On January 25, 1998, the Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine published an extremely well-written profile of the person who, save a miracle, will be California's next governor. That would make him a leading Republican vice-presidential contender for Election 2000, which puts him in the cat-bird's seat for the 2008 Presidency. From the California Statehouse to the White House, following the footsteps of his political hero, Ronald Wilson Reagan.
The article explains that it was Attorney General Lungren who, in 1992, personally and some say fanatically pushed through California's first execution in twenty-five years. He had to fulfill the will of the people, the Attorney General would explain, taking on the entire federal judiciary in order to get Robert Alton Harris dead. As Mark Z. Barabak writes in the Times Magazine, "Harris was strapped down, the chamber filled with cyanide fumes. Lungren's work was complete, his job done. So California's hang-'em-high attorney general closed his eyes and prayed for Harris' soul."
That perfect image of hypocrisy is etched in my mind.
You see, Attorney General Lungren professes a deep Catholic faith. He goes to Mass every week, except when he doesn't, just like all good Catholics. The Catholic Church, however, is an unshakable and outspoken opponent of capital punishment. What does this tell you about a man whose Church teaches that taking another life, even in the name of the government, is still murder, and yet pursues the death penalty with such vigor the Los Angeles Times, far from a radical publication, calls him the "hang-'em-high attorney general"? He grants himself a personal exemption from the commandment, "Thou shalt not kill," an exemption his Pope and his Church categorically do not make.
At the same time, Attorney General Lungren uses the Church to justify his stand on abortion. In Lungren's "ideal world," as he calls it, all forms of abortion would be illegal except to protect the mother from imminent death. Rape and incest are divine conceptions, in Lungren's view, and no woman and her doctor may put them asunder. "I take the traditional position of the greatest part of Western civilization," the Attorney General says, The Battle Hymn of the Republic playing softly in the background, "which found abortion to be the taking of innocent life and found the death penalty to be an appropriate response to the most egregious crimes of our society."
Oh? According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, a fairly reliable chronologer of Western civilization, "Abortion (as well as infacide) was apparently a common and socially accepted method of family limitation in the Greco-Roman world." The Britannica adds, "the application of severe criminal sanctions to deter its practice became common only in the 19th century." So much for Attorney General Lungren's grasp of the history of abortion and of Western civilization. But if he believes a fetus has a soul and therefore worth special protection by government, why has he seen to it that illegal immigrant mothers can no longer get one iota state-sponsored prenatal care? Apparently, unborn life is precious in Attorney General Lungren's cosmology, except when in the womb of a woman who fails to follow federal immigration quotas.
As to Attorney General Lungren's "traditional" view of the death penalty, he fails to point out that prior to the development of the modern prison system, only a century old, countries had no place to put people who demonstrated an intractable unwillingness to live in society without harming the person or property of others. Punishment for smaller crimes consisted of fines (very popular, as the sheriff or judge often got to keep the booty), torture (flogging, stockades), or public humiliation (tar and feathering, scarlet letters). Major crimes brought slavery (known as prison ships), exile ("transported for life" to a country far away, but only if you could afford to pay for your own transportation), or death. People in California were hung for cattle rustling and horse thieving well into the 20th century.
There is now, however, the prison-industrial complex to keep far away from innocent people those who won't play by the let's-not-hurt-each-other-or-each-other's-property rule. To warehouse someone for life costs $600,000. What with automatic appeals and the taxpayers often paying for legal expenses on both sides, to execute someone costs $3,000,000. It's cheaper to keep 'em. Morally, the question is not who deserves to die, but who is entitled to kill. I say, no one, except in self-defense. Keeping prisoners behind bars for the remainder of their lives is all the defense society needs from even the most heinous of offenders.
Attorney General Lungren has repeatedly said that he can set aside his conservative views and be the Governor of all the people of California, a promise he is sure to make to the American people as his political fortunes rise. As an AIDS and cancer patient who uses medical marijuana to keep down the prescription medications that are keeping me alive, I find his campaign promise hard to swallow, even with medical marijuana. In California over the past year, we have witnessed Attorney General Lungren's conservative views clash with the will of the people. The people did not win. Proposition 215, now the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, was enacted by the people, "To encourage the federal and state governments to implement a plan to provide for the safe and affordable distribution of marijuana to all patients in medical need of marijuana."
This is not just a good idea; it is California law.
But Attorney General Lungren, the man sworn to uphold the laws of California against all comers, has not only not followed this law, he has invited in the federal government in to make sure the will of the people won't be enacted, not in this case. The Attorney General, you see, knows medical marijuana is as bad as capital punishment is good. He doesn't need an electorate or a Pope to confuse him on the fundamental issues, issues on which he is apparently mano-a-Mano with God himself.
California law enforcement, under his direction, have continually prosecuted and harassed medical marijuana patients and their caregivers. California's Attorney General has had nothing but praise for DEA agents arresting California medical marijuana patients. Attorney General Lungren was ecstatic when federal prosecutors moved to close six medical marijuana clubs--compassionate outposts that only exist because the Attorney General has not done is job in setting up "safe and affordable distribution of marijuana to all patients in medical need of marijuana."
Imagine, however, Attorney General Lungren's reaction to federal prosecutors, say, moving to block the dismantling of affirmative action quotas at the University of California, or to enforce a federal ban on all handguns. Clearly, Attorney General Lungren views his conservative agenda as more important than the will of the people. The Attorney General blithely ignores the fact that more Californians voted for Proposition 215 (56.4 percent) than voted for Dan Lungren (53.9 percent).