Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Fred Thompson: Reagan or Not

Fred Thompson = Ronald Reagan? That's the political equation some of Thompson's backers are promoting, as the actor and former Tennessee senator prepares for his official entry (scheduled for tomorrow) into the race for the Republican presidential nomination. But in order to be the new Reagan will Thompson have to overact? Besides the fact that both men combined politics with acting, this characterization is a stretch. Reagan was what's known as a "movement conservative." He identified with the conservative movement, he became a leader of that movement, he championed its many causes. Sure, he did not always live the family values preached by the movement (he divorced, enacted an abortion law as California governor, ran a highly dysfunctional family). But no president of the 20th century was so closely connected to an ideological movement and its adherents as Reagan.

That cannot be said for Thompson. As a senator, he had a conservative voting record, but he was never seen as a leader of the right. In fact, he pissed off conservatives with several moves. In 1994, for instance, his campaign said he was essentially in favor of abortion rights.

Thompson may be able to act the conservative leader these days, but some of the movement's top activists remember well what they consider his betrayals. For them, Thompson is no Reagan. A few weeks ago, Richard Viguerie, who has spent decades building the conservative movement (and making much money in the process), detailed the right-wing case against Thompson on a conservative website. The headline on the piece was unambiguous: "Conservatives, Beware of Fred Thompson." Here are some excerpts:

The frustration of conservatives is understandable. Faced with the prospects of Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, or Mitt Romney as the next Republican presidential candidate, many are pinning their hopes on former Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee. Could this actor-politician be the new Ronald Reagan?

Mainstream media types assure us that he is. His record suggests otherwise.

This is the second time conservatives have pinned their hopes on Thompson. When he was first elected in the Republican sweep of 1994, he was seen then as the "new Reagan"--a charismatic movie star turned politician...

He turned out to be a shooting star--a dazzling flash in the sky, soon gone, not there dependably....Especially to conservatives who have taken the time to examine his record.

Rumors circulated that Thompson was lazy, uninterested in the daily grind that comes with being a Senator....More important were Thompson's failures of will and his lack of leadership on any legislation that would promote the conservative cause. Instead what little leadership we got from Thompson advanced the liberal Establishment agenda.

Failure of will: Charged with investigating the Clinton White House's Asia fundraising scandal ("Asiagate"), Thompson managed to draw a tiny blood sample from Bill Clinton but little more. If he's that ineffectual against an easy target like Bill Clinton at the height of his parade of scandals, why should we expect Thompson to be any more effective against, say, the other partner in the Clintons' 20-year plan to rule the nation?

On the wrong side of the fence: The McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill, championed by Fred Thompson, is the only important piece of legislation where he played a major role. And that is not an accomplishment to be proud of as a conservative....

Never mind that it was patently unconstitutional, as the courts are starting to declare. McCain-Feingold was also, from the beginning, a sham and a lie.

Its stated purpose--its claim to being a "reform"—was that it would take big money out of politics. Well, you can see how successful it's been! The big corporate and union lobbies are more powerful than ever, and bored billionaires with nothing else to do are eyeing the Senate and the White House as the next trophies on their mantelpieces.

No, the real purpose of "reform" legislation like McCain-Feingold is to serve as incumbent-protection laws. Establishment politicians aren't threatened by the K Street lobbyists: they feed off them. They are threatened by grassroots organizations that keep an eye on how they vote and pass that information on to their members.

From the National Rifle Association to the Sierra Club, from Right to Left, these groups call incumbents on the carpet. So the incumbents pass laws to restrict the activities of these groups....The real purpose of McCain-Feingold-type laws is to silence your voice in the campaign process, by placing a gag on the organizations that represent you and your views. Such measures are the gravest threat to your free speech that exist today.

And who was the only other Republican Senator to join John McCain in pushing hard for this assault on your First Amendment free speech rights? Fred Thompson....

The Goldwater Test: Senator Barry Goldwater became the first political spokesman for the conservative movement because, out of all the Republican politicians who claimed to be conservative in the 1950s, he and he alone was willing to confront the sitting Big Government Republican in the White House....And what has been Fred Thompson's response these past seven years as the GOP massively expanded the federal government? If he's said anything to warn us about the direction of the Republican Party, he's said it so quietly that nobody--not just us, nobody--has noticed. And by his silence he has become complicit.

Thompson's conservative leadership score on the Goldwater Test: F.

The Reagan Test: Throughout the 1960s and 70s Ronald Reagan walked with conservatives. He was at our conservative functions, and not just at the head table--he mingled with us, listened to our concerns, and made it clear where he stood. Also, our conservative friends were all around him as he governed in California and then ran for President--people like Dick Allen, Ed Meese, Lyn Nofziger, Marty Anderson, Paul Laxalt, Judge Bill Clark…and the list goes on.

Where are the long-time conservative activists today around Fred Thompson? Not campaign consultants who sell themselves to the highest bidder at campaign auctions. No, dedicated and recognized conservative thinkers and activists who will work only for truly conservative politicians.

Go ahead, try and name one. And if conservatives were not part of his inner circle before he started running for the presidency, we cannot expect him to have conservatives in his inner circle if he gets elected. And in politics, personnel is policy.

Thompson's conservative leadership score on the Reagan Test: F....

I have examined Fred Thompson's eight-year record as a Senator in detail, utilizing the vote ratings of the American Conservative Union (ACU) at He emerges not as an out-and-out liberal, but not as a principled conservative either.

Fred Thompson's record may appear to be "conservative" but only by comparison with Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, or Mitt Romney, and a Less-of-a-Big Government Republican is still a Big Government Republican. And given his lack of conservative leadership as a Senator, it would be a grave mistake to expect conservative leadership from him as President.

Viguerie goes on in making the case that Thompson is no Reagan. These days, the conservative movement is more divided than it used to be--thanks, in part, to George W. Bush's war in Iraq (which some conservatives have opposed) and Bush's spending on pet projects. And Viguerie--who is not supporting any candidate yet--does not have the juice he used to possess. Still, might Thompson's candidacy lead to a catfight on the right?

Thompson is certainly conservative enough for many conservatives--especially the neocons, who relish his embrace of the Iraq war and his support for Scooter Libby. (See my piece on Thompson the Neocon.) Will he be able to pull off a Reagan revival as rightwingers like Viguerie cry foul? If he can, that will help him in the Republican primaries. But after that, will general-election voters want an outright conservative advocate as president following eight years of Bush's conservatism?

Thompson's position on the Iraq war could be more important than his resemblance--real or not--to Ronald Reagan. Perhaps he can play the part, but that won't guarantee box office success.

Posted by David Corn at September 5, 2007 10:10 AM


Gerald said...

America is lost

David B. Benson said...

If Edwards versus Thompson, who wins?

Gerald said...

World War III

Gerald said...

The administration of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney is set on a course that leads directly to a third world war. And a third world war leads almost inevitably to most of us dying horrible deaths. And we're not talking about it.

The White House has made clear it is seriously considering attacking Iran with massive bombing aimed at destroying the nation's military and changing its government. Iran will certainly retaliate. If attacked, and possibly even if not attacked, Israel will join in the fighting. The resistance in Iraq will intensify dramatically. Controlling the oil of Iran and Iraq will be out of the question short of thorough genocide. Anti-American furor will sweep the Muslim world. The nuclear nation of Pakistan will be a prime target for an Islamic revolution.

If we don't have a world war on our hands immediately, one will be very hard to avoid. We will have taught every nation, again, that the only path to safety is acquisition of nuclear weapons. We will have isolated the United States from most of the world, including many of our traditional allies. Terrorist attacks against American targets will come, and the United States will retaliate, again, not with law enforcement but with additional aggressive warfare.

If the United States attacks Iran, we will be openly at war with the world in a nuclear age. If the thought isn't terrifying, something's wrong with our ability to fear. Our politics is almost always driven in the wrong direction by fear of the wrong things. I'd love for once to see fear knock some sense into us.

Gerald said...

There is no way to avoid WW III.
Hitler Bush wants WW III so he can declare matial law and cancel the 2008 presidential elections.





Gerald said...

If I'm fighting for freedom here, and I go home and I'm opressed, what does that mean?
– Pv2 Frederick Phoenix, MP, US Army

Gerald said...

Who says Bush is pro-life?

Gerald said...

The USA Today report quoted Senator Joseph Biden as saying Rumsfeld "and many top administration officials believed the war would end quickly," so in their view, there was "surely no need to spend large amounts of money for equipment.

"The cost of ignoring the facts on the ground ... has been the lives and limbs of our sons and daughters," he said.

Gerald said...

Empire of Stupidity

capt said...

New Thread

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link to Conservative Times(dot)Org.