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Jewish World Review June 26, 2000 / 23 Sivan, 5760

Chris Matthews

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Death joins the debate -- IT'S THE EXECUTIONS that get to me. I confess some dark human sympathy for killings of passion. I sense how obsession might grab such hold of a man that he might kill out of anger, or fear, or sheer animal rage.

But how do we deal with the cruel, heartless or even joyous taker of another person's life? What should we do when one of our own, a human being, is robbed of life by another's moment of calculated pleasure?

I speak of the murder committed without regret and without pity.

For the first time in memory, the question of what to do with these people may rise this fall to the level of presidential debate. During George W. Bush's tenure as Texas governor, 131 convicted murderers have been put to death. Bush has declared his confidence that in each case the condemned earned his or her fate.

Thanks to modern science, we now have a check on such declarations of perfection. Analyzing blood or other human material, we can ascertain if the evidence used to convict matches with the convicted.

The question even the most advanced science cannot answer is whether society has the right to kill those whom science proves guilty. That query is for us resolve.

By that, I mean we Americans. We can argue for decades over the root causes but ours is a violent culture. Last year, 17,000 of us were murdered. Americans were the victims. Americans were the killers.

It does no good to shift the debate to that related, but different, question of gun control. While it's true that guns can be used to kill people, people without guns find other ways to kill. Ten thousand of those American killings last year were by firearms. Seven thousand were achieved by other means.

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So the question is not just what we do with the guns. It's what we do with our killers. In his new book "Actual Innocence: Five Days to Execution and Other Dispatches from the Wrongly Convicted." Barry Scheck, Peter Neufeld and Jim Dwyer make the case for giving all those on death row access to state-of-the-art DNA testing. They point to cases where science has shown the jury wrong, where the person found guilty was actually innocent.

Also thanks to Scheck and his colleagues on the legal "dream team" who defended O.J. Simpson, we have the stark evidence of how a rich, glamorous celebrity gets a different kind of prosecution. The pre-trial decision to exempt Simpson from capital punishment in this case of double-murder was an early signal to both jury and country that this defendant warranted special treatment.

But neither concern, the possibility of executing an innocent person or the difficulty of executing even a guilty community hero, exempts us from the stark question of what to do when we confront the opportunity to render punishment where punishment is clearly due.

What do we do when a gunman plans the robbery of a fast-food restaurant, plans the systematic execution of its low-paid workers, then carries out the crime without hesitation, error or mercy? What do we do when we catch this assassin dead to rights?

Do we hesitate? Do we fear error? Do we show mercy?

"There are many who bring an understandable passion to the new debate over capital punishment that arises from their fundamental moral opposition to the penalty itself," Vice President Al Gore said recently. "I deeply respect that position. I do not share it."

Whether Gore or Bush wins in November, I expect that one resolution of the 2000 presidential election will be to re-endorse capital punishment.

JWR contributor Chris Matthews is the author of Hardball. and hosts a CNBC show of the same name. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


06/21/00: Jerry Brown tells AlGore how to 'wage' campaign
06/19/00: Squishy logic for soft money
06/15/00: Citizen Kane, 113 years later
06/12/00: Kennedy-Nixon redux?
06/07/00: Bush says 'I do' to reality
06/05/00: Clinton's odd silence on his achievements
06/02/00: Pelosi, a voice for human rights
05/30/00: Bubba's escape hatches
05/23/00: Who typifies leadership?
05/19/00: Bubba's legacy involves AIDS
05/16/00: Dubyah's outlook for 'playoffs' remains perilous
05/11/00: Giuliani's travels
05/09/00: A Yale degree, a Bob Jones education
05/03/00: Show of force!
05/01/00: Abortion polls don't reflect reality
04/28/00: Bill Russell and American racism
04/24/00: Vietnam 25 -- The good, bad and ugly
04/19/00: Nader's threat to Gore in California
04/17/00: Berkeley politician visits with Elian's father
04/14/00: Clinton and the Castro curse
04/11/00: Men who saved Elián from the sea
04/06/00: Caine should coach politicians
04/03/00: No. 2 spots: Woman-to-woman?
03/29/00: Gray for veep and Gore might coast to victory
03/27/00: The secret life of a CIA wife
03/22/00: 'We're suckers for underdogs'
03/20/00: Bush's California dream vs. reality
03/06/00: Scary Gore vs. hopeful Bush
03/06/00: McCain's appeal to 'Reagan Democrats'
03/01/00: John McCain fits a hero's profile
02/28/00: Grading the American presidents
02/25/00: Clinton remains No. 1 issue
02/23/00: Will Ross Perot aid POW McCain?
02/18/00: McCain faces fury of GOP establishment
02/17/00: Citizen Springer
02/14/00: McCainia and the frisky independents
02/07/00: A prime-time primary for California
02/02/00: Clinton's final campaign: Take the blame
01/31/00: Which GOPer is willing to pay for his positions?
01/27/00: John McCain's gay radar
01/25/00: This time, candidates get 'authenticity' check
01/18/00: AIDS dooms 1 in 4 in tiny Swaziland
01/13/00: Complacency might be the campaign key
01/10/00: A choice, not an echo
01/06/00: The role of a lifetime
01/03/00: Dangers in Gore's dirty war
12/30/99: Churchill's fighting words saved the century
12/28/99: Candidate Gore's separation anxiety
12/17/99: Catch 22: Leading candidates don't lead
12/17/99: New Democratic leader on the horizon
12/15/99: Is Hillary clueless?
12/08/99: Taking Buchananism to the streets
12/03/99: Why are we so obsessed with 'spin'?
12/01/99: Donald Trump, 'Sinatra of Steel'
11/29/99: Why AlGore will be our next president
11/23/99: After the fall
11/17/99: Our conveniently forgetful president
11/15/99: Next president: Male, WASP, self-selected
11/10/99: Backroom Bill
11/08/99: Please don't feed the 'pander bears'
11/03/99: Battle of the Bubba clones
11/01/99: Pat Buchanan, kamikaze candidate
10/27/99: The year of the woman... voter
10/25/99: The Curse of the Bubba
10/21/99: GOP gives Clinton his finest hour
10/18/99: Clinton's last hurrah
10/13/99: Rough seas for Capt. Ventura
10/11/99: Gore targets Bradley's strength
10/06/99: Bradley's got the right Rx
10/04/99: Buchanan, Churchill and Hitler
09/30/99: Who'll spin political gold in Golden State — Gore or Bradley?
09/27/99: Here's a millennial checklist for candidates
09/22/99: The biography battle
09/20/99: Buchanan's new book is a must-read
09/15/99: Don't rule out Beatty
09/13/99: The man with the sun on his face
09/08/99: W. vs. Jr. on dope and the draft
The FALN: Hillary's Willie Horton
08/26/99: Bill's guilt fuels Hill's race
08/25/99: The seemingly inexhaustible strength of America's free enterprise
08/23/99: GOP candidates are weak also-rans
08/16/99: Bubba on Bubba
08/11/99: Hillary's agonizing attempts to understand
08/09/99: With warm regards, Richard Nixon
08/04/99: Weicker: real third party is on the Left
08/02/99: Dubyah's last hangover
07/27/99: Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh; capitalism is gonna win

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