Brownback answered questions from the inmates, who are used to hearing "tough on crime" messages from conservative Republicans, none of whom to my recollection ever began a presidential campaign in a place like Angola. When they got up the next morning, Brownback and Olasky visited Death Row. A cynic might say Brownback was grandstanding, but that cynic would have to answer "for whom?" People who back prison reform and social justice issues have mostly been Democrats and political liberals. Such issues don't play well among the "lock 'em up and throw away the key" crowd.
What I find most appealing about Brownback's approach is his positive tone. It came from a cancer scare he had in 1995. For nine months he was unsure of the outcome. "That's when I felt helpless," he said. He emerged from cancer with a clean bill of health and also a spiritual transformation. "Before 1995 I was in attack mode," he told Olasky. Now he's a changed person. The tone, though not the substance, of his politics has also changed.
Social conservatives and Republicans might consider Brownback's example. If they keep in mind the end, but change tactics, their prospects for achieving their ends might be greatly improved. Too many of their constituents have been conditioned by the negative approach. In fund-raising letters, in public pronouncements and from some pulpits has come political and ideological invective that is not only unbecoming to the source of such statements but serves as a bad example to others. It has the added downside of converting no one to the conservative point of view and turning off even some people who might otherwise be inclined to vote for Republicans.
Here's my suggested resolution for the Republican-conservative-Christian voter, courtesy of singer-songwriter Glen Campbell:
You got to try a little kindness
Yes show a little kindness
Just shine your light for everyone to see
And if you try a little kindness
Then you'll overlook the blindness
Of narrow-minded people on the narrow-minded streets.
From a political standpoint, the best part of this strategy is that it works and might even prompt more people to vote Republican in 2008.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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