Thank goodness that Fred Thompson came riding to the rescue this week. Finally there is hope for a party which otherwise gives all appearances of heading for a political train-wreck of once-per-century proportions. At this rate, pretty soon the Republicans will be losing votes to the Whigs.
What a perfect choice Thompson is for the GOP. He’s got everything Republicans require in a president. First of all, he’s an actor, which is what Saint Reagan was.
Second, like the same former president, Thompson is “folksy”. Really, really folksy. He likes to describe himself as just a country lawyer from Tennessee. Maybe he’ll rent that red pickup truck again he used to get elected to the Senate in 1994. Never mind his eight years in the Senate. He’s a Washington “outsider”. Like Reagan! Only different.
Thompson also generally neglects telling you about how he earned over a million bucks as a Washington lobbyist. Since he’s an “outsider”, presumably he was making his calls from, er, Maryland or Virginia. But, no matter. It was a folksy kind of lobbying, anyhow, and that’s the main thing. Especially when he successfully helped to persuade Congress to deregulate savings and loan institutions in the early 80s. That turned out well, eh?! Or how about the lobbying work he did to help prevent a London-based reinsurance company from getting stuck with asbestos claims? Very down home. Very Tennessee, Jed.
His kids have now become lobbyists, too! Of course, they would never trade on their father’s name or influence in their work. It’s all just a coincidence that they followed that career path. And, besides, whenever they’re busy not trading on their Poppa Bear’s name as they do their lobbying work, they make sure to do it in a really folksy way.
Thompson’s third major qualification is that he’s apparently not the sharpest knife in the drawer – kinda like You Know Who – another hugely popular president amongst GOP voters. Ol’ Richard Nixon put it a bit more bluntly, as was his wont. When H.R. Haldeman told Nixon that Thompson had been appointed as Republican counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee, Tricky Dick responded by saying, “Oh shit, that kid?”. Nixon went on to further describe that kid as “dumb as hell”. But isn’t that one of the main requirements to be a Republican nominee for president, nowadays? Heck, isn’t that one of the main requirements just to be a Republican?
As it happens, Thompson more than came through for Nixon, which amply demonstrates his bona fides per the fourth important criterion crucial to a GOP president: He’s clearly willing to destroy anything necessary, including the Constitution and even the country itself, if that would help the party. During Watergate, he was taking instructions from the White House – you know, the very folks under investigation – as to how to question witnesses like John Dean.
One of the more famous moments from those electric months occurred when Thompson asked White House aide Alexander Butterfield, “Are you aware of the installation of any listening devices in the Oval Office of the president?” Butterfield’s shocking affirmative response, of course, marked the beginning of the end of Nixon. But Thompson was not at all surprised to hear the answer, as it had already been pried out of Butterfield three days earlier, in a closed-door deposition. Not that Folksy Freddy was in the room at the time, of course. No, he was found in a hotel bar with a reporter when a Republican investigator breathlessly tracked him down to break the big news of Butterfield’s revelation. So what did he do? Just what you’d expect a great American patriot and supporter of the rule of law to do in a moment of national emergency and constitutional crisis. Er, at least a great patriot who also happened to be an even greater party loyalist (let’s keep our priorities straight here, people). He phoned J. Fred Buzhardt, Nixon’s lawyer, to inform him that the Watergate committee knew of his client’s tapes and that they’d better ditch the damn smoking gun. Like, pronto.
No wonder J. Fred concluded that Kid Fred fully understood the proper pecking order of his allegiances in the Watergate matter. Regarding the Dean testimony, Buzhardt told Nixon: “I found Thompson most cooperative, feeling more Republican every day. Uh, perfectly prepared to assist in really doing a cross-examination.” Buzhardt later added that Thompson was “willing to go, you know, pretty much the distance now. And he said he realized his responsibility was going to have be as a Republican increasingly”. Perfect qualifications, eh?! I mean, what’s the point of having a Republican president if he’s not willing to shred the Constitution whenever doing so would benefit the GOP?
But wait, there’s more! A fifth Thompson qualification is that he has spectacularly bad politics, definitely a sine qua non for Republicans. He loves tax cuts for the wealthy and free trade, thinks that global warming is a hoax, wants to overturn Roe, is big on the Iraq war, beats up on immigrants, and makes the NRA happy at every turn. What more could we ask of the guy? He even said he would have pardoned Scooter Libby right away, had Bush not beaten him to it. Now, those are some serious credentials!
But perhaps most importantly of all, Thompson will happily mouth any bullshit for public consumption imaginable to get himself elected, just like any upstanding Republican certainly would. You know, read his lips! Check out this cold dish of bloody red meat he threw down to wild applause at the Young Republicans national convention a month ago: “I’m getting tired of having to apologize for the United States of America around the world. I’m tired of other people’s perceptions that we need to apologize.” Damn straight, Fredo! You tell ‘em! Never mind that nobody has actually called for the US to make any such apology. Never mind that we’ve killed a million people in Iraq now, and turned four million more into refugees. (That’s only one-fifth of the country’s population so far, anyhow. Per the Republican rule of thumb, no apology should ever be even contemplated until you’ve destroyed the lives of at least half of any country you invade.)
Doncha just love that good old-fashioned paranoid Republicanism, too? The whole world’s against us! We’re always right! We need to be proud and unthinking! When in doubt, kick some ass! No more wimps in the White House, especially not Democrats, who, Thompson said in the same speech, are “driving over a left-wing cliff”. You mean like Hillary, Fred? That radical anarcho-syndicalist lesbian terrorist Democrat? Then he added, to more huge applause, “I don’t think the people are going to turn the keys of this country over to the party of despair”. (Hmm… As opposed to the party that brings the despair, for instance?) The Young Turks at the convention were beside themselves. Now here’s a guy who speaks their language!
Fast Freddy’s second bride is a quarter-century younger than him, at least if you believe the age for her the campaign has been feeding to the press. Described in the media as a ‘trophy-wife’, the curvy blonde looks a lot closer to twenty-five than the forty she’s supposed to be. She’s also a gal who appears to have something of her own opinion about things, and that doesn’t really fly well with the boys down at the barber shop. Just ask Hillary.
Mrs. Fred, moreover, also seems to have a bit too healthy of an independent streak when it comes to that whole thing about paying your bills. So much so, in fact, that there have been no fewer than three court orders (that we know of) attempting to force her to pay what she owes. In two cases her wages had to be garnished, and one of those apparently still hasn’t been resolved, as she simply upped and left for another job. Sorta like the Republican version of MoveOn.com, you know?.
Sure, he’s an actor, he’s a poseur, he dumb, he’ll shred the Constitution if necessary to benefit the party, he’s got worse politics than the guy Genghis Kahn fired from his war council for being too reactionary, and he says stupid things that make insecure people feel better about themselves.
But all those supposed negatives just prove that Thompson is fully capable of the most important quality of all for a Republican: That good old-fashioned hypocrisy we’ve come to know and love.
Besides, consider the alternatives. Regressive drag queens like McCain, Giuliani or Romney, total snoozers like Brownback or Huckabee, rarely seen apparitions like Gilmore (who?), and outright wackos like Tancredo.
Thompson came along just in time. Indeed, the way I heard it, Republican voters were getting so desperate, they were just about to turn to a little-known senator from Idaho and run him for president as their dark-horse champion. Unfortunately, he seems to be unavailable at the moment.
Unless, of course, you happen to be reading this in an airport men’s room.
DAVID MICHAEL GREEN is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York.