19 November 2007

What's Wrong with Fred Thompson

I do not understand the many Americans who seem to get so excited about candidates. I follow politics. I think that the stakes in politics are extremely high. I get excited about policy and elections, but I just don’t think that candidates are people much different than the rest of us. (Well, I will allow that they have an incredible capacity to absorb inordinate amounts of praise and criticism – levels that would leave the rest of us with psychological whiplash.)

But some people were incredibly excited about Fred Thompson’s entry into the race. Curious about that, I watched George Stephanopoulos's interview with Fred Thompson available here.

I was not impressed. Thompson seemed to show little regard for the implications of his policy or even the rationale for them. To me, he showed that he didn't understand the war on terror, which wasn't that surprising – he didn’t even seem to understand the interview. His tone suggested that he was genuinely offended that Stephenopolous would "challenge" him to describe policies and seemed amazingly uninterested in thinking through the implications of anything he suggested. Here are a few things that stood out to me.

Speaking to supporters about Radical Fundamentalism, Thompson says that this threatens “nothing less than the demise of Western Civilization." I still don’t understand this claim.

A couple of weeks ago, Newsweek had an article about the increase in the number of kids with food allergies. One theory is that children growing up in clean environments don't encounter serious threats to health, so their immune systems overreact to otherwise innocuous substances, like milk or peanuts. It's not that milk or peanuts will kill a child - but their immune system's overreaction to them can.

Radical fundamentalism can't destroy our civilization, but our reaction to it can. In their best shot to date, terrorists killed 3,000 Americans. By this measure, guns, cars, wrongly prescribed medicines, and depression all pose a much graver threat to our civilization, each taking the lives of tens of thousands of Americans every year. But deaths don’t threaten civilization. Thompson knows that. If they did, Thompson would be anti-war.

We can overreact to threats to life. We can ban driving, foreign travel, exposure to dangerous ideas, and privacy. This might save lives. It would threaten our way of life, our civilization. It’s not the threats to life that will destroy our civilization. Like the anaphylactic shock that kills an allergy victim, it is the reaction to the threat that kills, not the threat itself. To be an American is to realize that freedom comes with the cost of life.

Thompson goes on to tell Stephanopoulos that this threat has to be defeated primarily militarily. Most interestingly, when Stephanopoulos points out that there is no conventional army or nation-state behind this threat to attack, Thompson says, "What's the alternative?" When Stephanopoulos counters with, "You tell me, you're running for president," Thompson shows a gift for non sequiturs that would warm the heart of any Bush supporter by saying, "That's exactly right. You make my point." Thompson shows no indication of having questioned whether our invasion and occupation of Iraq might have worked against us in the fight against extremism, offering platitudes that sound like the kinds of things that someone might have said at the beginning of the Iraqi invasion.

Although he's eager for war, Thompson can't imagine anyone pulling the plug on a loved one. He seemed genuinely heartfelt sharing his conviction on this matter, based in part on losing his own daughter. But Thompson again shows a gift for thoughtlessness when pressed by Stephanopoulos to explain the consequences of his stance on state laws. It's not just that he seems to be offended that Stephanopoulos would challenge him, but he says that he doesn't have a legal position, he's just sharing his opinion. In this response he seems to show a lack of awareness of two things - one, as president his opinion could easily become the basis for law and legal positions, and two, in a democracy any candidate has to explain himself fully to the voters.

To his credit, Thompson did use a word rarely heard by any candidates - "sustainability." He uses it in regards to social security, seemingly less impressed with Medicare's dire condition (a problem Life Hiker has pointed to). It seems to me that sustainability could become the unifying theme of a good campaign - from the need for sustainability in federal spending and entitlements to the need for sustainability in economic and environmental practices.

The answer in which he seemed to me most obviously lost was Thompson's attempt to refute Stephanopoulos's claim that Giuliani and Romney have a decided advantage in management experience. That is, they have lots and Thompson has none. He gives a meandering answer in which he challenges the importance of managing crime and roads, suggests that he actually does have management experience in government and then promptly says that government hasn't managed anything well in a generation (seeming to negate whatever management experience he'd just claimed credit for). Finally, he says that managers are people hired by leaders, suggesting that he doesn’t really need management experience. This conclusion seems to me a dismissal of the importance of management that only someone without experience in management could express.

Thompson is running second among Republicans in national polls and Republicans have a way of winning presidential elections. Fred Thompson as president. It’s a scary thought but, if you're like Thompson, it's not one you have given much consideration.


Norman said...

There you go again with your if-then'ing of implications and inferences . . . need I remind you again that according to Jaques' research over 85% of the population can't do that?

So doesn't it seem a bit unfair to hold Fred Thompson to such a high standard?

Reference: "The Life and Behavior of Living Organisms: A General Theory" by Elliott Jaques

Damon said...

I was a moderate Fred-Head when news broke of his running. (and still like him over most of the conservative alternatives)

But when it comes to hard-core strict constitutional conservatism I am warming rather quickly to Ron Paul.

Sure, he is a bit on the isolationist edge, but I don't really care much about those issues anyways. Leave the troops, bring the troops home. It makes no difference in my life either way.

So purely on Ron Paul's hard core anti-government views, I'm warming on him quickly!

Life Hiker said...

Fred Thompson is like a nicely wrapped Christmas box that, when opened, is found to contain a few old "Law and Order" VCR tapes, copies of his multiple marriage certificates, and a copy of his new book, "The Lazy Man's Guide to Success in Politics." No one who opened it would be happy.

Even politically naive Americans will toss that box, and its contents, in the trash.

Ron Davison said...

I know that you're just teasing, but I think you've hit on something. We've come to expect our candidates just to be regular guys who talk like us. Problem is, I wouldn't want a surgeon who understood things no better than me - or someone who hasn't thought through policy anymore than the guy at the diner counter.

You were a moderate Fred-head? You were positively dancing on my blog on the day he announced.

Hilariously apt metaphor for Fred. The political savior who became a footnote.

Damon said...

Yup. Imagine what i'd have done if I was a hardcore fred head?!