Thursday, October 20, 2005

Twenty First Century solutions for 21st century problems

In recent history, politicians have used the law and order deck card to win political blackjack. Think back to the famous Willie Horton ad used by former President Reagan against Michael Dukakis during the 1980s to show him as a raging liberal, soft on crime, who could not be trusted to keep the public safe.

In the latest political incarnation, Jerry Kilgore, the Republican candidate for governor in Virginia has a commercial with a sad, broken hearted father railing against Tim Kaine, the Democratic candidate and former defense attorney, for defending the person who killed his son and daughter-in-law.

"Tim Kaine voluntarily represented the man who murdered my son, the grief stricken man says to his audience. "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."

There is nothing more devastating than to lose your child. But...let's have a little perspective. Isn't every citizen entitled to receive legal representation before the courts?

After a great gnashing of teeth and ample pontification with accusations and counteraccusations by droves, the hatchet job did not hurt Kaine. In fact, Kilgore’s poll numbers are now worst than they were before the ad.

So much for law and order hysteria to whip up the masses. Looks like Kilgore’s campaign is a wee bit passé and out of step with the 21st century. Voters agree everyone is entitled to competent defense; and the issue of crime doesn't appear to be the silver bullet to knock off opponents.

With drug wars and drive-by shootings fading with the past, transportation, emergency preparedness, education, and the high cost of gasoline and health care are the issues on the minds of today's voters.

Crime is a nonissue. So much in fact that a recent study by the Virginia Department of Health shows more people die at their own hands than at the hands of others.

A story by the Washington Post reports, “Suicides accounted for [substantially] more than half of all violent deaths in Virginia in 2003, with the majority committed by white men with marital troubles and a history of depression.” In fact, 60 percent of all violent deaths in Virginia are from suicide.

The millions of dollars spent in correctional institutions with Draconian truth-in-sentencing laws might be more effectively put to use by providing mental health care for Virginians and reduce this shocking statistic.

Moreover, Kilgore should leave the boogey man of yesteryears to the trash bins of past demogoguery. No going back to the politics of fear and hate-mongering. Virginia's next governor needs to focus scarce resources on real issues and keep Virginia moving forward.

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