Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Must Be the Season of the Fred


By GAIL COLLINS
Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
August 16, 2007

August. Everybody but you is out of town. Congress is in recess. The Iraqi Parliament, of course, is long gone. You-know-who is in Texas. It’s 107 degrees in Crawford, but that brush wants cutting.

Karl Rove is going on hiatus forever. The president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, has been summering in Wolfeboro, N.H., enjoying the scenery and yelling at photographers. Wolfeboro is something of a hangout for famous politicians — Mitt Romney has a vacation house there, and Rudy Giuliani was there just the other day, buying coffee heath yogurt. He also gave his most basic stump speech, which involves announcing that “Americans don’t lose” and making repeated references to Ronald Reagan.

The only problem with campaigning for the New Hampshire primary in a tourist spot is that your audience is generally not from New Hampshire. “I’m a fan; we like him out in Indiana,” said Betty King, who got Giuliani’s autograph. “I hope he can get us out of the war.”

“... Or win the war,” she added quickly, perhaps remembering that Americans don’t lose.

Meanwhile in Iowa, the vacation capital of ... Iowa, everyone is waiting for Fred.

Fred Thompson is coming! Now Republicans won’t have to feel shortchanged because Tommy Thompson dropped out of the race, leaving them with only eight candidates to choose from. (Oh Tommy, we hardly knew ye.) The networks will not even have to change the name cards at the debates.

Now let us be clear, Fred Thompson is not a candidate yet. True, he has a Web site and he raised almost $3.5 million last month and he is scheduled to be in Iowa Friday to meet with state legislators and go to the state fair. But nothing is official. And who wouldn’t like to spend the hottest weeks in August chatting up state legislators and fighting with the crowds at a very large fair in a state where they do not reside?

His Web site isn’t even called “Fred Thompson for President.” Its name is “I’m With Fred,” which is noncommittal, yet has a nice ring. “I’m with Fred” sounds like something you would say while desperately trying to get past the bouncer and into an exclusive club restricted to cool people who want to give money to a former senator from Tennessee.

Right now Thompson occupies that lovely sweet spot reserved for candidates about whom the public knows nothing whatsoever except that they couldn’t be any worse than the other ones. We love these guys. (Remember how much you loved Ross Perot until you actually got to know Ross Perot?) Thompson is doing very nicely in the polls already; campaigning could ruin everything.

And it’s August for heaven’s sake. We should be proud to live in a country where voters do not judge their politicians by race, ethnicity or whether they’re prepared to run around Iowa in 100 degree temperatures shaking hands and dropping in on the Polly Bukta Corn Boil. (We see you, Hillary Clinton.)

Still, if Thompson is introducing himself to the Iowans tomorrow, we all deserve a little peep at the merchandise. Otherwise we might get jealous and move our state’s primary to Columbus Day.

What does Fred Thompson stand for?

Exactly what George Bush stands for, except that Thompson intends to be as dogmatic and inflexible on illegal immigrants as Bush already is on other domestic issues, making real change on immigration as impossible as it currently is on health care, tax reform or Social Security. By coincidence, Romney and Giuliani have arrived at this very same position.

While Thompson has said virtually nothing about Iraq, he will probably follow the Mitt-Rudy line and drop hints that when he invades a country, he will bring a bigger army.

Does Fred Thompson have enough experience to be president?

He spent eight years in the Senate, and “I’m With Fred” has a list of his accomplishments. Many of them contain the fatal words “served on,” “fought to,” and “worked to enact” which are often legislative synonyms for “was in the room when ...”

He was a successful lobbyist and if it is pointed out that he represented causes he now decries, Thompson seems prepared to argue that it doesn’t count if somebody pays you to do it. He has also been a great success playing versions of himself in movies and on TV. He’s appeared on 115 episodes of Law and Order, one of which is rerunning at this very minute on a cable channel near you.

What is the worst thing about Fred Thompson?

If elected, he would be the tallest president ever. I’m not really sure we want to give up on Abraham Lincoln.

What is the best thing about Fred Thompson?

Many people believe he’s rather lazy. Given the main Republican candidates’ current positions, we might want to consider rooting for the one likely to make the least effort.

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