The Thompson Craze
What explains the sudden Fred Thompson Craze that propels a virtual non-candidate to among the top Republican presidential candidates? Is it like the transitory Democratic infatuation with empty suit Wesley Clark that fizzled almost the moment the general bought into the adulation? Or is like madman Ross Perot’s “I’m not going to take it anymore” rightwing populism of the 1990s? Hardly.
Thompson is a seasoned, sober two-term Senator and has been a Washington lobbyist and insider of sorts for more than thirty years, ever since Americans got to know him as the Republican minority counsel during the Senate Watergate Hearings 1973-4. So why are some Republicans pinning their hopes on a bald retired politician in his mid-sixties and cancer survivor?
A variety of reasons both practical and personal. There are currently no conservative Southerners in either party seriously running for President. Giuliani, McCain, and Romney are all centrists who may due well in the general election, but for now leave vast space in the primaries for diehard conservatives.
Then there is the Reagan angle—or the ability of older white conservative males to appeal to young voters. Reagan did it with his “By golly” smoothness. But unlike Reagan, Thompson has an ongoing movie and television career that makes him an even better known candidate to young people in either party. And he is a character actor that has been typecast as grandfatherly, a worldly pro who joshes around and works with his more ardent and younger firebrands. His celebrity is not like Arnold’s or Jesse Ventura’s.
His folksy Tennessee drawl also serves to mask his conservatism in the manner of Reagan’s jocularism. Don’t underestimate the importance of that calculus in our modern therapeutic society. The “aw shucks” approach allows a conservative to keeper a lot quieter and carry a bigger stick.
I met Thompson this morning for breakfast in Palo Alto and was impressed mainly by his knowledge of the issues, and his calming attitude that what will come, will come. He came across as every bit up to the job, but without the overdrive and sometimes bothersome mania of traditional candidates. That may explain a lot of his appeal as well.
He is the fourth candidate to visit Hoover. All were good. I think any two of them would wage a far superior campaign to what the Democrats offer.
Will Hillary Win?
The advantage though right now is with Clinton. Why? Not the issues or even Iraq. But because no candidate has a more ruthless, cutthroat, and no-holds-barred phalanx than what she inherited from her loutish, but cold-hearted husband.
In this regard, I remember the serial appearances of James Carville on the Sunday new shows during the Monica affair. Ad nauseam he went off on federal prosecutor Ken Starr as a “cigarette lawyer”, which by any standard of public defamation should have constituted a sort of obstruction of justice, a calculated effort to destroy a federal official to ensure he could not carry out his assigned tasks. Imagine again, had Tony Snow daily attacked Prosecutor Fitzgerald and impugned his integrity, the response from the media. No, the Clintoni will do any and all to win. They have had eight years of experience in the White House, and have proven already that they can take a philandering dissolute, who used his “power” to impress a paid subordinate for sexual favors, and turn him into a raging feminist and victim of dark forces of illiberality. That took skill and audacity, and so did dropping Hillary’s billing records on the floor (“oops” there they are!), etc. Shamelessness, as Aristophanes saw with Kleon, is not to be underestimated.
Sad times, these.
Why the liberal hatred of Bush?
Consider: No Child Left Behind; soaring federal entitlement spending between 2001-6; prescription drugs; billions for African AIDs; liberal immigration reform (once again with Ted Kennedy on board); moral clarity on Darfur; promotion of liberal government in the Middle East; internationalism and advocacy for free trade; friendship with India; tolerance for Chinese and Russian roguery; and efforts to offer trade concessions to Latin America. I could go on, but you get the picture of a centrist who often promoted a classically liberal agenda.
The answer for this leftwing hatred is threefold. The Democrats had been out of power for years, and won the popular vote of 2000—only acerbating their furor of coming so close, but so far. Demonizing, destroying Bush was one way of reclaiming the Congress and eventually the Presidency. The downturn in 2004 in Iraq gave them their opening as their rhetoric (“my brilliant three-week war was ruined by your awful occupation”) sharpened with each point drop in the polls.
Second, for the elite of the Eastern Seaboard, nursed on subtlety, quick with ironic repartee, and imbued with cynicism and skepticism, this swaggering Texan, child of privilege, spouting Gospelese and smoke ‘em out lingo was simply too much. A simpleton Manichean, an antithesis to the age of irony!—best epitomized by the Kerryism “I can’t believe I’m losing to this idiot!"
Third, he sort of appropriated liberal foreign policy and mouthed the rhetoric of freedom and democracy—the old liberal mantra of the 1960s. How ironic—and irritating— that this ‘dead or alive’ canon was unloosed on women-hating, homosexual killers, polygamists, reactionary fundamentalists, and anti-democratic Islamic fascists. It wasn’t like he was propping up the usual strongmen in the fashion of a Jim Baker or Brent Scowcroft—now nostalgically praised by the Left that has forgotten the cynicism of the Iran-Iraq war, stopping before Baghdad, and the “F--- the Jews” (and the Kurds) coarseness.
The only way of finessing all that would have been for Bush to wage hard war (harder than we did when pulling out of Fallujah or sending a reprieve to Sadr), while in Clintonesque fashion biting his lip, or like RFK suddenly having complete recall of the impenetrable text of Aeschylus, or inviting in novelists, movie directors, and violinists to the White House to prove his erudition and sensitivity.
In other words, in this empty age, style not substance counts—especially when we accept that for millions of leftwing movers and shakers in Hollywood, publishing, the media, the universities, and foundations lip service to high culture gives a pass on quite a lot.