Friday, May 04, 2007

Waiting For Fred

I think I saw enough of last night's GOP debate to conclude that the big winner was Fred Thompson. Take it way, Peggy Noonan, in an article emailed to me by no less than four people...

They stood earnestly in a row, combed, primped and prepped, as Nancy Reagan gazed up at them with courteous interest. But behind the hopeful candidates, a dwarfing shadow loomed, a shadow almost palpable in its power to remind Republicans of the days when men were men and the party was united. His power is only increased by his absence. But enough about Fred Thompson.

This is a piece about Thursday night's Republican presidential debates, but first I would like to note that the media's fixation with which Republican is the most like Reagan, and who is the next Reagan, and who parts his hair like Reagan, is absurd, and subtly undermining of Republicans, which is why they do it. Reagan was Reagan, a particular man at a particular point in history. What is to be desired now is a new greatness. Another way of saying this is that in 1960, John F. Kennedy wasn't trying to be the next FDR, and didn't feel forced to be. FDR was the great, looming president of Democratic Party history, and there hadn't been anyone as big or successful since 1945, but JFK thought it was good enough to be the best JFK. And the press wasn't always sitting around saying he was no FDR. Oddly enough, they didn't consider that an interesting theme.

They should stop it already, and Republicans should stop playing along. They should try instead a pleasant, "You know I don't think I'm Reagan, but I do think John Edwards may be Jimmy Carter, and I'm fairly certain Hillary is Walter Mondale."
Noonan posits that Romney won the debate, which isn't my take, but that's mostly because Romney's sell job isn't convincing me of anything. I'm pretty certain that Romney either shares many of my views on social issues or will follow them... but I still feel like I'm getting a schtick from a polished used-car salesman. Depressingly, I felt the same way about Bill Clinton. To be fair to Romney, his personal life is a hell of a lot cleaner than Clinton's (actually, anyone this side of Tony Soprano could say that) and Mitt actually accomplished some worthwhile stuff in the private sector before entering public office. Still, I just get this uneasy feeling that he doesn't believe what he's saying so much as saying it to get elected. All politicians do that, but it's too transparent in some cases.

At this point, I remain with one foot firmly in Rudy's camp, but last night's debate wasn't going to win anyone over to his side. I'm saying that, and I liked his honest answer on the abortion issue. He can win, but he needs more of the fire we saw from mcCain.

I personally think McCain won, but there's too much history there on domestic policy for me to feel comfortable with McCain. I love McCain's fire for the fight and his willingness to stake out the unpopular yet correct stance on Iraq. Unlike Congress, McCain isn't worried about a strategy for withdrawal, he's worried about a strategy for winning. That's a huge distinction that the Democrats haven't even perceived, while the Adminstration's perception of the difference hasn't helped them develop a winning strategy. McCain made me think "lion in winter" when I watched him. Unfortunately, he was also the only candidate, save maybe Huckabee or Gilmore (neither of who have a prayer of doing anything except possibly being Veep), who summoned the right Presidential "look" for me. I know Rudy's got it, but he didn't show it. Romney has the look of an actor playing the President in a TV series (just like John Edwards, actually).

As for the rest, my favorite moment of the night was when Ron Paul was asked whether he would phase out the IRS and he said, "Immediately." Mathews was a pain with the time limits -- I hate moderators who try to steal the show.

Bottom line? I hate magic bullet solutions, mostly because I don't trust them. And while I love Fred Thompson as a potential candidate, I'm concerned about him as an actual candidate (the same concerns Democrats should having about Barack). But after what I saw last night, no one in that field should scare Fred. The only question that remains is when he runs, and whether the magic will last.

And if he gets the inevitable question about Reagan comparisons... well, Fred, let me volunteer to write the right response:

"I'm not Ronald Reagan. No one in the field of candidates is Ronald Reagan. Like all of you, I have a deep and lasting affection for President Reagan. He won the Cold War. He understood how to lead this country through a deep recession and into a period of unparalleled economic prosperity. And he did so because he had a deep and abiding faith in this country's greatness and its rightful place as a beacon of hope for mankind.

But Ronald Reagan understood something else -- any great things that he achieved came about because he was an American. We're all capable of great things, but the unique thing about the United States of America is that we give each and every person born in our nation the opportunity to fulfill their dreams and accomplish great things. When he left office, President Reagan stated that, 'My dream is that you will travel the road ahead with liberty’s lamp guiding your steps and opportunity’s arm steadying your way.' His dream was the American dream -- it was and is our dream.

I'm not Ronald Reagan. President Reagan left us a wonderful, enduring legacy. But we cannot do justice to that legacy by pining for the past or pretending to look for a pale imitation of past greatness. We need to forge ahead and accomplish the great things that we are capable of doing -- that's what Americans do. We need to live up to our legacy, rather than simply cherish it.

I believe in the greatness of this country. And I don't believe America's greatness is in her past. I think it's in her future. Perhaps those are views I share with many great Americans who no longer walk among us, but I prefer to think I share them with many great Americans who are with us today, including all of you.

I'm Fred Thompson, and I'm running for President."

Hey, it's only a first draft. But it's time to get started. I'm guessing Thompson won't declare for a while yet. But as Jim Geraghty noted, the man sure is busy for someone who's not running for President.


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