Great campaigns have been formed when bright ideas, rarely at the forefront of the public mind but which resonate with vigorous strength when introduced, are presented. I can think of no better issue that could accomplish this in this day and age than alternative sentencing. The issue, if presented correctly, has the power to change the focus of the election.
The reasoning is simple. Most people believe that in today's day and age, when a variety of options exist to deal with and deter crime, no one who isn't a threat to society should ever be locked up. Indeed, it is cruel to incarcerate someone who poses no threat to society.
But one may ask, what of the crime epidemic? Well, study after study has shown that menial labor is a far greater deterrent to criminals reoffending than prison. In fact, prison makes career criminals out of non-violent offenders for the simple reason that when someone is locked up, bored to death with only criminals surrounding them, the likelihood that they'll simply "join the club" is immense.
Just ask anyone which of the two is a greater deterrent to society, which of the following sends a clearer, more visible impression to potential criminals? Locking up a criminal so that no one sees them or sending a bus to pick them up every morning in full view of their neighbors, taking them away until late at night for back breaking work and then dropping them off tired and disheveled? Imagine that happening day in and day out! Which of the two punishments truly accomplishes what prison was supposed to do?
Add to that the fact that a greater percentage of Americans are incarcerated than in any other country and the fact that juries have shown a tendency to convict based on suspicion alone and the case for alternative sentencing becomes clear. Then add to the mix the fact that alternative sentencing would force criminals to pay for their own upkeep instead of society doing it for them with our tax dollars and at the expense of other needed programs.
The Corrections Industry would benefit from such a program too as prison guards would become work duty supervisors or organizers. Owners of private prisons stand to benefit by administering these labor contracts, sending non-violent offenders to work for companies that need hard, menial labor, the type of labor that few others will do.
Now ask the American people if it really makes sense to punish families by sending parents away from young children for years at a time when they pose no threat to society and often due to accidental crimes when there's a far better and far more effective way? Ask the American people which system truly deters and truly provides corrective punishment.
Add to that another simple fact. If you take a sixteen year old kid who was involved in minor crime and sentence him to 6 months in prison you'll have a career criminal on your hands in no time. Take the same kid, wake him up early every day and send him out to shovel ditches for half that time or less and he'll never offend again.
In short, any party that wants to win this election and remind the American voters which party is the party of ideas should be promoting this issue in full force. Let's get this election back to issues that voters care about. This one will resonate.
Note: The President's foreign policy, which may be unpopular now but which will be seen as having been necessary and an example of foresight in the future, is already a legacy builder as are the tax cuts that stimulated the economic success that is recognized by all who follow the markets, but to cement his legacy as a truly "Compassionate Conservative," one who did what was right and changed society for the better, in the most effective and memorable way, there's no better issue to accomplish this than to cite the facts laid out above in a clear and concise manner, followed by memorable action.
If President Bush gets up and makes the case for alternative sentencing and then boldly offers a Presidential commutation to all non-violent and non-willful offenders from prison to a daily labor program he'll not only have cemented his reputation as a man who changed society and taught a lesson in true justice that will last and will resonate. Even his sharpest critics would be forced to say "this man gets it." This issue, more than any other, can shock people into realization, with an "Of course - Why didn't I think of that?" It certainly has the ability to shift the topic of conversation, memorably so.