The Politico's story contradicted itself with the first three words: "Fred Thompson thinks...."
OK, a cheap shot for a cheap laugh. The sentence did go on, as my ellipsis indicates. But when one reads the full article, the first impression resonates throughout: The gentleman from Tennessee is as demagogically shallow as they come.
The Politico's complete line was this: "Fred Thompson thinks the country faces a tough road ahead and he's not glossing over the problems we face." That assessment derived from a speech the former senator gave to the Midwestern Republican Leadership Conference in Indianapolis last week, in which he "offered a stark assessment of what he described as America's perilous condition."
Said Fred: "I simply believe that on the present course that we're going to be a weaker, less prosperous, more divided nation than what we have been. I do not say that lightly, but I think it's the truth. And I think the American people are ready for the truth."
Having apprised the crowd of the sterner and more honest stuff of which he is made, Thompson then sketched our perilous condition on three fronts. National security: "Our country's in danger; it's going to be that way for a long time to come." The economy: "We are doing steady damage to our economy, that if we don't do things better it's going to result in economic disaster for future generations." And the mess in Washington, specifically the White House: "In order to have leadership you got to have somebody who's going to follow; our people follow, but they don't have any confidence in what's being said or who's saying it."
My, this is indeed stern stuff -- or, real oddball stuff, given that Thompson has been generally supportive of the Bush administration's national-security and economic policies that brought us to this perilous cliff.
But that's ancient history. Mr. Thompson promised straight talk and tough remedies at the Republican conference -- yet this, in a nutshell, was as straight and tough as his talk and remedies got:
He courageously applauded the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. He praised federalism. He supports the rule of law. He likes free markets in a free marketplace. He respects private property.
Somewhere in all those sentimental generalities was Fred's way forward -- from them, he would avert us from the precipice; he would seize the mantle of Republican leadership and issue a call to all Republicans to follow in revitalizing the nation: "We know how to do that, we've done it so many times before."
But if Fred had in mind any specific courses of action, he wasn't saying. Instead, he opted for the hurrahs and harrumphs of broad, good old-fashioned Republicanism.
He did so in large part, however, in the oddest of ways. Before a Midwest segment of the conservative base, he implicitly knocked the hell out of his party and theirs. In effect, he trashed twelve years of Republican legislative rule and two terms of Republican presidential rule as having led us on the path to "a weaker, less prosperous, more divided nation."
Fred, here's some advice. Yours is a demagoguery that won't fly; not with Republicans, anyway. Yours is an Independent-ticket demagoguery, perhaps, but not a Republican demagoguery. You can't energize the base by accurately portraying their party of the last decade or so -- by pointedly noting, that is, that their party has brought us to ruefulness and ruination. In short, you're asking them to admit they were wrong.
Republicans don't like that, Fred. You're presenting the right synopsis -- weakness, division, etc. -- to the wrong crowd. You can sell fundamentalist Republican platitudes -- free markets, federalism, etc. -- to independents and conservative Democrats by saying Republicans have strayed, but fundamentalist Republicans won't want to hear it.
On the other hand, you've botched your quasicampaign in every conceivable manner so far, Fred, so it's only fitting you'd now unveil precisely the wrong strategic approach. At least you're consistent. And for that, we salute you.