Readers Respond: Convicts, Mobsters, Politicians readers naturally had lots to say about Election 2002 and the policies and character of the two major political parties.

Eric Burns’ commentary on a death row inmate’s editorial in an Arizona newspaper also elicited a passionate debate; and there was no question that readers would enthusiastically weigh in on Radley Balko’s characterization of TV mob-boss Tony Soprano as a libertarian.

Here’s a sample of this week’s mail:

In response to Election 2002 coverage:

Ron Holcomb writes:

I think there are three other reasons for the "evenness" that wasn't addressed in the article. 

Reason No. 1:  There is a fundamental difference between Republicans who generally want to let taxpayers make their own decisions about how to spend their money, and Democrats who generally want to collect more of the taxpayer's money and then re-distribute it.  It just turns out that those who actually vote are roughly evenly split on the two approaches.

Reason No. 2:  Issues that have more than about 55 - 60 percent national support can sail through an evenly divided congress relatively easily. They're usually not around long enough to affect an election cycle.

Reason No. 3:  Demographics are key to winning an election either nationally or in a state or district where there is balance.  Once you get beyond the big issues that everyone tap dances around, the smaller ones tend to cancel themselves out. You just can't support everything. So you have to build a coalition of interest groups that hopefully adds up to more votes than your opponent.  It isn't easy.

John Anderson writes:

Today's political candidates are too busy convincing the public that "it's the other guy" who is dishonest, a liar, a hypocrite, etc. They avoid the real issues by creating a smoke screen of misinformation through those annoying negative television ads. Why do our politicians avoid the real issues? The media seems to make them feel that a root canal would be more fun than dealing with the press.

Unfortunately, we are a nation that is quite accustomed to taking the easy way out, not to mention that we are very mean-spirited to those who dare "rock the boat." Most politicians are more concerned with their image than for the people who they are supposed to be working for. Whatever happened to actually being a "public servant?" I think both Republicans and Democrats have forgotten what their purpose is: serving the American people, not themselves.

Steve Duell from Clackamas, Ore. writes:

I'm not too surprised that people are unable to understand what the core values of each party are. Before a person can recognize the differences between the political parties, they first have to have made decisions about what their own core values are going to be.  This reminds me of a country western song: "If you don't stand up for something, you'll fall for anything."

In response to Fox News Watch:

Kelly Tone writes:

Why don't we enforce DNA testing and have our forensic friends push to find that little shred of proof that will finger the guilty and save some money on all their appeals by not allowing so many of them? The reason for the death penalty is to provide somewhat of a day of reckoning for the victims, and it's also a way for the state to save money on feeding these people for the rest of their lives and giving them medical care. These people, by committing these crimes, have proven that they aren't members of our communities that we want around to further victimize people. So, let’s get this ball rolling and set the record straight. They shouldn't have a voice. It was taken away when they became criminals. They made that choice; no one made it for them.

Mike Crawford from Santa Cruz, Calif., writes:

Aren't the rights of a felon, let alone a convicted murderer, abridged by law?  After all, a felon doesn't get to vote. Therefore, shouldn't he be prohibited from public speech? I see nothing about "convicted felon" in the list of those guaranteed the right to free speech.  The framers were very careful to spell it out by "race, creed..." etc. There is no mention of felons, rapists, serial murders or people who stuff bodies in barrels. It disgusts me, the degree to which we over-extend our liberties to those who don't deserve them and to those who have earned their removal. It fries my brain to realize this guy probably gets the newspaper and watches the Bill O’Reilly on his color TV while on death row. Tell me I am wrong, please!

Robert Smithee from Lubbock, Texas, writes:

Both you and the "guest" columnist missed the whole point. There is absolutely no reason there should be such a long drawn out appeals process. This is something liberal lawyers and judges have created to serve absolutely no moral or legal purpose. The system is designed to allow for the searching of loopholes and bizarre interpretations of the law.  The process is not for actually considering evidence, insuring that a fair trial was held, or considering bona fide constitutional violations. The system is a mockery of what justice should be.

Paul Heubel from Culver City, Calif., writes:

I think that we need to hear from the killers and other criminals. They are silenced and kept hidden by government and the media. Society needs to understand these people in order to deal with them. Punishment in our legal system begins at the ballot box. Our citizens need to understand why they support or don’t support the death penalty and mandatory prison sentences before they vote.

Why are we so afraid to allow a condemned prisoner to publicly proclaim his innocence and ask for help? Is it because some witness will come forward with evidence that will prevent an injustice? What’s the big deal? We convict and condemn people every day in America after providing them with pathetic and ineffective lawyers. The prisoner can’t help with the defense of his own case if he’s in custody. Many convictions are won by prosecutors who use mistaken eyewitnesses, questionable confessions, and the testimony of jailhouse snitches rewarded with get-out-of-jail-free cards.

In response to Straight Talk:

Vicki Blackburn from Weston, Conn., writes:

I am a loyal watcher of the show. I am glad to see that someone can get past the profanity and the notion that the show is not politically correct for Italian Americans. There are many shows that have a "mob"-based scenario, and they are not all Italian, Take the movie Scarface. They are Cubans. People need to start seeing the big picture and listen to the message that is being sent.

The character of Tony Soprano portrays a good father despite his occupation. He is constantly pushing his children to make a better life for themselves, and in the show, they are constantly mirroring the same issues that we deal with every day in society. My advice for people who are offended by the show: "Shut your eyes and listen." Perhaps they will learn something.

Brian Finch from Houston, Texas, writes:

I read your article, and I didn't understand what you meant by the first part.  Rugged individualism, minimalist government, the inherent corruption of power, and personal responsibility are not liberal ideas. They are actually just the opposite. I agree that they are encompassed in the libertarian ideals, but only because they are actually conservative ideals.

David H. Meredith writes:

You make some good points in your article, but I have to say my bottom line is I don't watch either The West Wing or The Sopranos. I don’t watch The West Wing because of it's "hidden agenda" and I don’t watch The Sopranos because of the language and violence. We just keep getting deeper and deeper in what we as a society accept as the "norm," and I think shows like The Sopranos help push us in that direction.  

We think certain situations don't influence people. True that most will disregard it, but there will be those who won’t. The long term effect is, again, that we're moving to a lower and lower standard for what's normal. I've now gone to pretty much watching satellite TV movies, Discovery Channel and sports. This other stuff is trash.