So. It’s official. After a protracted lackluster start-up leaves the Right yawning through primary season, a frustrated GOP offers up the Grand Ole Poseur. The Great White Hope. The near-Ronald Reagan hits the campaign trail.
Actor/lawyer/former Tennessee Senator Fred Dalton Thompson is off and running. In it to win it. The collective conservative sigh of relief was explosive enough to alter the course of the jet stream; surely there’s nothing but fair weather and smooth sailing ahead. This guy has it all. Experience on the Hill — just enough, not too much. Name recognition to die for, a face everyone knows and trusts. We’ve seen him in action and we’re impressed. He’s served us well as the serious, thoughtful sage DA Arthur Branch on NBC’s Law and Order. He dispensed golden nuggets of legal wisdom every week for several years, never got flustered, seldom lost a case that really mattered. And every Law and Order crisis was neatly resolved in under sixty minutes. No lie. Watch the re-runs. You’ve got to believe in a guy who can do all that. America loves its bigger-than-life heroes and this fella filled the screen. Imagine what he could do in the Oval Office.
Not only has he got star quality, he’s a bona fide regular guy. He wears blue jeans, tools around in a red pickup truck. He drove that old truck all over Tennessee in his ’93 run for the Senate. Folks ate it up like a platter of Memphis barbecue. Most never suspected the truck was pre-positioned a mile or so away from Ole Fred’s stumping grounds; seems a luxury car or limo delivered candidate Thompson to the big, red truck and he took it from there. The long, tall, plain talkin’ everyman arrived in red, white and blue average American style. It’s all about image. You have to look the part to play the role.
He’s an outsider, too. There’s no tacky “Washington Insider” tattoo on this good old boy’s forehead. Serving a term or two in the U.S. Senate does not make a man (or woman) one of those tainted insider types. No way. And that’s a fact.
But there’s more to the life and times of Fred Dalton Thompson than stints as a beloved TV DA or another Mr. Smith Goes to Washington-style pol. He’s got a long history — 20 years or so — as a living, breathing lobbyist in D.C. and he played that role to the hilt.
One of his clients in 1982 was the Tennessee Savings and Loan League. On their behalf, Thompson lobbied for a bill to deregulate the S&L industry. The result? The final version of Thompson’s pet bill is widely credited with laying the groundwork for the risky financial ventures, fraud and mismanagement that ended with the S&L collapse of the late ’80s. Regular folks lost money and U.S. taxpayers shelled out around $150 billion for the bail-out. Fred? He got paid.
He lobbied for Equitas, a British reinsurance company handling billions of dollars of asbestos claims for Lloyd’s of London. What profit-savvy insurer wants to face paying full price for all those pesky asbestos victims? Equitas paid Thompson about $760,000 between 2004-2006 for his handiwork on their behalf. And the list goes on. This outsider spent plenty of time and energy peddling influence.
A spokesman for Thompson explains it this way: “Many of the candidates from both parties have been lobbyists or have been lobbied at one point or another in their careers. It is an honorable endeavor that goes back to the beginnings of this republic.”
That point of view makes it all better. My kids once had a penchant for the same “But Mo-om—everybody else is doing it!” argument. I didn’t buy it then and I don’t buy it now.
Still, they tell us, he’s untainted. He’s a different breed altogether: The new, improved outsider-insider. He’s just like all of us. Except that the K Street gang — who’ve bought our government wholesale, kept the costs of gas and oil, health insurance and prescription drugs, staggeringly high or wholly unaffordable for too many of us — rightfully rejoices at a potential Thompson presidency. After all, he might say he’s one of us, he might look like one of us, but he’s one of them.
He’ll only dance his way into the White House if we let him. Maybe we’re smarter than the GOP thinks we are. To quote a very smart Illinois voter about the Thompson campaign: “What they’re doing is like putting lipstick on a pig. It’s still a pig — and putting lipstick on a pig doesn’t mean you have to take it to the prom.”