I’m not entirely thrilled with anybody who’s running for president at this point, although some of them have their good points. Right today, I’m just thinking broadly on some of Fred Thompson‘s good points.
That’s because he had an interesting confrontation on Fox News earlier today with reporter Chris Wallace, to whom he gave on air criticism of FNC for their coverage of his campaign. He didn’t try to intimidate the host with a wagging finger and threatening gestures like Bill Clinton, or send out third party threats and cheap manipulation like Hillary.
Instead, he had some specific grievances that he explained politely and personally on air. “For you to highlight nothing but the negatives in terms of the polls and then put on your own guys who have been predicting for four months, really, that I couldn’t do it, kind of skew things a little bit. There’s a lot of other opinion out there.” That strikes me as a good, clean honest way to deal with people.
Besides that, Thompson strikes me broadly very well on a personal level. He seems to be pretty tough minded, but level headed and not particularly given to grudges or confrontation – which would be more Giuliani or Clinton.
But the best personality-type reason to root for Thompson is that he’s the major candidate who is distinctly the least hungry for the job. This often seems to be listed as a big argument against Thompson, for some reason. But he hasn’t been itching to be the president and the big boss all his life. I find that very healthy and reassuring.
Put another way, I find it far less likely that Fred Thompson would identify with Alice Cooper proclaiming that he was going to be “Elected,” and that then “We’re all gonna ROCK to the rules that I make” than that Rudy Giuliani might. Fred Thompson seems about the least desirous of the big candidates (other than Ron Paul (God bless him) to want to boss people around.
It’s not like Thompson doesn’t really want the job. He’s ambitious, and he thinks he could do a better job as POTUS than the others. Some folk have described him as “lazy” because of his laconic Jed Clampett style, but he’s had several big careers. He’s got a hell of a resume for a lazy man. It’s just that his psyche won’t be crushed and his soul hurt if he doesn’t get the job.
A couple of things on the policy level impress me about Thompson. Perhaps the most important one is simply the fairly high level of specificity. National Review notably made a good editorial case for him for being willing to make specific, realistic and thus certainly controversial suggestions for dealing with Social Security, for starters.
Besides just generally being a sensible rightwing kinda guy, I most particularly appreciate his underlying belief in principles of federalism. It’s not particularly a sexy, high-polling dramatic principle to extol – but it’s critically important, and the worst out of balance aspect of the US power structure. This idea of federalism and what is a proper federal area of authority vs something for state or local government seems to come up a lot spontaneously with Fred Thompson, and that is his most promising point on a policy level. I note this Reason magazine story by Jacob Sullum about federalist Fred. “Fred Thompson’s federalism is inconsistent, but at least he has principles to betray.” I might note in that regard the one most egregious violation of federalist constitutional principles in Fred Thompson’s career: his critical support for the blasted McCain/Feingold BiCRA nonsense.
In particular, I want to defend him against one criticism made by some rivals. Senator Thompson voted against a federal tort reform bill. Smacking down trial lawyers would be a satisfying thing, politically expedient for Republicans and only likely to make many people love you. I might not be terribly disappointed to see such legislation, but Fred Thompson opposed it on principled grounds of federalism.
That is, he said that it just wasn’t the business of the federal government to be making tort laws. He might would support just such legislation if he were a governor or state legislator, but the federal government should stay out. Good answer!
In short then, Fred Thompson seems like a sensible, well adjusted guy who is not overly eager to order people around, nor does he seem to think he has some manifest destiny as a historic figure, nor does he have any kind of cheesy savior complex. On top of which, he has at least some intentions of recognizing the limits of constitutional power. That’s at least some start of wisdom.