Winston Churchill is quoted as saying, “If you’re not a liberal at 20, you have no heart, and if you’re not a conservative at 40, you have no head.”
While there’s debate as to whether or not Churchill actually said it, this famous quote is often used as if liberal meant only “Big D” Democrat, and conservative meant only “Big R” Republican. But that is not what liberal and conservative mean, and it is certainly not what Churchill would have said.
The meanings of the quote are several; youth is emotional, experience teaches us lessons, one should have both a heart and a head and if you don’t learn from your mistakes you have no intelligence.
My personal journey has been from a 20-something who read Ayn Rand ferociously and thought Reagan had all the answers, to a 40-something who still believes in many of the principles that Rand wrote and much of what Reagan stood for, but I seem to have grown over time to realize that we require more than just a political platform to cope with the challenges life and society present.
I’m not sure what party I belong in anymore. I used to think I was a conservative, and I still think I am when it comes to fiscal policy. I used to think I was a conservative on social policy because I felt that government had no business in the bedroom and I still believe that, but that now seems to be a liberal position.
I used to believe in the death penalty, and in my heart of hearts I suppose I still do for the truly guilty, but I can no longer support the imposition of it under our current system. In June I gave a speech at my Westside Toastmasters club called “Killing the Death Penalty” (you can watch it on my YouTube channel under “Killing the Death Penalty”) and I stated three main reasons why we should abolish the death penalty. To begin with, it’s bad public policy; it doesn’t achieve its stated goal, it costs too damn much and, most importantly, we fail at convicting the right person too often.
As a public policy designed to deter murder, the death penalty is an abysmal failure. In Los Angeles County alone, last year there were 200 murders. That’s more than one every other day. We’ve had the death penalty in California for more than 30 years and murder continues to happen. Additionally, it breeds a false sense of security with this attitude that we are being “tough on crime,” which leads to overcharging by the district attorneys.
The cost. Over the last 30 years this state has built 22 prisons and two university campuses. By building prisons, which have to be filled, staffed, and paid for, versus universities which have to filled, staffed and paid for, we have shifted our focus from asset building to expense increasing. Prisons are like boats, a hole in the water into which you throw money. You never get your money back. Universities, on the other hand, are revenue enhancing ventures because they are paid for by the participants, who then go on to generate more funds, which leads to tax income for the state.
It costs approximately $90,000 a year to keep a person on death row. There are currently 732 people on death row, which means that we are spending almost $66 million a year on 732 people. If they live an average of 30 years on death row, we will have spent $2 billion on them. These numbers do not even include the costs for the appeals, which are estimated to be $1 million a piece.
Lastly, we convict innocent people. If we kill them, we kill innocent people, and then we are no better than the murderers we are attempting to stop. Nationwide the Innocence Project has exonerated 291 people. Imagine if we had killed them. We can’t undo that. At least with life without parole, we can undo an innocent person’s incarceration.
This election there is a proposition on the ballot to end the death penalty and convert it to life without parole. It’s Proposition 34. You may say because I support it that I’m just some soft, lefty liberal, socialist, pansy who loves criminals, but what about when you learn that it was started by Jeanne Woodford, the former warden of San Quentin Prison in Northern California. She’s hardly some softy.
At 20 I thought the death penalty was the conservative way to go. At 40-something, I think being anti-death penalty is the conservative way to go. It’s also the liberal way to go.
In the end, killing the death penalty is the most practical way forward for our state.
David Pisarra is a Los Angeles divorce and child custody lawyer specializing in father’s and men’s rights with the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He welcomes your questions and comments. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 664-9969. You can follow him on Twitter @davidpisarra