September 07, 2007
Character Is King
I'm trying to figure out what conservatives like about Fred Thompson aside from the fact that he's really, really tall. But as far as I can tell, that's enough. Indeed, so much as I wish EJ Dionne were right to theorize that the GOP is swinging towards a more pragmatic posture, I think he's got the causality mixed up.
The reason Giuliani won applause for deflecting questions over his personal life by saying "any issues in my private life do not affect my public performance," is because he's Rudy Giuliani, and the right wants to support him. They've decided they like the guy, so they'll buy into his panders, rationalizations, and barely concealed heterodoxies. If they didn't like the guy, they wouldn't. See Romney, Mitt. If Bill Clinton had another affair, they'd foam at the mouth and begin wondering about Vince Foster and all the rest.
Awhile back, ur-conservative commentator Peggy Noonan wrote a hagiography of Reagan call When Character Was King. So long as I can tell, it still is, and not in the sense that character means personal qualities, but in the sense that it denotes a part someone is playing. Play it well enough, and effectively enough, and all else seems forgiven. Thompson may lack ideas and experience, but he's damn good at playing a character -- that's literally his job, the one he left politics and public service to pursue. Various polls show him near the lead based on that ability alone. Well that, I guess, and the fact that he's really tall.
September 7, 2007 | Permalink
Also, his Southern accent is way more manly than Huckabee's.
Posted by: jhupp | Sep 7, 2007 2:11:11 PM
Fred Thompson is the epitome of an inauthentic leader.
He is the personification of What's the Matter with Kansas. He is a living walking feel good bullshitter. Kinda like Bush without the mean streak.
Posted by: Northern Observer | Sep 7, 2007 2:19:34 PM
There was a discussion yesterday at Swampland about whether Hillary is so disliked that she would drag the party down. No one could explain why Hillary is supposedly so disliked, except one or two people saying the word "character," without any supporting evidence.
"Character" is a code word for something that isn't character, but I can't tell quite what. Height and a willingness to be photographed in close proximity to horses and/or pickup trucks, maybe?
Posted by: Elvis Elvisberg | Sep 7, 2007 2:22:40 PM
Speaking from Tennessee, my Republican coworkers started chatting up Fred mainly because they thought he would unify the Christian conservatives (but that was until they found out about his past work and views on abortion, and his personal life).
They also thought he could raise a lot of money because Williamson County, the toney Nashville suburb where Fred makes his home most of the time, has traditionally been one of the most reliable Republican counties in the country in terms of both voting and fund-raising (until last fall when the RNC held a couple of curt conference calls with state and county GOP leaders about their lackluster governor and US Senate campaigns, and poor fundraising; Tennessee is now one of the GOP's worst in terms of meeting RNC targets).
Check it out here:
Note that it was not until Fred came up real short on fundraising last quarter, that you started hearing skepticism from inside the GOP about his candidacy.
Also note that Fred purposely postponed announcing his candidacy specifically until Sept. 6 because if he'd done it one-day sooner, it would have put him inside a window of having to report fundraising earlier. Now he doesn't have to report until after the first of the year, I think.
It's called managing expectations, people. But the fact that they have to do it at all reveals he's already a compromised candidate.
Posted by: Rick | Sep 7, 2007 2:28:29 PM
Do you think things are wildly different on the liberal side? Who is the most loved Democrat of the last 15 years or so? As a Clinton fanboy I can say it wasn't just his hot and heavy fiscal policy that led to my support of him.
Posted by: Oliver | Sep 7, 2007 2:29:07 PM
Man, I almost hope that dude becomes president. It would herald the dawn of a radically new/insane era in world history. He would be like some crazy dude in a high school student body election running on "beer vending machine in the cafeteria" platform. Except it would be awful. People would die and suffer as a result of his being a moron. And the moral history of the country would be not necessarily brought to its nadir so much as, like, blasted into atoms, leaving only a tingling sense of postmodern nullity. That's the sort of state my brain goes into just contemplating the stable of republican nominees. Every single one of them is insane. Every single on of them babbles incoherently. McCain babbles incoherently. Romney babbles incoherently. Guiliani strings together statements whose relation to one another can only be guessed at. I wonder to myself . . . could it happen? Could one of them win? What would it be mean? Could Jack Nicholson be elected president? Who couldn't be elected president? A cat? Doctor Dre?
Posted by: MrTimbo | Sep 7, 2007 2:35:27 PM
Fred would've been a perfect 2000 candidate.
Things were so good, it'd have been great to have a folksy, feel-good, do-nothing Prez who wouldn't inspire the poisonous hate of the Right.
Thing is, he hasn't a clue about how to deal with some terrifying problems.
If that's all he has to say about GWOT, I can't wait for his health care plan, his mortgage crisis plan, his Iraq plan.
He's way out of his depth, as should soon become conventional wisdom.
He does have a lovely granddaughter, though.
I mean wife.
Posted by: Emphyrio | Sep 7, 2007 2:35:54 PM
Regarding "character": perhaps the fundies are right. Our problem as a nation is that we have turned away from the "Old Testament" "Judeo-Christian" tradition. Students of morality call it the aretaic turn. Where the Jewish tradition is deontological, Helenistic ethics were noted for an emphasis on "character" and "virtues". Of course, once you fake sincerity, as the saying goes, ya got it made.
So, if we care so much about something that can be faked by a good enough actor, is it no wonder we're in trouble? Whatever happened to "you shall know them by their fruits"?
Yep. The problem is that we don't follow the Bible closely enough. 'Cept the fundies, who claim they'll take the lead in getting us to follow the Bible, are the worst offenders in taking this shallow version of the aretaic turn.
Posted by: DAS | Sep 7, 2007 2:56:47 PM
Thompson’s appeal appears to rest on a few key but entirely-useless-in-the-actual-act-of-governing traits: He utters endearingly folksy platitudes in a "what part of the South are you from again?" drawl; he’s been repeatedly typecast by Hollywood to play tough-on-crime characters and so must actually be tough-on-crime; and he’s the guy who said "A Russkie doesn’t take a dump without having a plan."
Otherwise, his legislative accomplishments stick him somewhere in Sonny Bono territory. Or is that unfair to Sonny?
Posted by: James F. Elliott | Sep 7, 2007 3:00:44 PM
He would be like some crazy dude in a high school student body election running on "beer vending machine in the cafeteria" platform. - Mr. Timbo
But didn't this lready happen ... in, appropriately enough 1984?
I'm just barely old enough to remember the election, but wasn't "Walter Mondale [...] the factory whistle" and "Ronald Reagan, Miller Time"?
Bush, (hypothetically Thompson) ... all just the inevitable follow-through on the precident set up by St. Ronnie of GE. And (to be bipartisan, I'll point out) some would argue on the precident set up by JFK.
Posted by: DAS | Sep 7, 2007 3:52:48 PM
The only problem with the latter attempt at bipartisanship is that Kennedy was clearly very smart -- watch the press conferences sometime if you doubt it -- and had shown leadership and bravery in actual warfare, not a movie.
Posted by: Klein's Tiny Left Nut | Sep 7, 2007 4:19:35 PM
Let me add to Klein'sTLN comment on JFK: He faced down an angry mob of Generals wanting to nuke Castro asap and did the most impressive demo of how military power and diplomacy together can accomplish goals without the resort to the use of force. Can you imagine Bush (or any of the GOP candidates) doing what JFK did?
Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Sep 7, 2007 6:34:05 PM
Williamson County, the toney Nashville suburb where Fred makes his home most of the time, has traditionally been one of the most reliable Republican counties in the country in terms of both voting and fund-raising
They may not be doing fundraising, but I was just down in the Cool Springs area (I know, but their Wild Oats is easier to get to then the one in the tonier-but-less-annoying Green Hills) and the locals are certainly fond of Fred 2008 bumper stickers. Good lord, that area makes my teeth itch.
Posted by: latts | Sep 7, 2007 7:17:55 PM
"I'm trying to figure out what conservatives like about Fred Thompson aside from the fact that he's really, really tall. But as far as I can tell, that's enough."
Brilliant analysis. Based undoubtly on your wide discussions with conservatives.
Keep up the good work.
Posted by: mik | Sep 8, 2007 6:33:58 PM
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