January 3, 2008
POLITICS: Fred The Sunday Pitcher
I started this as part of a longer post on my choice between Giuliani and McCain that I'm still working on, but it got long enough to stand on its own.
As regular readers will recall, I have been publicly supporting Rudy Giuliani for president since February 2007, before Fred Thompson was even being seriously discussed as a potential candidate. My first serious flirtation with switching away from Rudy, back around May or June, was Fred Thompson. For the reasons I'll discuss at greater length in the longer piece, I was already worried about the problems Rudy's social-issue stances present for the general election by that point, and Fred looked like the one guy who might, if he played his cards right, unite the national security and social conservative wings of the party behind a charismatic candidate who also had a solid record on fiscal issues.
Fred had one significant, though not insurmountable, weakness as a candidate: no executive experience and little leadership experience of any variety aside from a largely ineffective tour as a Senate subcommittee chairman. Heck, even in Fred's years in acting he'd rarely had a starring role. Executive/leadership experience isn't everything - and no presidential candidate has all the qualifications we'd like to see - but it's one of the most important credentials for a potential president (John F. Kennedy's only such experience was commanding a PT boat; of the 13 other successful candidates since 1900 - not counting the three who were first elected as incumbents after succeeding from the vice presidency - we've had 8 governors, two VPs, a military leader (Ike), a colonial administrator (Taft), and a Cabinet Secretary/businessman/wartime reconstruction administrator (Hoover). And the last two were disasters at the job.). So before I was willing to throw my support behind Fred, I wanted to see him in action actually running something - see if he could manage a media-savvy campaign that would command the narrative and hit the ground running with Hollywood flair. After all, if there's one thing a trial lawer or an actor (and Fred has been both) should know, it's stagecraft - the kind of stagecraft that so excited everyone on the web when Fred rolled out that rapid response to Michael Moore.
I waited to see Fred come roaring out of the gate - and waited, and waited. He never did. He dithered, and he entered the race with a whimper rather than a bang, and he reshuffled his staff, and he seemed to go out of his way at times to fly under the radar in a crowded field. Rather than media-savvy, Fred has been media-shy. In a business in which communications is the lifeblood of presidential influence, that's bad, bad news.
Some will object that the mainstream media is misleading us by downplaying Fred because he's conservative, because he's Southern, because he refuses to bow to a lot of their silly rituals. But like it or not, the MSM is as much a reality for a president as the strike zone is for a baseball pitcher. If you can't hit the umpire's zone consistently, it really doesn't matter how good your pitches are. Maybe it's just me, but I have yet to encounter anyone who (1) takes Fred's campaign seriously and (2) doesn't get the majority of their news from the internet.
To continue the baseball analogy, Fred reminds me most of all of Pedro Martinez. Not the Pedro of his Boston glory days, but the Pedro who has pitched for the Mets since 2005. Pedro is a true master of his craft, full of guile and skill, and on those days when he arrives at the ballpark healthy and in possession of what passes these days for his good fastball, Good Pedro is still a beauty to watch, dissecting opponents, messing with their timing and generally looking like a man pitching to boys. But many days, Pedro doesn't have even that fastball to work with, or he's pitching hurt, or he isn't healthy enough to take the hill at all.
That's Fred - Good Fred is a master at work, at turns folksy, frank and commanding. On policy, he's right on nearly everything, he's been mostly consistent through the years (with the exception of campaign finance issues), and after a maddeningly vague rollout to his candidacy he has produced issue proposals worthy of the title "Policy Fred." About the only issue where Fred worries me is immigration, where he may be too much of a hard-liner for the sake of the GOP's long-term relationship with Latino voters sensitive to overdoses of nativism.
But, like Good Pedro, Good Fred just doesn't show up often enough to carry the team for the whole season; sometimes he's off his game, and sometimes he's just not to be found at all. And as we have seen with George W. Bush, a guy who doesn't come out swinging every single day will sooner or later get eaten alive by his inability to control the terms of debate. A Fred Thompson presidency would, I am sure, be characterized by integrity, good judgment, a stable, steady hand, wise policy, and rarest of all, perspective about the things that really matter. But a Fred presidency, and a Fred general election candidacy, would also be afflicted by periods of drift and apathy, resulting in the steady bleeding of support in the face of the typically ferocious onslaught that faces any president and in particular a conservative Republican. Fred might well propose good things, but proposing things and making them happen are two different animals.
In the 1930s and 1940s, baseball teams played a lot of Sunday doubleheaders, and accordingly could make use of a pitcher who would pitch once a week rather than every four days. Teams would often fill this role with a talented but sore-armed veteran who was no longer up to the task of going every four days - a "Sunday Pitcher." Some of these were very successful, most famously Hall of Famer Ted Lyons, who worked in the role for nearly a decade, starting 20 games a year instead of 35 or 40 and leaving hitters baffled, while resting his arm during the week. That, to me, is Fred: the Sunday Pitcher of politics, the guy who is at his best as he has been in the movies and on TV, showing up at a few key points to provide wise counsel and sly one-liners. A man like that can make a tremendous addition to a national ticket - for any of the others, really - as the Vice Presidential candidate, to pop up here and there when he has something to say, and otherwise act (as Dick Cheney has) behind the scenes as an advocate for conservative ideas and principles. He can be trusted to provide a steady hand at the till if he's needed to step into the big job. I wouldn't be heartbroken by any means to see Fred pull out the nomination, and obviously a stirring comeback in the primaries would require Fred to show more of what we have too rarely seen from him. But we have a tough race ahead of us, and Fred just hasn't shown in an extended audition that he's the guy to carry the team on his back accross the finish line.
If this is the best that one can come up with to criticize Fred, then the Republican party truly is in deep doo-doo.
I think that Fred is a better campaigner than you are a political commentator. His problem is that the media is out to keep non-conservatives out front for the GOP, and that so many idiots out there think this is just another form of American Idol.
How absurd is this article?
That you supported Guilianni at any point EVER shows everyone that you are clearly a moron...
The media is the enemy.
Go Fred GO! The ONLY conservative of the bunch...
As a Fred supporter, I have had many of the same concerns you cite, BC. As I stated on another blog a few months back, Fred has had a great career as a supporting actor (emphasis on suporting). This was his first crack at the lead; whereas Reagan had a career of lead roles in films (King's Row, Bonzo films, etc).
Fred didn't carry The Hunt for Red October, but he did make it better. Law and Order is an ensemble piece. Fred's filmography begs for the political career he already had, in the Senate, where ensemble work leads to (occasional) success.
Does this mean that Fred wouldn't make a good CiC? No, that is why I've supported him up to now.
Does this mean that Fred can't play the game the way the powers that be (the MSM, the locals in Iowa and NH, Inside the Beltway pundits) want it played? Fred has been obvious in his disregard for elements of the process. That has made friends ('in the Internets') as well as much more powerful enemies (see folks listed above).
Today, to get the job you have to play the game. Howard Dean learned that, to his detriment, four years ago. Fred failed to learn from Dean's error.
Wow. I don't get the anger in these comments. Crank, I think you have it mostly right. Fred seems to have the right resume, the right platform, the right TV presence. But where is he? As someone who does not spend hours a day reading political updates, I don't hear much of anything about him. And as an actor, I would have guessed that he'd be (and make himself) a media darling, but that hasn't happened.
Somehow, Huckabee (a guy with seemingly the resume and platform - but not necessarily the ability to push his agenda or the proven track record) is getting far more attention. It seems that he's simply working harder then Fred is - or is it truly that the media loves him more then they love Fred? Either way, I truly thought that Fred would make more noise and more headlines, and it hasn't happened.
No executive experience? Fred was the Manhaatan District Attorney!
As someone who does not spend hours a day reading political updates, I don't hear much of anything about him.
Is that his fault, or is that the fault of a media that doesn't give the guy a lot of attention?
Fred has been actively campaigning in Iowa lately, so the notion that he doesn't really have the "fire in the belly" is an absurdity. Sure, he got off to a slow start, but so what? I really don't give a fig if the guy has been campaigning hard for one month or one year. Contra Crank, this tells me nothing about how he would function as President.
Each of the Republican candidates has serious flaws that would probably leave a decent chunk of conservatives sitting at home or voting for a third party - each of the candidates except Fred Thompson. Critics have to go digging in order to find things to dislike about him.
So instead of supporting a guy who is the most conservative candidate, is also one of the more electable candidates, and has also been the most substantive candidate, Crank has decided to go with the pro-abort candidate that is going to alienate 10-20% of the base. All because Fred hasn't campaigned hard enough to satisfy him.
Our party is truly screwed this election cycle.
Paul, you may be right about the Republicans being screwed. There really hasn't been anyone step forward. I have tried really hard to like Fred. My main problem is that he reminds me of Bob Dole and while Bob is a nice guy, you saw what happened when he ran for President.
I'm no doubt a Democrat, so take my approval of the comments by Crank with that in mind. Of the candidates, Thompson was the wild card. He could have been wildly popular among conservatives (who are clearly looking desperately for someone to call their own), or simply lazy and drifting, it was too close to call.
He has no doubt shown to have been the latter, much to my satisfaction. The one thing Thompson has had, that the others have not, is the ability to be a crotchety old man with anti-progressive rants without apology or even requests for same. He can be critical of everything and everyone and the media lets him, a sign of a real teflon candidate. However, he has not demanded attention, and with a field this large on both sides of the aisle, that is what you have to do. And by not demanding the attention, he has fallen to the point that he is likely to call it quits after NH or shortly thereafter.
Giuliani, I think, will not be able to escape the "police protection" scandal, that is just a killer, as it brings out his willingness to cheat openly on his wife, and also shows the personal corruption/"in it for me-ness" questions that have plagued him nationally since Kerik.
I think McCain is the Republicans' best chance of having someone with media savvy and experience to be President. And although I think he's the fourth best candidate with a chance to win, he is the most competent of the Republican field, and our country desperately needs at least competence after the 8 years of incompetence. Right now, if I can't have one of the three competent Democratic frontrunners, I at least want someone that won't embarrass the country, and I don't think McCain would. Giuliani is no doubt competent, but there would be this "U.S. is for sale" thing that would get in the way.
Mitt Romney is a joke, and he will be slaughtered nationally for it.
McCain strikes me as the candidate with the best chance of winning, although I would think he'd run better against Hillary (where his tendency to speak his mind contrasts well against her calculating/insincere tendencies) than against Obama (which could easily be framed by the D's as a past-vs-future choice). As to whether Thompson really is underwhelming, or is just being sandbagged by the mainstream media, I really have not been looking close enough to know.
"[...]if I can't have one of the three incompetent Democratic frontrunners[...]"
McCain? Are you serious? The guy is about 100 years old. His campaign is laugh out loud funny. He seems to have turned the bend mentally from affable, charasmatic popular/populist guy to angry, somewhat unstable guy. He has almost no $. He is "hoping" to come in 3rd in Iowa but likely will not. The GOP inner circle is never going to get behind him.
It seems like its Giuliani's to lose. Thompson doesn't seem like he gives much of a crap (and he despite this essay gets a pass that Dem candidates don't for having essentially no experience), Huckabee is Huckabee, Romney just has WAAAYYY too many questions and downsides. That leaves Internet Money Machine Ron Paul and Giuliani. Unless Giuliani is found to have murdered someone with his barehands I don't see how it is anyone but him.
Giuliani got stomped in Iowa. Fred is running third with 86% tallied. I am kind of surprised he has done this well. Maybe there is more there than we think. As I have stated here serveral time, I would not vote for McCain for dog-catcher. He can't be counted on in a fight.
"He can't be counted on in a fight."
I don't think I need to point out what an ironic knock that is on McCain.
Jerry, it was not intended as a knock on his war-time record. That being said, you have to admit, in the last 8-10 years he has been all over the map on just about every issue.