On a short trip to Washington D.C. this past week, we happened to come in on the same day that Karl Rove and Junior gave each other a goodbye man-hug on the White House lawn. As we tried to get within sight of the mansion that afternoon, there was little indication of any earth-shattering development earlier in the day – just a soulless, barricaded monument, still occupied (when not on vacation) by the same losers who have spent the last seven years taking us down, ever further. Rove the Architect left behind a political house of cards and toothpicks, a thin veneer of lies, poison and personal destruction that wobbled in the wind of ‘06 and will soon find itself well downstream when the GOP levee breaks in ‘08.
Like all Rove-ian schemes such as the gay-marriage hysteria of ‘06, the racist appeal to quash "illegal" immigrants of ‘08 will serve only to stem some of the damage and will ultimately further marginalize Republicans into a box of their own making. The anti-immigrant talking-point is Rove’s failed victory lap; a last, desperate effort to fire-up a base that can’t carry the party anymore. Let the increasingly-comical Mitt Romney run on a pandering platform of anti-immigrant, no stem-cell research, anti-evolution, pro-Gitmo and continued Iraq-quagmire. Does he even carry Utah with a program like that?
As they will before a storm, the dogs are howling and the rats are seeking higher ground. Even dim bulbs like former Delay-puppet Dennis Hastert know better than to stick around while the Democrats solidify their majority, bring sense and dignity back to the White House and start cleaning up the mess the elephants left in their disastrous wake. If toiling in the dark tunnels of a new permanent minority is not enough to send former power-mad congressmen on their way (are you listening, Jim Sensenbrenner?), there has never been a better time for Republicans to try to parlay their Washington connections into better paychecks. Well, I mean a better time post-Abramoff, that is – I mean, that was just too much fun, was it not?
Speaking of cashing in, our own (well, your own) Tommy Thompson was doing very well in the cashing in on his public experience in private sector before he decided to make a ridiculous run for president. I’m sure my friends in WPEC, the state-employee union I worked for in the ‘90s that represented the state’s IT workers, noticed that last year Thompson took in more than $1 million from Deloitte & Touche – the firm to which he farmed out much of the state computer work to during his mid-‘90s privatization push. No coincidence, I’m sure. Many of Thompson’s private connections involve medical companies, something he certainly had no connection with before he sat on Bush’s cabinet regulating just those companies. People like Tony Snow can complain all they want about the supposed poverty wages of government work, but they all get paid – and better – eventually.
Thompson continued to add clients and corporate board responsibilities during his quixotic run, making some wonder whether he was really a serious about running for president as he collected more potential conflicts along the way. Even former-chief-Tommy-handler Jim Klauser groused early in the so-called campaign that Thompson could not be considered serious as long as continued to carry six different cell phones to keep track of his business interests. Thompson learned the meaning of the word "loyalty" with Klauser, who had already signed up with Romney by the time he "got serious" in Iowa and didn’t give Tommy a dime for a phone call.
But run Tommy did, spinning his wheels in the gravel of all 99 counties in Iowa for months before his entirely predictable denouement last weekend at the Iowa pay-to-play circus, er, Republican straw poll. Thompson put all his eggs in this dubious basket and ended up coming in behind even anti-war protest candidate Ron Paul. It was a well-earned and just result for Wisconsin’s would-be "favorite son", who never belonged and showed himself to be clearly in over his head, even with this inept and doomed bunch of Republican candidates.
One week after the straw-poll, Journal Sentinel reporter Katherine Skiba, who was stuck on the Tommy-in-Iowa beat for most of the time, issued the obligatory obituary on the campaign, continuing the J-S’s oh-so-serious treatment of Thompson’s efforts. Amazingly declaring the straw-poll result "not predictable" (although I did), Skiba blames Thompson’s failure as a result of "too little money...too many gaffes". So, let me get this straight: if he had managed to get money out of someone other than Gerry Boyle and Mequon gas-station magnate Darshan Dhaliwal and not been such a buffoon during debate appearances, then we’d all be celebrating the Tommy Juggernaut, and he would be the one earning the privilege of being annihilated by a Democrat in November next year?
Um, no. I think it was a little more that money and gaffes that doomed Thompson to the dustbin of historical trivia answers (Q: Who is the former governor of a neighboring state that finished a humiliating 6th in the Iowa straw-poll in 2007?). For one thing, Thompson’s record as governor of Wisconsin was nothing to be proud of and never would have withstood the scrutiny of a national campaign. His time in office was rife with cronyism and pay-for-play rewards. His version of "welfare reform" was a miserable failure, serving only to create more poor people. Likewise, "school choice", which has not improved the education of inner-city kids in Milwaukee one bit and has only enriched private vendors like the Catholic Church, the Edison Company and various other charlatans. Like Ronald Reagan, he has benefitted by home-state affiliation, collective amnesia and revisionist history, treated in the newspapers like his years in office were sunshine, roses and fairness for all. No, no and no.
Also, it hasn’t really been mentioned (and I’m sure some will pull this out as the main point of this post, which it isn’t), but Tommy Thompson was the most physically unattractive candidate since Steve Forbes. He seems to have had some things buffed and tweaked – badly – since he was governor and still speaks like it’s all he can do to call up the words from somewhere below his diaphragm. His smile is pained and forced. Better that, perhaps, than the phony perfection of Robot Romney, but you still have to be able to look at the guy to take him seriously. I predict this same problem will ultimately doom the other Thompson, Fred, who looks like the kind of guy who your boss would assign you to work with only if he/she wanted to punish you.
I doubt the Journal Sentinel will be apologizing any time soon for dragging us through almost 40 articles in the past year, trying to convince us how oh-so-serious a candidate Tommy Thompson was. I’m still waiting for the inevitable editorial about how "proud" they are about his run and how the nation is worse off to reject the generous offer of his services. Despite hundreds of inches of free validation from the paper, Thompson actually had the nerve to complain just before the poll that "negative stories" in the J-S had "dried up the money". I don’t know what he was reading – every damn article in the newspaper during the campaign was excruciatingly deferential and blind to the doomed nature of his campaign.
Tommy Thompson will recover easily enough – there are more corporate boards to join, more money to be made. But it will take time for the Journal Sentinel to recover from this misplaced bit of homer-ism. Its editorial and political judgement has shown itself to be, shall we say, seriously wanting. Again.