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Fred Thompson Ain’t a Half Bad Fellow

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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.

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  • Victor

    Well I have a very hard time supporting anyone who voted and support McCain-Feingold campaign finance “reform”. It is so blaringly unconstitutional. Personally I’m pulling for Ron Paul because I believe in freedom both economic and social. I suppose I don’t have too big a gripe with Fred Thompson except that I couldn’t vote for him. I’d rather someone who doesn’t betray the Constitution.

  • You may have to stay home and not vote at all then, Victor, because when it comes to issues of separation of church and state Paul uses the Constitution to lite votive candles for Jesus.


  • Michelle

    Fred Thompson doesn’t appeal to me at all as a candidate. He came across very defensively in his interview with Chris Wallace and wouldn’t go on Fox News for a very long time- he seems downright afraid of Bill O’Reilly.

    It’s clear that Fox is supporting Giuliani or Romney for the nomination. However, Governor Huckabee has been on countless Fox News shows and has been unfairly interviewed by O’Reilly (who spent the entire time attacking Huckabee’s Chrisitanity–something he has NEVER done to Romney). However, each time, Huckabee responded very well to the questions and kept a positive attitude rather than getting defensive.

    He impressed me as a great statesman and unafraid to take the tough interviews. Thompson looks whiny and whimpy to me if he can’t handle a tough interview. I just can’t picture this guy as a statesman representing America on the foreign stage.

    His campaign has come out with so many false attacks against the other candidates (especially Huckabee) which shows a sign of true desperation and lack of a real message.

    I want a President who will lift us up and I believe that man is Mike Huckabee.

  • Al Barger has seen the light! Fred Thompson has a record that is consistent with his campaign positions.

    That said, it is easy for critics to pull out incidents such as his support for the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill to question his conservatism. In fact, that support demonstrated his commitment to conservative objectives; it was the only option to curtail the existing condition, in which people were openly buying elections.

    You can cite the Constitution and what “should” be forever, but the Income Tax is not going away, and the Right to Life and Marriage Amendments will never pass. Conservatives’ best chance is to return power to the states, where our votes count.

    Thompson cited Huckabee’s RECORD. Why would anyone believe he would be more effective governing the nation than he was governing his state?

  • troll

    who would Thompson turn to for his chief of staff and cabinet – ?

  • Victor, I’m with you on the BiCRA thing. I thank Gary the Writer for his thoughtful comments, but there’s simply no defending that monstrosity on constitutional grounds. I’ll just say that Thompson mostly shows more respect for constitutional principle than most of the other candidates.

    Still, he could conceivably actually be president and would probably do some good, mostly. Whereas Ron Paul is such an idealogue that his mostly pretty good ideas are just disengaged from the real world. So exactly what’s Paul going to actually do, shut down the Federal Reserve? How exactly is that going to work?

    You could choose to take Thompson in a better or worse light. Michelle takes it that Thompson somehow couldn’t “handle” an interview with Chris Wallace. Umm, okay. But people really need to give a rest to the theories about FNC is backing this candidate or that. For starters, they don’t all speak as one voice. Dan Rather trying to throw the 2004 election with forged National Guard documents – THAT was backing one candidate over the other. FNC just ain’t that.

    Huckabee’s a fun guy with the Chuck Norris ad and all, but he’s just exactly backwards on a basic level. That is, he’s a social conservative and fiscal liberal. Hearing a Republican carrying on about how bad times are and feeling your pain like Huckabee does sounds WAY too much like that other guy from Hope.

  • Baronius

    I like Thompson on the issues. This cycle, there’s really no reason you can’t vote on the issues. You’ve got a year to look up candidates’ positions. Who cares what happens in the debates?

    I don’t agree with his campaign finance vote, but there’s no candidate who’s 100% for me. Thompson’s positions on abortion, Iraq, the economy, and immigration look fine to me. Beyond issues, I agree with Al about Thompson’s broad policy instincts. He’s wrong on tort reform, but I like his reasoning.

  • RJ

    The GOP race is so damn unpredictable. Literally any of the top five – McCain, Romney, Rudy, Thompson, and even Huck – could conceivably win the nomination. (Meanwhile, the Democrat race is pretty much down to Hillary and Obama.)

    There are things I like about each of the GOP candidates, and things I dislike about each of them as well. I give Thompson credit for running the most “serious” campaign, as far as offering specific policy proposals. But he isn’t a terribly exciting speaker, and his campaign staff doesn’t do a very good job of getting his name mentioned in every news cycle (Romney’s staff is excellent at this).

    Anyway, good article, Al.

  • HungS

    Thompson has a strong record.
    He is strongly for lobbying for Planned Parenthood to kill unborn babies.
    Thompson is strong on advocating giving liberal state judges rights to make same-sex union legal.
    He is strongly for leaving his wife after 36 years of marriage.
    Strong if he runs the Democratic ticket. What a fake!

  • Thank you, RJ. Thompson maybe ain’t the most exciting speaker, but excitement ain’t the top thing I’m looking for. Thompson isn’t that overly scintillating, but he tends to actually be saying something significant when he talks a much higher percentage of the time than most of the other candidates. That counts more.

    Also, Thompson would probably be about the top of the list for the living room test. Which of these candidates do you want to see in your living room every day for four years? On that level, it’d probably be between Thompson, Romney and Obama.

    HungS, do you really think that hateful nonsense you’re talking is supposed to somehow persuade anyone of anything? Is it that we’re going to think, hey this anonymous moron on the internet hates Fred Thompson, so I guess I will too.

  • Clavos

    Unlike most (if not all) of the other candidates, Republican or Democrat, I think Thompson’s running on principles in which he actually believes, rather than what he thinks the voters want to hear.

    I still don’t understand why he supported McCain-Feingold, but if that’s the worst I can find about him, it’s not enough to stop me voting for him.

    But, we’ve a year to go, yet.

    BTW, I think he was right, on principle, to oppose tort reform by the Feds, but I sure would like to see something done in that regard.

    Good point about his supposed “laziness,” Al.

  • It took me about eight hours to fully investigate McCain-Feingold and this is what I found out;

    The bill itself was created specifically to kill soft money donations that Bill Clinton and Dick Morris risked their freedom to pump exponentially higher amounts into their campaign than ever before imagined…way beyond limits that everyone accepted or believed possible without being criminally charged at the time.

    While in the debate process several leftwing loons with the goading of some republicans like McCain himself were talked into an attachment which was the limited speech amendment to the bill. Even today, McCain smugly offers that, “The bill works and any alleged infringements are OK with me because it works”…A bigger case of denial you will never witness.

    With Fred it’s a completely different story. He wanted the soft money stopped and rightly so but, he was stuck between a rock and a hard place…Sign on and finsih the bill you helped set the donation limits to and be rid of soft money or fight it and never be able to pass anything you want done for the remainder of your Senate career because you can’t get anything done by yourself on the Hill…Which was one of Fred’s comments before he announced his run, “I couldn’t do what I knew needed to be done as a senator”.

    WithOUT the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, what would YOU have done??

    I would’ve have signed it under those conditions myself and believe me, I hate the first amendment infringement just as much as anyone.

  • Winghunter, you certainly do not hate the First Amendment infringement as much as me, or you’d never consider supporting any part of that BiCRA bill. Also, banning “soft” money (I think it’s ALL green) is a violation of the First Amendment. It’s all, completely and dumbly WRONG.

    In a misguided sort of reformer way, you might reasonably justify sunshine laws with campaign finance – making records of donors public and transparent. But anything where you’re telling people that they can’t spend their money to take out ads and billboards and such is an infringement on freedom of speech. I don’t think there’s any constitutional mention of “hard money” and “soft money.”

  • Winghunter

    Geez Al, you just contradicted yourself and then balled up several different aspects into one…I don’t think you fully appreciate what took place back then even after I just got done explaining it to you…and frankly, your tone isn’t appreciated. It’s certainly not that I can return the fire but, I would rather not if you don’t mind.

    Now, the bad guys who would love nothing more than to corrupt our system to get their own way are always out there looking for a crack in the system to take advantage, wouldn’t you agree?

    Then, the only possible remedy is to keep things above board in having all donations recorded in great detail and publicly reported within a twenty-four hour period under heavy penalty for not doing so…Just as Fred has long since offered.

    If we don’t have that who’s going to stop the George Soros’ of the world from pumping all that cash into creating their own network of journalists and media for him to hold over everyones head??

    Now, I’ll say it a different way to try to make myself clear here.
    McCain-Feingold itself was not part of the restriction of free speech UNTIL the attachment to the bill was put on by leftwing loons as a condition to get the bill passed but, as I’ve already stated, Fred was not a part of that…he was stuck in the middle with no where to turn.

    He has publicly said this way back in March and offered what I just repeated…The man understands it was and is wrong to infringe our speech and he would like to see it gone…what more can you ask of the guy??

    On top of that, look at his record. Fred has stood completely alone on other bills because they were “over-reaching” the federal governments powers provided them and restricted by our Constitution…I can think of only one other guy that has done that more often but, he’s only playing with half-a-deck.

    Now, I ask you to honestly tell me that you think anyone who would go that far to make a statement that his colleagues were doing the wrong thing would not try to stop what he knew was obviously wrong??

    I suggest, no, I’m clearly saying that Fred would not intentionally do that but, I’ve had the advantage of going over his record like a blanket and I sincerely believe him to be always above-board and completely honest. I t-r-u-s-t him and I can count on one hand how many people I do trust.

  • Winghunter, I fail to see what might have been reasonably considered offensive in my tone, but perhaps I’m just an uncouth hillbilly. In any case, I meant no disrespect or even sarcasm.

    I understood your argument about BiCRA, I just don’t even a little bit buy it. Essentially, you said that this soft money is SO evil that we have to Do Something, even possibly at the risk of overreaching.

    Whereas I didn’t confuse and ball up your distinctions, but simply reject the whole premise that soft money is a special Evil and distinct class. “Soft” money or “hard,” it’s all green. The problem isn’t primarily people buying influence, but that there is so much influence available to sell.

    That’s utterly inescapable with a huge government with trillions of dollars a year to spend. Spending a billion dollars on a presidential campaign that’s going to determine the cutting up of thousands of times that much every year is a pittance. What, Congress gets to take half your money, but you’re not going to be allowed to spend the other half trying to talk your fellow citizens into stopping them? McCain and Fred Thompson by their sponsorship of BiCRA pretty much said “Give us your money and shut up about it.”

    “Now, the bad guys who would love nothing more than to corrupt our system to get their own way are always out there looking for a crack in the system to take advantage, wouldn’t you agree?”

    Absolutely. The difference is, I see Congressmen wanting to cover their asses and protect themselves from criticism and electoral challenge as being the main bad guys. Some of the people pumping money into the system are bad guys looking for congresscritters to give them handouts from the federal treasury (farmers) or grotesque legislative favors (the corporate copyright industry). Some of them (Microsoft and the NRA spring to mind) are spending money essentially defensively, mostly just trying not to get hosed.

    But how do you tell the difference and draw the lines between buying influence vs defending your own proper position vs even just a personally disinterested civic concern? Congress should be the LAST people who would get to draw such lines.

    “If we don’t have that who’s going to stop the George Soros’ of the world from pumping all that cash into creating their own network of journalists and media for him to hold over everyones head??”

    No one. I say that George Soros has every right in the world to spend his money as he will. Note there that you’re not even talking about campaign donations going to candidates, but private think tanks, websites and magazines. I think he’s pretty pernicious, but the likes of him are why G-d made Ann Coulter. I say we let her and Rush deal with Soros. Them, and all the rightwing cash cows.

    I don’t mean to question Fred Thompson’s honesty. I’d trust him to mean what he says and follow through more than about anyone else in the race. But I don’t and can’t trust him to protect our right to free speech because he sponsored something that seriously breached that – and, however reluctantly, voted for something even much worse. He just flat out screwed the pooch on that one. That he’s squeamish about it now (as opposed to the still proud John McCain) is perhaps a small mitigating factor.

    Still at that, I wouldn’t mind Thompson getting elected. Sponsoring BiCRA was bad, but is that worse than Rudy’s support for gun control, for example? Then of course, there are the Democrats.

  • Ross

    We bitch and moan in this country about our leaders, saying they are too much like a professional politician…that all they want in power, that they are bought and paid for.

    …and we finally have a guy like Thompson in the race, who is running for the right reasons. Not because he has wanted to be the leader of the free world since high school. Then we complain, because he is not fancy enough, not enough good soundbites…he just lays out conservative policies because he believes they are what is best for this country…and he continues to get criticized because he’s not “flashy” enough.

    This country never ceases to amaze me with it’s bipolar attitude towards government.

    Thompson is not a politician, he’s just a leader, with good conservative plans for the United States.

  • Baronius

    I’ll agree with Winghunter to this extent: politicians hate parallel campaigns. You pay a fortune to the best ad men in America, honing your image perfectly, only to have some group put Willie Horton’s face in an ad, and you get hit with the backlash. I was thinking about this very subject while reading the Ron Paul supporters on another thread. Paul’s got to be sweating bullets with these guys on the front lines for him.

    That said, politicians rarely do the right thing when they’re getting scared by the masses. And it does concern me that Thompson led the investigation into 1996 campaign finances. Even if I didn’t care about the issue, that’s a big fat L on his win/loss record.

  • Current Editorial Commment About Fred Thompson (in stark contrast to all the slimey naysaying).

    P.S. I’m in tune with Winghunter (good to see you around comrad).

  • Compugor, is any naysaying against your guy Fred automatically “slimey”?

    And the Thompson press release of cherry picked compliments is a nice talking point for his troops, but not much helpful as news or information to voters trying to decide who to vote for.

    Small bit of advice: The kinda shitty attitude of that “slimey naysaying” comment is not likely to win converts to Fred’s cause. Particularly with this column, which is about 95% pro-Fred, which is a pretty generous rating for me to give a frickin’ politician. Try to make nice as much as you can. You get more flies with honey than with vinegar, as someone’s grandmother once told them.

    Also, Fred Thompson is – thankfully – not an angry man candidate. The angry vote would likely be going to Ron Paul. Fred’s appeal is in appearing calm, deliberative and thoughtful – basically the opposite of angry and combative. He’s Hank Hill’s kind of candidate.

  • Al, You make good points and I accept your advice.
    There is an unfortunate tendency for acrimony to develop when the sides are so adverse and the stakes are so high.

    Its been tough to take what appears to me to be an insidious effort to derail Fred Thompson’s candidacy not with respect to any substantive issue. I believe its because sociocrats fear him, and rightly so. Unlike the rest of the field of GOP candidates with questionable conservative pedigrees, Thompson can close the breach between Republicans and conservatives. None of the far left-of-center Demos will stand a chance if that happens.

    The time has come to return to the principles of America’s founding heritage, and address the nation’s challenges through the core ideals of providing for the common defense, self-governance, free markets and the rule of law. Fred Thompson is leading the way.