Fred Thompson Unplugged

The conservative mania for Fred Thompson to enter the GOP presidential race is reaching a fever pitch. Given the dismal set of choices we have so far, it's not particularly surprising that people want a better alternative. Thompson seems ready to oblige and is in fact doing a masterful job building support as a non-candidate.

On the other hand, at this point I think people have pinned so many hopes and dreams on Thompson that there will inevitably be a lot of disappointment when he actually enters the race. When we see him standing on a debate stage with all the other guys, he may no longer be the Great Hope that people imagine him to be.

I haven't ruled out supporting Thompson, but before I get on the bandwagon I need to get a grip on some things about him. I made a big mistake in my evaluation of the current president and I don't intend to be fooled again. So forgive me if it sounds like I'm being hard on the guy. Just remember: the Democrats and the media will throw every bit of dirt they can find at Thompson. I think you would rather hear it now, from me, than be surprised later on.

First, let's talk about Fred's experience. What exactly is it in his background that qualifies him to be president? Well, he's been the CIA Director, a general, an admiral, an FBI Agent, White House Chief of Staff, and of course a District Attorney for many years. Of course he was just acting in these roles, but at least he learned how to look the part.

As for actual experience, Fred spent eight years as a United States Senator from Tennessee. He was elected in 1994 to fill the remaining two years of Al Gore's term after Gore became Vice President. Then he was re-elected to a full six-year term in 1996. In 2002 he chose not to run for re-election and returned to his acting career.

Prior to his acting and senatorial careers, Thompson spent most of his time in Washington D.C. as an attorney and lobbyist. Among other groups, he represented the savings & loan industry on Capitol Hill in the 1980s, and was instrumental in passing legislation which later led to the collapse of the S&Ls and an enormous taxpayer bailout. Does that mean the S&L fiasco was his fault? No, not necessarily. But he'll have to explain how he was involved, and my guess is the making of that sausage wasn't very pretty.

Back to qualifications: does eight years in the Senate qualify one to be president? That is the extent of Thompson's government service, other than time as a congressional staffer. He's often compared to Reagan as an actor turned politician, but Reagan was also Governor of California before he ran for president.

If Fred Thompson is the GOP nominee, it will be hard to argue that Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama or John Edwards are "inexperienced." Of course they won't be able to say it about Thompson, either. Al Gore, if he gets in the race, would present greater problems for Thompson on this point.

There is something to be said for having an "outsider" as president - but Thompson is anything but a Washington outsider. He's lived and worked there for most of his adult life. Meanwhile Bush, who really is an outsider, hasn't worked out so well.

There is a good reason that most presidents have been either vice presidents, governors or generals. The experience of leading a large organization and making executive decisions requires a whole different temperament than that of a legislator. There are exceptions, of course, but longtime Senators and Representatives rarely get elected, and those who do are usually not very successful as president.

Presidents make life or death decisions that affect millions of people. I think it is fair to ask that they have some background in high-level leadership. If elected, Thompson will be one of the least "experienced" presidents we've ever had. Maybe he has other qualities that will help him overcome this, but it's a big hurdle.

In a forthcoming post we will discuss Fred Thompson on the issues, and then take a look at his personal life. Click here for Part II.

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