Fred Thompson For President?

Following his refreshingly plainspoken appearance on Fox News Sunday on March 11, there has been a growing "buzz" over a possible presidential run by former Tennessee senator and current Law and Order star Fred Thompson.

Most recently, Thompson has garnered even more positive attention for his hard-hitting radio commentaries while filling in for Paul Harvey.  Among other topics, Thompson strongly defended  the Bush Administration's decision to fire the eight U.S. Attorneys; dared to criticize the saintly Gandhi  for urging the British people during World War Two to surrender to the Nazis and the Jews to commit mass suicide; and argued  that "it's time for a little plain talk to the leaders of Mexico" about American sovereignty and the need for Mexico to reform its left-of-center economic policies.

There's a lot about Thompson to like.

But is he presidential material?  At this point, I am not convinced.

Thompson has had a distinguished career in politics and public service, but he is better known for his many television and movie appearances.  (See here.)  Most importantly, to my knowledge, Thompson has never held any high-level executive positions in government or business.  Which makes me wonder:  Has he ever had to make "tough" decisions that adversely affected employees, customers, constituents, or special interest groups?  Has he ever had to face determined opposition to his chosen course of action?  Has he ever had to defend himself against unfair attacks from the media and advocacy groups?  I believe that such experience is critical for any presidential candidate -- but especially for a Republican who will be assaulted mercilessly by the mainstream media, by Democrats in Congress, by liberals within the federal bureaucracy, and by special interest groups, not to mention by NGOs, the UN, and the leaders of many foreign nations. 

Yes, Thompson has portrayed strong executive leadership in his acting roles, but what reason do we have to believe that he will exhibit the same qualities in real life?  Unlike Reagan, to whom he sometimes is compared (see here  and here), Thompson has never led a major labor organization, never served as governor, and never been considered one of the leaders of the conservative movement in this country.

So why is there so much interest all of a sudden in his potential candidacy?  In my opinion, this reflects the deep disillusionment many conservatives feel over President Bush, and their hope that a "perfect candidate" will emerge to rescue them from having to choose from among the imperfect choices -- Giuliani, Romney, and McCain -- now available.  While I share this disillusionment with President Bush, the notion that anyone, let alone Thompson, can be a "perfect candidate" is just silly. 

Politics, as opposed to ideology, is ultimately about practicalities, pragmatism, and compromise.  Even Reagan, or Washington, or Lincoln, or Teddy Roosevelt, or Eisenhower, or whomever, did not pursue policies that were 100 percent consistent with an ideological vision.  An effective leader chooses his battles wisely, sets priorities among multiple objectives, stands firm on the most important issues, and compromises when necessary on others. 

For example, Reagan chose to cut taxes and build up the military, rather than shrink the size of the federal budget.  These were absolutely the right choices, but they did not stop the growth of government.  Moreover, the social issues that conservatives care about -- school prayer, abortion, gun control, crime -- did not show any marked improvements during the Reagan years.  Yet Reagan undoubtedly was a great president.

Of course, if Thompson were to become president, he too will have to make hard choices, set priorities, and accept compromises.  Yet at this point, we know almost nothing about how Thompson would go about doing any of this.  What does he think are the most important issues facing the country?  What policies does he think should be implemented to address these issues?  What compromises is he prepared to make in order to achieve his larger goals?  And so on.  In many ways, Thompson is a blank screen onto which dejected conservatives are now projecting their own policy prescriptions.  Whether or not Thompson shares these policy goals, or is the right man to achieve them, we still don't know.

Besides his lack of high-level executive experience, there is another thing about Thompson that concerns me:  His apparent lack of drive to be president.  Unlike some commentators, I do not consider this a positive trait.  Being President of the United States is the most important job -- by far -- in the entire world.  It demands an enormous amount of energy, dedication, initiative, fortitude, pride, ambition, and respect for the office.  And campaigning to become president is the most difficult and grueling "job interview" there is.  As someone who desperately wants to see a Republican elected president in 2008, I am hesitant to support a candidate who, less than a year before the first primaries, has not even decided if he wants the job.  Or why.

There is nothing remotely Reaganesque about that.

Steven M. Warshawsky is a frequent contributor to American Thinker. 
Following his refreshingly plainspoken appearance on Fox News Sunday on March 11, there has been a growing "buzz" over a possible presidential run by former Tennessee senator and current Law and Order star Fred Thompson.

Most recently, Thompson has garnered even more positive attention for his hard-hitting radio commentaries while filling in for Paul Harvey.  Among other topics, Thompson strongly defended  the Bush Administration's decision to fire the eight U.S. Attorneys; dared to criticize the saintly Gandhi  for urging the British people during World War Two to surrender to the Nazis and the Jews to commit mass suicide; and argued  that "it's time for a little plain talk to the leaders of Mexico" about American sovereignty and the need for Mexico to reform its left-of-center economic policies.

There's a lot about Thompson to like.

But is he presidential material?  At this point, I am not convinced.

Thompson has had a distinguished career in politics and public service, but he is better known for his many television and movie appearances.  (See here.)  Most importantly, to my knowledge, Thompson has never held any high-level executive positions in government or business.  Which makes me wonder:  Has he ever had to make "tough" decisions that adversely affected employees, customers, constituents, or special interest groups?  Has he ever had to face determined opposition to his chosen course of action?  Has he ever had to defend himself against unfair attacks from the media and advocacy groups?  I believe that such experience is critical for any presidential candidate -- but especially for a Republican who will be assaulted mercilessly by the mainstream media, by Democrats in Congress, by liberals within the federal bureaucracy, and by special interest groups, not to mention by NGOs, the UN, and the leaders of many foreign nations. 

Yes, Thompson has portrayed strong executive leadership in his acting roles, but what reason do we have to believe that he will exhibit the same qualities in real life?  Unlike Reagan, to whom he sometimes is compared (see here  and here), Thompson has never led a major labor organization, never served as governor, and never been considered one of the leaders of the conservative movement in this country.

So why is there so much interest all of a sudden in his potential candidacy?  In my opinion, this reflects the deep disillusionment many conservatives feel over President Bush, and their hope that a "perfect candidate" will emerge to rescue them from having to choose from among the imperfect choices -- Giuliani, Romney, and McCain -- now available.  While I share this disillusionment with President Bush, the notion that anyone, let alone Thompson, can be a "perfect candidate" is just silly. 

Politics, as opposed to ideology, is ultimately about practicalities, pragmatism, and compromise.  Even Reagan, or Washington, or Lincoln, or Teddy Roosevelt, or Eisenhower, or whomever, did not pursue policies that were 100 percent consistent with an ideological vision.  An effective leader chooses his battles wisely, sets priorities among multiple objectives, stands firm on the most important issues, and compromises when necessary on others. 

For example, Reagan chose to cut taxes and build up the military, rather than shrink the size of the federal budget.  These were absolutely the right choices, but they did not stop the growth of government.  Moreover, the social issues that conservatives care about -- school prayer, abortion, gun control, crime -- did not show any marked improvements during the Reagan years.  Yet Reagan undoubtedly was a great president.

Of course, if Thompson were to become president, he too will have to make hard choices, set priorities, and accept compromises.  Yet at this point, we know almost nothing about how Thompson would go about doing any of this.  What does he think are the most important issues facing the country?  What policies does he think should be implemented to address these issues?  What compromises is he prepared to make in order to achieve his larger goals?  And so on.  In many ways, Thompson is a blank screen onto which dejected conservatives are now projecting their own policy prescriptions.  Whether or not Thompson shares these policy goals, or is the right man to achieve them, we still don't know.

Besides his lack of high-level executive experience, there is another thing about Thompson that concerns me:  His apparent lack of drive to be president.  Unlike some commentators, I do not consider this a positive trait.  Being President of the United States is the most important job -- by far -- in the entire world.  It demands an enormous amount of energy, dedication, initiative, fortitude, pride, ambition, and respect for the office.  And campaigning to become president is the most difficult and grueling "job interview" there is.  As someone who desperately wants to see a Republican elected president in 2008, I am hesitant to support a candidate who, less than a year before the first primaries, has not even decided if he wants the job.  Or why.

There is nothing remotely Reaganesque about that.

Steven M. Warshawsky is a frequent contributor to American Thinker.