I have personally always opposed capital punishment--not successfully, I might add--but consistently. New Jersey reinstated the death penalty in the 1980s, an act I opposed publicly. It was signed into law by then-Gov. Thomas Kean, a Republican who happens to be an Episcopalian and whom I admire enormously. My opposition was based on the very reasons that are now being discussed: the presence of race and poverty as factors in determining who lives and who dies and the chance of a mistake being made.

There are other reasons that add to my opposition, such as the economic and psychological interdependence of human life, which make it difficult to assign blame in the way we once did. When abused children become abusive adults, it is not easy to assess blame. When economic realities grind those not equipped to compete into a hopeless poverty that finally turns to drugs and crime, is the blame appropriately applied to the individual? I believe that all life is deeply interdependent.

I am also not impressed by, nor do I see any evidence for supporting, the suggestion that capital punishment is a deterrent to murder. Indeed, the evidence seems to point in exactly the opposite direction. As grotesque and morbid as public executions are, they nonetheless possess a certain glamour. As the countdown toward the day of execution begins, there is enormous attention paid to the convicted person in the public media, strangely securing that elusive human goal of fame. Those who have been damaged and denigrated by life might well experience a perverse attraction to such a final flame-out, sufficiently to choose it even if only on some subconscious level. This would suggest that, far from inhibiting crime, the presence of capital punishment could actually encourage it.

There is no attraction that I am aware of to a mandatory life sentence behind bars--a sentence that would, I suggest, offer a better incentive for living within the law and is thus a greater deterrent to crime.

In this year's campaign, I suspect that capital punishment will not be specifically debated--but it will be used to feed other issues by drawing a line between a candidate who appears to be insensitive on this issue and who might thus be portrayed as insensitive on other issues like poverty and health care. That will be the tactic of the Gore campaign. The Bush campaign will counter with the charge that Gore really isn't firm on the death penalty--and a candidate who is soft on this issue might also be soft on crime in general or perhaps weak in standing up to our foreign enemies.

The issue can be played both ways. Two things, however, will determine its effectiveness. First, which side will make its particular spin work, and second, the realization that Bush's traditional Republican campaign has now been placed on the defensive by moderating influences that have arisen from the conservative side of the political spectrum. We will watch with fascination.