From NBC's Abby Livingston
Michael Dukakis, Obama is not.
On the death penalty today, Obama sidestepped a potential political land mine. Opponents could have had something recent and tangible to tag him anew as a hard-left liberal had he answered any differently than he did on the issue.
When asked about the Supreme Court ruling against the use of the death penalty in instances of child rape today at a news conference in Chicago, Obama answered, "I disagree with the decision. I have said repeatedly that I think that the death penalty should be applied in very narrow circumstances for most egregious of crimes. I think that the rape of a small child, six or eight years old is a heinous crime, and if a state makes a decision that under narrow, limited, well-defined circumstances, the death penalty is at least potentially applicable. That does not violate our constitution."
He continued, "Had the Supreme Court said, 'We want to constrain ability of states to do this to make sure that it's done in a careful and appropriate way,' that would've been one thing, but it basically had a blanket prohibition and I disagree with that decision."
Previously, The Washington Post reported that Obama is a reluctant death penalty supporter.
His answer was a sharp contrast from 1988 Democratic nominee Dukakis' answer to a debate question about his stance on the death penalty if the crime perpetrated had been the rape and murder of his own wife.
Dukakis answered, "No, I don't, and I think you know that I've, I've opposed the death penalty during all of my life. I don't see any evidence that it's a deterrent, and I think there are better and more effective ways to deal with violent crime."
Many, including Dukakis, cite the statement as the beginning of the end of his campaign. Since then, the issue has been a minefield for Democratic White House aspirants.
In reality, Obama's answer to the question had more in common with his Republican opponent than his party's 1988 standard-bearer.
McCain's Senate office sent out a similarly worded statement: "As a father, I believe there is no more sacred responsibility in American society than that of protecting the innocence of our children. I have spent over 25 years in Congress fighting for stronger criminal sentences for those who exploit and harm our children. Today's Supreme Court ruling is an assault on law enforcement's efforts to punish these heinous felons for the most despicable crime. That there is a judge anywhere in America who does not believe that the rape of a child represents the most heinous of crimes, which is deserving of the most serious of punishments, is profoundly disturbing."