Friday, September 7

The Thompson Candidacy: A Post-Mortem

FIRST, uh, why? Has that been answered yet? If I understand correctly, Fred Duelin' Dalton Thompson is riding to the rescue because a line-up that includes Huckabee, Brownback, the 90-percentile winger John McCain and the How Much More Could One Man Pander Mitt Romney is insufficiently hidebound. Not that "hidebound" seems like such a marketable trait these days.

Okay, so, I have plenty of proof my prognostication skills will never make a bookie sweat, and I'm no connoisseur of Republicanism. It's like asking me to judge a Kumquat Casserole Bake-Off. Still, I can't for the life of me figure out what Thompson brings to the race besides the Hey It's That Guy on th' Teevee! cachet, which manages to combine the worst sort of Reagan nostalgia, unlettered horse-race touting (of the sort which at various times apparently determined by newspaper headline reading and biorhythms insists that Condi Rice or Haley Barbour or Colin Powell is a juggernaut straining for release), and the power of desperation at a) the condition their party and their ideology had brought the country to and b) the sorry-assed lineup of liars, crooks, feebs, and the certifiably insane they were fielding. Fred Thompson isn't a candidate; he's an invalid's idea of virility.

When was there a candidacy like this in recent history? Three sitting Presidents have been challenged: Truman, LBJ, and Carter. Two of them didn't make it out of New Hampshire, and the third won the nomination but lost the election. Thompson inverts the set-up but not the result; he's a surrogate Bush jumping in because the challengers don't stand a chance. But he's doing so in a year when nobody wants Bush back and the rest of the field has already been handicapped by its inability to come out and say so--excepting, of course, that Paul character, but we're restricting this to serious candidacies.

Now, I've been watching this stuff since I saw John Kennedy motorcadin' his way down 16th Street in Speedway, Indiana in 1960 (so far as I know, the last Democratic Presidential candidate to actually come to Indiana), and, as a somewhat college-educated person, I'm aware that no one ever says, "We need the absolute best, most informed decision we can make on this matter of earth-shaking importance--let's let the public vote!" Inexplicable results have been known to sneak through. People talk about electability all primary season, just like they talk about character and honesty, but they never vote that way. I can't figure out where Thompson, or his staff this week, or the people who were so interested in having him enter the race think he's going to go, politically, that the other candidates can't. He's not an actor turned politician, unleashing the Muses in the service of The Cause. He's a politician turned actor playing an actor turned politician, and both careers seem predicated on the idea that when reading drivel he seems no more inert than when he's speaking extemporaneously. Say what you want about Reagan (please!), he was a much better actor as a politician than he ever was as an actor. Not to mention that the two careers were separate, and separated by a few years, or that it took him sixteen years of trying to get the nomination. I can't see how Thompson separates himself from The Inexplicable DA, and I can't see how that resonates--positively, that is--with an electorate that's been expressing its frustration at hearing scripted lies read to it while Rome burns.

What about after the primaries? At least Rudy has that insanity thing going for him. Mitt is $12 worth of substandard electronics in a shiny stainless-steel case, the sort of thing Americans are used to getting for their money. McCain, whatever the fuck is wrong with him, is a winger on the issues who's staked his entire campaign--and lost--on continuing the interminable war against something the "base" is so enamored of. None of them appeals to me as President, to put it mildly, but then neither do most of the Democrats. I can't see Romney putting up much of a fight, but one can never discount entirely the power of soulless mediocrity. Rudy offers the country its first explicit opportunity to vote for a national Don; McCain could rise from the ashes--it is his only hope, after all--though he'd take a look around, black out, and wind up in flames again within five minutes.

What's Fred? He's a twelvemonth of Law & Order reruns, except you have to swallow them instead of playing them in the background while you do more important stuff. And for all the talk of Rudy's personal life (or Hillary's), we are, like every nation on earth, a land of cheaters and blackguards and self-serving ne'er-do-wells, but membership in the Society for the Appreciation of the Trophy Wife is surprisingly limited. (Then again, as Jane Galt sagely noted, Frances Folsom was similarly a quarter-century younger than Grover Cleveland, and everybody who made a stink about that at the time is dead. However, it's also true that Folsom's plaintive, humble, I-was-but-a-poor-widow-when-Grover-took-pity-on-me personality played quite well over the telegraph.) I think Thompson's numbers have peaked, or will do so with whatever bump he gets in the next week. For a time he re-energizes Giuliani, who had begun to twist on the spit and take on the flavor of all that dripping bile hitting the coals, but who for now gets to be The Guy Fred Plays on Teevee. And Romney's toast if he doesn't knock Thompson out early, and he's had months to prepare for that.

And assuming that Thompson somehow manages to make it a two- or three-man race he'll wind up as the Ponderous White Hope of the so-called base, and they're going to be awfully disappointed with the alternatives after he gets his ass kicked. Just remember: no wagering, and if you must gamble, for godssakes don't base it on anything I have to say.


Anonymous said...

From this jaded perch, it all looks like "image" to me, whether real or perceived. In fact, projecting what you want to see (Daddy, is that you?) on candidates will rule the day.

But please, no more Jane Galt quotes.

Anonymous said...

Mitt is $12 worth of substandard electronics in a shiny stainless-steel case...

Gawd - you use your tongue prettier than a twelve-dollar whore.

Anonymous said...

Where did the idea that Thompson would be a credible candidate for president come from, anyway? That it just seemed to appear out of nowhere, then take on this weird air of inevitability is something I find profoundly baffling, particularly since, other than the fact that Chris Matthews wants to take long, deep whiffs of his aftershave, there seems to be nothing even remotely distinctive or compelling about him.

In my more paranoid moments, I've speculated that the Cheney "Imperial Vice-Presidency" model might not be the aberration it seems. Someone somewhere might be thinking, why not try it again? Elect some affable-seeming bonehead (perhaps one without the smarmy fratboy petulence this time) -- not implausible, since the usual talking heads seem to be sticking to the "guy you'd like to have a beer with" angle as the main qualification for the job -- then pick an otherwise unelectable Evil Genius as veep to pull the strings from behind the scenes (not to mention serve as Impeachment Insurance).

So if Thompson were to be elected (it seems to me unlikely, but, hey, I thought the same thing about Bush), then appoints some well-connected GOP insider to run his vice presidential exploratory committee, only to have the guy turn around and decide he's the one for the job, I'd be deeply worried. (Hmmm, didn't Newt say something to the effect that, that while he didn't want to lower himself to actually run for the job, if "the people" were to offer it to him, he'd do so for the good of the country?)

Like I said, it's just the paranoia talking, but to quote the movie Strange Days: "The issue isn't whether you're paranoid, but whether you're paranoid enough."

Anonymous said...

Romney will keep throwing money and "shifting his opinion" (the man is like a desperate high school kid, doing anything and everything to try to become popular) so he'll be in the game awhile yet. Thompson? He's ugly as hell yet has a not unattractive wife -- he'll give all homely dimwitted men in america hope.

Anonymous said...

Hey, thanks to Lemmy Caution up here it just now occurred to me that the 22nd amendment only applies to the President, NOT to the Vice President (I guess that makes sense, as apparently no rule of law governs the Office of the Vice President.) Perhaps we'll end up with four more years of the Man Behind the Curtain himself? Good god, tell me this is just a bad dream and pretty soon I'll wake up screaming.....

Lalita said...

Anonymous, you're already awake...the screaming will commence shortly.

Years ago, when I was in college, somebody got me an "Any Turkey for President" button, which I've kept all these years. I'm putting that sucker on!

With the (already interminable) debates (or forums or whatever euphemism they're peddling this week), I'm getting a clearer and clearer snapshot of what both parties think the American people want: empty promises (or none at all) delivered with conviction.

By the by, did you see the stump, um, "speech" Thompson gave a couple of days ago? When asked by a voter what objectives he'd target in his first 100 days, he flatly refused to say, instead suggesting some weak commentary about the economy would be and some such. The voter who posed the question looked taken aback by what seemed to be a patently thin reply.