Fred Thompson Unplugged II

See Fred Thompson Unplugged for the beginning of this story.

So what about the issues? Is Fred Thompson really as conservative as we are told? Failing that, is he at least better than any of the other candidates?

First, it needs to be remembered that in 2000 most people, including me, thought George W. Bush was at least mildly conservative. We were wrong. I, for one, am determined not to be fooled again. For this reason I am not inclined to give anyone benefit of the doubt this time around. Rudy Giuliani has already taken himself off the list for a variety of reasons.

As regular readers know, my top two issues are Life and War. So we'll start with these then move on to some other subjects.

Abortion: Thompson says he wants the Roe vs. Wade decision reversed and abortion regulation returned to the states. He likes Supreme Court justices such as Scalia, Thomas and Alito, and would appoint others who are like them. As Senator he voted a consistent pro-life position, including in favor of the partial birth abortion ban.

This is, I think, the minimum we should demand from a presidential candidate. But I'd also like to go beyond the bare essentials. I want a president who respects life enough to oppose abortion morally as well as legally. Here Thompson's record is a little murkier:

• On a 1996 Christian Coalition survey, he checked "opposed" to an amendment to the U.S. Constitution "protecting the sanctity of human life."

• He included a handwritten clarification: "I do not believe abortion should be criminalized. This battle will be won in the hearts and souls of the American people."

• In 1996, asked by the Memphis group FLARE (Family, Life, America, Responsible Education Under God Inc.) if human life begins at conception, Thompson circled "N/A." Source

From this it appears that Thompson is anti-Roe but not personally pro-life. As recently as 1996, he wasn't willing to say that life begins at conception. Maybe he's changed is mind since then but I haven't heard about it if so.

Furthermore, the combination of his statements about reversing Roe and that abortion should not be criminalized is troubling. If Fred Thompson were a governor or state legislator, he would apparently want abortion to be legal in his state. He hasn't said this explicitly, as far as I know, but it is the only conclusion I can draw from his record.

My impression is that Thompson is more interested in preserving state's rights than in preventing abortion. This was, of course, the same argument made by 19th-century politicians who wanted to preserve slavery in the South. Fortunately for black Americans, Abraham Lincoln felt otherwise.

Thompson's zeal for Federalism also seems selective. He didn't make any great efforts to, say, eliminate federal highway funds for Tennessee. In the Senate he happily voted for all kinds of intrusions by Washington into matters that properly belong to the states. He seems to bring out the federalist argument when he needs political cover for being on both sides of an issue.

Given all this, Thompson is not exactly what I would call "pro-life." He is certainly preferable to Giuliani in this department, but that's not saying much.

Iraq War and Foreign Policy: Thompson generally supports President Bush on Iraq and terrorist-related issues. In 2003 he was strongly in favor of pre-emptive war against Iraq, and he has not backed down from that position. He now seems eager to move on to Iran.

Just this week Thompson gave a speech in London that nicely outlined his foreign policy beliefs. Daniel Larison has a masterful deconstruction of the remarks so I will not go into detail. Suffice to say that if you like the global situation Bush has got us into, you can count on Fred Thompson to deliver more of the same.

Campaign Finance reform: Thompson supported the 2002 McCain-Feingold legislation that did practically nothing to reduce the role of money in political campaigns. It did, however, make it more difficult for citizens to promote their political views publicly and is regarded by some as a major infringement on first Amendment rights. McCain-Feingold's main accomplishment was to give billionaires like George Soros unprecedented political influence through "527" groups.

Clinton Impeachment: At President Clinton's impeachment trial before the Senate in 1998, Thompson voted to acquit on the perjury charge. He issued a long statement explaining his reasons, which I find unpersuasive. Here is a good summary. Basically, Thompson agreed Clinton lied to the grand jury but did not think it was grounds to remove him from office.

Thompson seems to have a soft spot for perjurers, since he's been lending his name to fund-raising efforts for the Scooter Libby defense. The best I can make of it is that Fred Thompson thinks it is fine for government officials to lie under oath, at least sometimes. It is unclear on what basis he decides which lies can be excused and which should not.

In any case, Thompson's vote in the Clinton impeachment resulted in a 50-50 tie on the perjury charge. Clinton was in no danger of being removed from office, which takes 67 votes. But the even split prevented even the partial victory of a majority finding that the president had committed perjury.

Other issues: There is a lot more I could say but I think you get the idea. The closer you look, the less Fred Thompson resembles the "next Ronald Reagan" image he wants us to accept. I'm listing a few links below with more background.

In the next installment of Fred Thompson Unplugged, we will look at his interesting personal life. Click here.

Fred Thompson On The Issues
Thompson's 1994 Issue Positions
The Thompson Factor
Wikipedia Entry: Fred Thompson

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