Taking Another Look At Fred

Steven M. Warshawsky
In a piece earlier this week on AT, I questioned the growing hoopla over the possible presidential candidacy of Fred Thompson.  While Thompson is a solid conservative and likeable fellow, I suggested he lacks the executive experience and personal passion to be President.  Well, my piece hit a nerve among conservatives who are looking for a "non-Giuliani" candidate, and who appear to be abandoning Romney for Thompson.  I have had several folks insist to me that Thompson is "the best" candidate the Republican Party could nominate for 2008.

So I decided to take another look at Thompson.  In particular, I examined his radio commentaries from the Paul Harvey Show for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of this week.  National Review has been posting the transcripts of these commentaries on its website.  (It looks like NR may be climbing onto the Thompson bandwagon.)  I figure that a man with a national radio and internet audience, who already has expressed an interest in running for President, would use his commentaries as an opportunity to say something meaningful about the state of our country and where he would lead us if he were President.  While Thompson's commentaries have a certain "homespun" charm and sound commonsensical, upon closer examination they are not remotely substantive -- and their lack of substance contradicts Thompson's reputation as a plainspoken leader.

In his commentary for Monday Thompson discussed "the $25 billion in pure pork" that he was "really surprised" to find in the House's emergency war-funding bill.  Of course, as a seasoned pol, Thompson could not have been surprised, truly, by the inclusion of non-security spending items in the bill.  This is how Congress operates.  As a former senator, Thompson understands this as well as anyone.  He then identified some of this pork:  $283 million for dairy farmers, $74 million for peanut farmers, $25 million for spinach producers, $400 million for rural schools, $80 million for low-income rent subsidies, and $50 million to repair the plant that supplies electricity to the Capitol.  All told, less than $1 billion dollars.  So why is this spending "pure pork"?  Would Thompson cut this spending from the bill?  What about the other $24 billion of "pure pork" included in the bill?  Would he veto such a pork-laden bill if he were President?  He didn't say.  It is easy to lament the pork-based legislative system found in Congress.  The hard part is actually doing something about it.  After all, one man's pork is another man's public interest.  Nothing in his commentary suggests that Thompson has any answers to this problem.

In his commentary for Tuesday Thompson took on another easy target:  left-wing conspiracy theorists, such as Rosie O'Donnell and Charlie Sheen, both of whom apparently believe that the federal government was responsible for 9/11.  (I say "apparently" because, with Hollywood types, you never know if their words and actions are cynically calculated to gain attention.)  In rebuttal, Thompson noted the recent confession by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and criticized the "well-placed people who acted like Mohammed's smug confession mean nothing."  OK, so we know that Thompson believes that Islamic terrorists, not President Bush and Dick Cheney, were responsible for 9/11.  But most people, even liberal Democrats, believe this.  The critical questions are what would Thompson do about terrorism?  Or about the war in Iraq?  Or about domestic surveillance programs?  And so on.  Again, his commentary provides nary a clue as to his positions on these issues.

Finally, in yesterday's commentary Thompson criticized Great Britain for allowing its military capacity (especially its navy) to deterioriate to such an extent that it now lacks the ability to respond with force to Iran's recent kidnapping of 15 British sailors and marines.  He criticized our other European allies for similar defense cut-backs.  Significantly, nowhere in his commentary did Thompson state that Britain should take military action against Iran.  On the contrary, Thompson's words were carefully chosen.  After pointing out, correctly, that "Iran's kidnappings are part of a plan to see that nothing interferes with its quest for nuclear weapons," Thompson concluded:  "This is not the time for the free world to neglect its own defense."  What does this mean?  Iran's quest for nuclear weapons is probably the single most important foreign policy issue of our time.  What does Thompson suggest we do about it?  By the time the 2008 election rolls around, it may already be too late for action.  If Thompson has some sage advice to give in this area, he should be giving it now.

Yes, I know that giving commentaries on the Paul Harvey Show is not the same as making speeches to the American people.  But Thompson's commentaries are considered newsworthy by those who believe he would make a good, nay outstanding, President.  I confess I am underwhelmed by such evidence of Thompson's greatness.

Let me make something clear:  I will vote for Thompson, if he were the Republican nominee, over any Democratic candidate.  Indeed, despite the inevitable charges of hypocrisy, I will write articles explaining why the American people should vote for Thompson.  But just as I could not understand the rush, immediately after the 2004 election, to annoint Condoleezza Rice the next Republican standard bearer (see here ), I cannot understand the present intensity of support for Fred Thompson, which, quite frankly, is all out of proportion to Thompson's political stature and achievements to date.  This does not mean that I cannot be persuaded to support Thompson.  But, like Gingrich, if he's serious about becoming President, Thompson needs to throw his hat into the ring and start explaining, in his own words, why he's the best choice for 2008.

Steven M. Warshawsky   
In a piece earlier this week on AT, I questioned the growing hoopla over the possible presidential candidacy of Fred Thompson.  While Thompson is a solid conservative and likeable fellow, I suggested he lacks the executive experience and personal passion to be President.  Well, my piece hit a nerve among conservatives who are looking for a "non-Giuliani" candidate, and who appear to be abandoning Romney for Thompson.  I have had several folks insist to me that Thompson is "the best" candidate the Republican Party could nominate for 2008.

So I decided to take another look at Thompson.  In particular, I examined his radio commentaries from the Paul Harvey Show for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of this week.  National Review has been posting the transcripts of these commentaries on its website.  (It looks like NR may be climbing onto the Thompson bandwagon.)  I figure that a man with a national radio and internet audience, who already has expressed an interest in running for President, would use his commentaries as an opportunity to say something meaningful about the state of our country and where he would lead us if he were President.  While Thompson's commentaries have a certain "homespun" charm and sound commonsensical, upon closer examination they are not remotely substantive -- and their lack of substance contradicts Thompson's reputation as a plainspoken leader.

In his commentary for Monday Thompson discussed "the $25 billion in pure pork" that he was "really surprised" to find in the House's emergency war-funding bill.  Of course, as a seasoned pol, Thompson could not have been surprised, truly, by the inclusion of non-security spending items in the bill.  This is how Congress operates.  As a former senator, Thompson understands this as well as anyone.  He then identified some of this pork:  $283 million for dairy farmers, $74 million for peanut farmers, $25 million for spinach producers, $400 million for rural schools, $80 million for low-income rent subsidies, and $50 million to repair the plant that supplies electricity to the Capitol.  All told, less than $1 billion dollars.  So why is this spending "pure pork"?  Would Thompson cut this spending from the bill?  What about the other $24 billion of "pure pork" included in the bill?  Would he veto such a pork-laden bill if he were President?  He didn't say.  It is easy to lament the pork-based legislative system found in Congress.  The hard part is actually doing something about it.  After all, one man's pork is another man's public interest.  Nothing in his commentary suggests that Thompson has any answers to this problem.

In his commentary for Tuesday Thompson took on another easy target:  left-wing conspiracy theorists, such as Rosie O'Donnell and Charlie Sheen, both of whom apparently believe that the federal government was responsible for 9/11.  (I say "apparently" because, with Hollywood types, you never know if their words and actions are cynically calculated to gain attention.)  In rebuttal, Thompson noted the recent confession by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and criticized the "well-placed people who acted like Mohammed's smug confession mean nothing."  OK, so we know that Thompson believes that Islamic terrorists, not President Bush and Dick Cheney, were responsible for 9/11.  But most people, even liberal Democrats, believe this.  The critical questions are what would Thompson do about terrorism?  Or about the war in Iraq?  Or about domestic surveillance programs?  And so on.  Again, his commentary provides nary a clue as to his positions on these issues.

Finally, in yesterday's commentary Thompson criticized Great Britain for allowing its military capacity (especially its navy) to deterioriate to such an extent that it now lacks the ability to respond with force to Iran's recent kidnapping of 15 British sailors and marines.  He criticized our other European allies for similar defense cut-backs.  Significantly, nowhere in his commentary did Thompson state that Britain should take military action against Iran.  On the contrary, Thompson's words were carefully chosen.  After pointing out, correctly, that "Iran's kidnappings are part of a plan to see that nothing interferes with its quest for nuclear weapons," Thompson concluded:  "This is not the time for the free world to neglect its own defense."  What does this mean?  Iran's quest for nuclear weapons is probably the single most important foreign policy issue of our time.  What does Thompson suggest we do about it?  By the time the 2008 election rolls around, it may already be too late for action.  If Thompson has some sage advice to give in this area, he should be giving it now.

Yes, I know that giving commentaries on the Paul Harvey Show is not the same as making speeches to the American people.  But Thompson's commentaries are considered newsworthy by those who believe he would make a good, nay outstanding, President.  I confess I am underwhelmed by such evidence of Thompson's greatness.

Let me make something clear:  I will vote for Thompson, if he were the Republican nominee, over any Democratic candidate.  Indeed, despite the inevitable charges of hypocrisy, I will write articles explaining why the American people should vote for Thompson.  But just as I could not understand the rush, immediately after the 2004 election, to annoint Condoleezza Rice the next Republican standard bearer (see here ), I cannot understand the present intensity of support for Fred Thompson, which, quite frankly, is all out of proportion to Thompson's political stature and achievements to date.  This does not mean that I cannot be persuaded to support Thompson.  But, like Gingrich, if he's serious about becoming President, Thompson needs to throw his hat into the ring and start explaining, in his own words, why he's the best choice for 2008.

Steven M. Warshawsky