Tuesday, June 12, 2007

George Will knocks Fred Thompson

According to Captain's Quarters, a "swing and a miss":
George Will attempts to pop the Fred Thompson boomlet in his latest Newsweek column. Unfortunately for Will, Fred Thompson is not the lightweight cipher he dismisses so casually, and the normally excellent Will winds up looking a little bit of a lightweight himself:
Some say he is the Republicans' Rorschach test: They all see in him what they crave. Or he might be the Republicans' dot-com bubble, the result of restless political investors seeking value that the untutored eye might not discern and that might be difficult to quantify but which the investors are sure must be there, somewhere, somehow.

One does not want to be unfair to Thompson, who may have hidden depths. But ask yourself this: If he did not look like a basset hound who had just read a sad story—say, "Old Yeller"—and if he did not talk like central casting's idea of the god Sincerity, would anyone think he ought to be entrusted with the nation's nuclear arsenal? He is an actor, and, as a Hollywood axiom says, the key to acting is sincerity—if you can fake that, you've got it made.

This is, of course, all about another actor. Republicans have scrutinized the current crop of presidential candidates and succumbed to the psychosomatic disease Reagan Deprivation. It is, however, odd that many Republicans who advertise their admiration for Reagan are so ready to describe Thompson as Reaganesque because he ... what?

First and foremost, Will has both Reagan and Thompson wrong in the same manner that people dismissed Reagan in his political career. Thompson has a long career as more than just an actor. Thompson's acting career was accidental; his political career was much more deliberate. He made his name as a reforming activist lawyer, first with Watergate, and second in exposing corruption in the Tennessee governor's office. And like Reagan but in a much shorter time frame, he has spent the last several months delivering speeches and papers on issues.

Thompson first came to national attention by working with Senator Howard Baker on the Watergate committee. It was Thompson who brought out the Oval Office taping system that captured all of Richard Nixon's incriminating conversations. Thompson also asked the critical question: "What did the President know, and when did he know it?"

Afterwards, Thompson pursued a case of pardons-for-bribes corruption in Tennessee. He represented Marie Ragghianti, a whistleblower who uncovered the corruption. With Thompson's help, a number of Tennessee state officials went to prison, and while Governor Ray Blanton managed to remain free, his political career was finished. The film Marie tells the story based on the Peter Maas book, and Thompson played himself. That started his improbable Hollywood career; he did not train to be an actor, but a lawyer and a clean-government activist.

Will's description of Thompson manages to miss all that, as well as the eight years he served in the Senate. That isn't an extraordinarily long time, but it's the same amount of experience Ronald Reagan had as a public officeholder when he ran for President in 1976 and 1980, although Reagan's experience was as an executive. Reagan had ten years on the lecture circuit talking politics before he won election as California's governor, but Thompson has had plenty of real-life experience in politics before he became, in Will's dismissive tone, "an actor".

Thompson is a lot more than 99 percent charm. His speeches and writings have very clearly defined his driving philosophy as a federalist, and his track record as a reformer needs no apologetics to anyone except Will. He has to answer for his record on campaign-finance reform as well as the rest of his votes and actions, of course, but that's what all candidates have to do when they run for President.

George Will mostly hits home runs with his columns, whether on politics or baseball. In this case, he whiffed.

I have no idea if I'd support Thompson or not, since he has yet to declare or debate or anything. But I'm not willing to trash the guy before I know anything about his views or votes or anything like that, especially since he does seem to have a distinguished political career (at least, as far as law enforcement goes...legislatively, I'm not so sure).