My favorite Fred Thompson moment is in his most recent movie gig. In Albert Brooks’ mildly-subversive movie, Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World, Thompson plays himself as the head of a commission that sends Brooks to India and Pakistan to find out what makes Muslims laugh. "Are you back in politics?" asks Brooks. "I thought you were acting now." Thompson slumps over the conference table and pronounces "Once you’re back in politics, you never really escape." The other flunkies on the fake "commission" chuckle in deference to the chair, as Thompson works his substantial charms on the out-of-work Brooks character, eventually convincing him to take on the effort, supposedly dreamed up by W. himself who, Thompson claims, "has a pretty darn good sense of humor". Yeah. Funny like a heart attack, or a suicide bomb in Falusia.
After years of pretending to be a tough guy, dropping F-bombs and drinking brown liquor in the movies and on TV, Thompson is bizarrely being held out as the last remaining hope of a desperate Republican party. Saddled with a dreadful president and an out-of-touch agenda that includes the continued slog in Iraq, racist immigrant bashing and anti-science denial from evolution to stem cells, the GOP is facing the stark reality of its own irrelevance, if not its pending extinction. Staring blankly at a Law and Order rerun some months ago, someone in Rove’s office got the bright idea: Why not Thompson?
No less than ten "candidates" have stepped forward to offer their services as the Republican presidential offering for 2008, resulting in a wave of indifference and yawns throughout the land. Giuliani? The self-declared Mr. 9/11 has some, er, personal issues and his positions on social issues are at odds with the nut-right base. Oh, and, by the way, some firefighters would like to talk about what he did or didn’t do on and around 9/11, if you have the time. Romney? A little anxious to please, don’t you think? His perfect hair and teeth (talk about your Breck girls) lurch ahead of his face as he enters each room, pander-ready. OK for GOPers who want to love themselves, but he will have the smell of death in ‘08 (not to mention the rancid stench of his desired doubling of the population at Guantanamo) as he tries to find those in the enraged general populace to love him while he’s wrong on every issue imaginable – at least this week. A minor player like Tommy Thompson? What do you do with someone who is only taken seriously by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel? Run him for county executive, perhaps? John McCain? Sounds familiar...who was that, again?
And so, as America struggles to build a new start after the disastrous and corrupt Bush/Cheney years, the Grand Old Party reaches into its past to find its future. Once again, a decidedly B-actor steps forward to read the script. A typical character played by Fred Thompson in one of his movies would look dourly at the proposed candidacy outline on his cherry-maple desk while clinking the ice cubes in his ever-present glass of scotch, chuckling mildly as he turns the page. Eventually, he’d take the Rove-written proposal, crumple it up and throw it into a wastebasket across the room. "That’s a three-pointer," he would say, to no one in particular, about his waste-shooting skill. "F*#k that."
But, like Ronald Reagan, the phony hero, the real Fred Thompson is not made of such strong stuff. If you want to love him, he will make himself available to be loved. In fact, if the money is right, Thompson the lobbyist will tell you anything you want to hear and lean on the rope-line to receive your hugs. Reagan, his supposed brother-in-bullshit, had his price to carry the water of the moneyed interests and I’m sure Thompson has his. Maybe he’ll just charge them at his going rate of $500 per hour. Let’s see, this president thing is a 24/7 job...365 times 4 years, paid in advance, of course...hey, he’s yours – phony red pick-up truck and all. Oh, and by the way, his sons would like to talk to you about commerce in Uzbekistan...
Although he and those around him will spend untold hours and millions of dollars trying to define him in a glowing, aw-shucks light, Thompson will not be able to hide from how he first came to national attention – as the 30-year-old chief Republican counsel on the Senate Watergate Committee during the hearings that gripped the country’s imagination 34 summers ago. While Sam Ervin and even his then-boss Howard Baker were tying to find out what the hell was going on in the cesspool otherwise known as the Nixon White House, young Fred was sneaking behind their backs, leaking all kinds of inside information about the investigation to Nixon’s henchmen. Not that it did them any good. But it says something about the desperation of the 2008 GOP that they would turn to a veteran of secret Nixonian intrigue to help them recover from these somehow even darker years of secret Bushian nonsense.
Thompson’s other "issues" are nothing compared to him plotting with Nixon to subvert the historic work of the Watergate Committee. He has the kind of issues that would be death to any Democrat, but that just cause knowing nudges in a well-connected Republican. Lymphoma in remission? Hey, has anyone seen Cheney’s medical charts lately (Treated as Secret/SCI)? Divorce and second marriage to a 24 years younger trophy wife? A mere piffle – Rudy’s got one marriage on him, not to mention the Rage of the Second Wife, and he’s in the lead. Active in the Scooter defense fund; no doubt the successful lobbyist for that particular subversion of justice? Well, the whole thing was silly and, besides, juries are for suckers. Asbestos and abortion-rights lobbyist? Hey, a guy’s gotta eat.
In the end, Fred Thompson is stuck in a no-win situation. If he runs, he’ll be the doomed front-man for a miserable Republican party that has itself boxed-in and wrong on so many issues, from Iraq to health care to immigration to stem cell research. Somebody has to have an "R" next to their name as the loser in the history books, so it might as well be a mediocre actor in a dumpy brown business suit. If he doesn’t run, he will be the Man Who Wouldn’t Come, someone the GOP can blame their many failures on as they lose 30 more seats in the House, 5 more in the Senate and 100 more votes in the electoral college. They’ll need someone to blame – looking in the mirror after imposing the Bush Regime on the world will just be a bit too painful.