be pleasant

This editorial is a few days old, but it’s still timely since it concerns the upcoming election in Virginia. Consider:

… the election is between Kaine and Kilgore, and the most important national implications of November’s voting will grow from issues — in particular, the death penalty and sprawl — that the two men are raising themselves.

If Kilgore wins on the basis of a truly scandalous series of advertisements about the death penalty, it will encourage Republicans all over the country to pull a stained and tattered battle flag out of the closet.

Kaine is a Roman Catholic who opposes the death penalty. “My faith teaches life is sacred,” he says. “I personally oppose the death penalty.” I cheer Kaine for being one of the few politicians with the guts to say this the way he does. It’s disturbing that faith-based political stands that don’t point in a conservative direction rarely inspire the church-based political activism that, say, abortion, arouses. Maybe some of the churches will examine their consciences.

But Virginia has a death penalty on the books, so Kaine says plainly: “I take my oath of office seriously, and I’ll enforce the death penalty.”

That’s not good enough for Kilgore. You have to read much of the ad he ran on this issue to believe it. In the commercial, Stanley Rosenbluth, whose son Richard and daughter-in-law Becky were murdered, declares:

“Mark Sheppard shot Richard twice and went over and shot Becky two more times. Tim Kaine voluntarily represented the person who murdered my son. He stood with murderers in trying to get them off death row. No matter how heinous the crime, he doesn’t believe that death is a punishment. Tim Kaine says that Adolf Hitler doesn’t qualify for the death penalty. This was the worst mass murderer in modern times. . . . I don’t trust Tim Kaine when it comes to the death penalty, and I say that as a father who’s had a son murdered.”

Having seen the ads, that’s an accurate recap. And they’re every bit as disgusting as one can imagine. No reasonable person wants to embrace a murderer and excuse his actions. Mr. Kaine is not doing that, as evidenced by his response. He made a particular statement that he’s personally opposed to the death penalty, but he would uphold the law if elected. How complicated is that? Do we want our politicians embracing only what the political winds bring? Do reasoned principles account for nothing?

Personally, I agree with Mr. Kaine on this. The death penalty is wrong. It’s absurd that Virginians are so adamantly in favor of executing people. It often borders on a blood thirst. (If I’m not mistaken, we’re second only to Texas – by a wide margin – since the death penalty became legal again.) That does not change my belief that the death penalty is uncivilized. It’s the mark of a society interested in revenge rather than justice. Much like the current presidential defense of torture, I can’t fathom how a party based so heavily on the teachings of Jesus could ever come to the conclusion that execution is justifiable. (Kaine is a Democrat, Kilgore a Republican.)

For what, safety? We lock inmates away on death row now, with few escapes. Is it not possible to continue designing improved prison systems in which society is protected? I’m not sure who will advocate that death row inmates lead particularly fulfilling lives in their cells. Like most people, I don’t care about them, so keep the conditions. That’s the bargain for violating the most sacred right guaranteed within society. But taking that final step to execution only tarnishes the society, without providing added benefit. It’s the real culture of death.

Yet, that’s not the most disturbing aspect of this political smear campaign. Mr. Kilgore is the Attorney General of Virginia. He should understand the most basic function of what Mr. Kaine did as a defense attorney.

Representing death row inmates is unpopular but essential because it allows the justice system to work — and that includes finding guilty people guilty. Challenging prosecutors to make sure the wrong people aren’t executed can actually be a service to crime victims. No one wants an innocent person put to death so the guilty party can remain at large to kill again.

For Mr. Kilgore to allow his campaign to devalue that necessary function in a cheap attempt to win the governorship shows quite effectively that he does not have a sufficient respect for the American legal system or the citizens it protects. I don’t know that I’ll vote for Tim Kaine next month, but I know I won’t vote for Jerry Kilgore. If a pollster asks me why I voted against Mr. Kilgore, I’ll tell her I based my decision on morals.