Wednesday, January 23, 2008

True Fact

Ultimately, Fred Thompson decided that being the leader of the entire free world was an unnecessary diminution of his might. He stands ever-ready to punch the enemies of America in the face, at need.

OK, that sort of thing is Frank J's bailiwick, and I've been shamelessly snitching. (I hope Fred doesn't taze me, bro.) And I live in New Jersey, where a vote for Fred Thompson is a tree falling in the forest, unobserved. I could just light my ballot on fire and at least I'd be able to make s'mores. (On the other hand, it's nice to be able to write him in, anyway, without conseqence - and I will do so unless by some miracle my vote is needed to help stave off Chairman Hil.)

So, if I must be a little serious about it, here's what I can do. First, the Judge has good observations, as always. Second, I admit that I'm bummed. I wanted to pull the lever without tamping down my gorge, for once. Third, I hate this endless primary/caucus/campaign bunkum. How is a guy's campaign finished when he does badly in three or four lesser-populated states, ten months before the only poll that actually counts? Sure, some of it is practical consideration: you can't campaign everywhere at once, and the candidates need time to get around and meet people, and get their message out. On the other hand, there's a huge portion of navel-gazing so concentrated that it bends logic and distorts perceptions. Every state wants that "kingmaker" rep. Then there are the forty-jillion news outlets that need a story to flog every second of every day*, lest people just watch a movie or "Judge Judy" or something. It puts us on a silly treadmill, thinking that politics are the main thing when there are so many other things to do.

(Oversimplification of the day: there are a lot of problems in the world, and it's best to solve them using all the tools we have on hand - not only political tools. Is a complex society of free citizens so impoverished as to have no ideas that do not involve their government? No churches, no banks, no pubs, no friends, no music, no families?)

Finally, there's an MSNBC article that outlines, for me, the thinking that causes a guy like Thompson to come up third in a state where he campaigned well, spoke impressively, was terrific in debate, and had a lot of support. The article is a litany of politics ├╝ber alles thinking; I'd like to point out some lowlights:

Thompson, best known as the gruff district attorney on NBC's "Law & Order," placed third in Iowa and South Carolina, two states seemingly in line with his right-leaning pitch and laid-back style, and he fared even worse in the four other states that have held contests thus far. Money already tight, he ran out of it altogether as the losses piled up.

ALL of the DAs on Law & Order are gruff. There's a sign on the door: "You must be this curmudgeonly to hold this office. Geez, Steven Hill made Professor Kingsfield look frolicsome. But this quibble aside, the big problem with this graf is about money. Why is national elective office increasingly the plaything of rich people? I'm not even talking about the candidates (though many are) - I'm talking about scoring the necessary coin from said rich people to stay in the race.

Fans trying to draft him as a candidate launched an online effort, seizing on his conservative Senate voting record as well as his lumbering 6-foot-5 frame and deep baritone as they argued that he was right out of central casting.

I suppose that this is possible, but I call Bravo Sierra on this. Nobody was all that fired up to vote for Fred! because of his height and voice. And look at the man! He is certainly NOT out of central casting in the looks department - in fact I think he looks rather like Gerald Ford's older brother. And I don't think the author should have missed this, since the real reason people liked Fred! is in the very next sentence:

They painted him as the second coming of Ronald Reagan and the would-be savior of a Republican Party demoralized after electoral losses in 2006 at all levels of government.

Now, this is still very backhanded and stupidly-put, but there is the grain of truth in it: people did see him as someone who could energize the conservative base, who could make a good conservative case and speak about principles in a logical manner.

Expectations rose higher — and his standing in polls started to fall as he failed to meet them. ... He delayed his expected summertime entrance in the race until fall, perhaps missing an opening created by McCain's near campaign implosion.

In such a long race, most campaigns feature some sort of crisis - and again, most of those are media-driven. "Campaign Crossroads" is an easier story to pitch and write and deliver, rather than "Forty-three States to Go, Yawn." I think Thompson timed his campaign on his own timetable, rather than simply responding to what may have gone on at any one moment with anyone else. I also think that he knew he'd have an inevitable down after the high. Most people did, except apparently those at MSNBC, who took it as "failure to meet expectations." Voting hadn't even started yet! That's like failing a kid out of high school when he's in sixth grade.

Thompson also endured repeated questions about his career as a lobbyist and his thin Senate record.

Of course, everyone gets questions like this - or they should, if reporters are actually doing their job. I'm still looking for questions about Obama's thin Senate record myself. Instead of saying "people had questions, that's why he lost," wouldn't it be more productive to say, "people had questions and these were his answers"? Maybe it was his response that was a problem?

His easygoing style and reputation for laziness translated into a light campaign schedule that raised questions about whether he wanted to be president badly enough to fight for it.

And this is the sentence that actually got to me. You mean we could have voted for a guy who had interests other than campaigning? A guy who wasn't a cutthroat on par with Blackbeard? Someone who'd been successful in a variety of careers, rather than a career politician (most of whom succeed in that career merely by being elected, and not by actually governing well)? To me - I daresay, to many others - these things are positives, not drawbacks. I don't want someone so bloodthirsty for prestige that they regard the Presidency as a resume builder or an exercise in their own importance. Again, the article starts by quoting from Thompsons concession statement: "I hope that my country and my party have benefited from our having made this effort." Country first, party second - what's not to like?

A spate of inartful answers to campaign-trail questions ... didn't help matters.

"More matter, with less art." Blather blather blather. An inartful point is still a POINT, and is preferable to an artful bag of air that takes no stand and expresses no position. Too many people are too afraid of offending the perpetually aggrieved to actually say anything, so half the important speeches and essays (in and out of politics) are a waste of time, like cooking that is all spice and no food. I prefer both if I can get it, but if I can only have one of them - I'd prefer not to starve. Nowadays, not only do we not get food, but we argue about which spice works better on the empty plate - and when a plate comes by with something worth chewing on, too many people find themselves unable to cope with it; they've licked plates so long they can't actually digest anything. In short, complaining about the inartfulness of it all doesn't actually address the real issue - what exactly were those answers? What position was Thompson staking out? Was it a good position or a bad one?

* There are so many side effects to this that one wonders if the cure is worth having - first, the increasing tabloid paparazzi celebrity jive that masquerades as actual news; second, the expanding egos and self-importance of the journalists; third, the constant need to come across well on TV rather than make a coherent argument; fourth, the stupid accusations that people "need an enemy" to motivate the base, when really it's the constant news cycle that "needs a story." At least we can turn off the set when it starts screeching like a troop of monkeys.

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