Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Let's Hope for Better Results on some Hot-Button Issues

This was a recent column from DeWayne Wickham, columnist for the USA Today, that I thought was particularly insightful:

"I stopped making New Year's resolutions a long time ago. I gave them up somewhere around the time I realized that I'll never be able to get back into the Air Force jacket that still hangs in my closet. I keep it as a reminder of my military service during the Vietnam War — and my failure to stick to countless New Year's pledges to lose weight. This year, instead of personal resolves, I've come up with a short list of things I hope this nation will do in 2006.

First, we should do more to discourage teen pregnancies. I don't say this as a closet conservative but as a concerned American. There used to be a time when teenage pregnancies, especially among unmarried girls, were frowned upon. Now, too often pregnant teens are given doting baby showers instead of stern looks of disapproval.

While teenage pregnancies in this country have declined in recent years, we still have a higher rate than that of most developed nations. Many of the children of teen mothers, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, are born into a life of poverty and have health and developmental problems. And they are more likely to be abused and neglected.Too often, taxpayers are left to pay the cost of public assistance for these kids, some of whom end up in the clutches of the criminal justice system. This has got to change.

Second, in 2006 we should work harder to pull back from the ideological poles of the left and right. Too many liberals and conservatives seem to be determined to foist their views on the other.Whether the issue is capital punishment, abortion or
affirmative action, many conservatives and liberals can't find a square inch of neutral territory. While there have always been radicals on both ends of the ideological spectrum, it is those at the extremes who seem to be commanding the public debate over many issues that divide us.

For example, right-wingers are unrelenting when it comes to their support of capital punishment and their unsympathetic talk of racial imbalances in the death row system. People on the far left oppose any curbs on abortion and are tone-deaf to those who argue that abstinence is the best way to prevent unwanted pregnancies. This is not a good thing for our democracy, which is after all a creation of the compromises made by the Founding Fathers. I hope in 2006 that the moderates on both sides of our ideological divide will find the courage to pull the nation back from the precipice of self-destruction.

Finally, the next time a high-profile death row inmate is executed, I'd like to see as many celebrities and spotlight-huggers attend the funeral of the inmate's victims — or publicly grieve for them — as show up for the criminal's final send-off. Like a lot of people on the political left, I opposed the execution of Stanley "Tookie" Williams, but my opposition had nothing to do with Williams' claim of innocence. It was based on my belief that the scales of justice are out of balance. That argument, I suspect, was blurred by the din of opposition that came from people who — with little real evidence — claimed that Williams, who was found guilty in the 1979 shotgun murders of four people, was wrongly convicted. And I think it was also overshadowed by the celebrity-laced crowd of more than 2,500 people who showed up for Williams' funeral.

It's a good bet that none of these high-profile mourners attended the burial of any of the four people he was convicted of murdering — or the funerals of any other nameless victims of violent crime. This kind of myopia plays into the hands of death penalty proponents and makes it unlikely that a serious effort will be made in 2006 to correct the inequality.

But still, I hope for a happy New Year."

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