Perhaps among the dozen most famous Presidential Debate Moments in our national history came in the 1988 race, and was asked of Michael Dukakis, then Massachusetts Governor, a Democrat:
“If Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?”
His response was widely condemned for being dispassionate. I was young then, but my reaction was that he was blindsided, and that the question was unfairly sensational and personal. To this day, I do not fault his response in the moment.
[SIDEBAR: I was on national TV a few times on “Jeopardy.” The first time, I was so damn terrified that they had to move the clip-on mic away from my heart, because they could hear it pounding in the control booth. I don’t judge.]
Having said that, If I were Michael Dukakis, this is what I wish I would have said in that nationally televised moment:
“Kitty is the love of my life. If I lost her, the person I’d want to kill would be myself… But she and I have built a family together. I like to believe I would find my courage, remember my responsibilities to my family, and put them first, before my personal anguish and suffering.
I take my responsibilities as Governor of Massachusetts just as seriously. Fury is a fire that can keep you emotionally warm, but it does NOTHING to protect the citizens you’ve sworn to serve.
The facts on the death penalty are these:
- There is no evidence the death penalty deters anything.
- There are better, more effective, and less expensive ways to prevent and punish murder.
- I oppose it, as do the citizens of my state, who have outlawed it.
- Without it, Massachusetts has experienced the biggest drop in crime, and the lowest murder rate of any industrial state in America.
These are the FACTS.
Fury may keep you emotionally warm, but facts keep your citizens safe. That is how I have governed Massachusetts, and how I will govern The United States if elected.”
Dear reader, if you have read this far, here is your reward: “The West Wing” on the same subject. You wanna watch the whole clip (because it’s hilarious), but the relevant content starts around two minutes: