A smile crept across George W. Bush's lips
as he talked about yet another set of executions.
He looked positively delighted as he shared his
good news with all of America: He will preside
over the deaths of the white men who murdered James Byrd, a
49-year-old black man, in 1998.
"Guess what's going to happen to these men?" he grinned at the
camera during last night's debate with Vice President Gore.
"They're going to be put to death."
Bush beamed in happiness. He was so enthusiastic at the prospect
of new executions that he said he would execute all three of Byrd's killers.
Texas does not need anti-hate-crime laws, Bush said.
"We cannot enhance the penalty any more
than putting those three thugs to death," he said.
He grinned again.
There is a problem here: Only two of Byrd's killers have been sentenced
The third was sentenced to life in prison.
Most of America supports the death penalty for murder, and so
does Gore, and so do I. But that hangman's grin gives me the willies.
It brings back Bush's mockery of killer Karla Faye Tucker, whose
appeals for life he rejected and whom he mimicked as saying,
"Please don't kill me," shortly before Texas executed her.
Bush's death-penalty smirk marred a presidential debate that was
about as combative as a game of pat-a-cake for most of its 90 minutes.
Bush praised Clinton administration foreign policy decisions so much he
remarked that his confrontation with Gore sounded like a lovefest.
Gore, unveiling yet another personality to the voters, bent over
backward not to seem either too aggressive or overly informed on
public matters, lest he be seen as a pushy know-it-all.
As he did in the first debate, Bush bristled, but could not refute, Gore's
statistical accusations. This time, Gore attacked Texas for ranking last and
next to last in the country on two measures of health coverage.
Bush took the criticism personally.
"If he's trying to allege that I'm hardhearted ... he's absolutely
wrong," Bush said. But he couldn't deny the numbers: 1.4 million
Texas children without health insurance.
The two candidates went into the debate dead even in most polls, though
Gore has not lost ground in the key battleground states of the Middle West.
Though he appeared to have won his first debate with Bush, the verdict
out to be illusory: During the past week, Gore's superior command of the facts
in that contest was forgotten as focus shifted to his sighing and childish
eye-rolling at Bush's statements.
Gore was on his best behavior last night. He looked both solid and
knowledgeable and made none of the body-language mistakes that
cost him victory in the first outing.
Bush, too, was error-free — except for that eerie smile when he
talked about the executions.
Such morbid mirth may not hurt him with most of America. But
even supporters of the death penalty are probably scratching their
heads, wondering if Bush really enjoys putting people to death.
He certainly seemed delighted with death last night.