As Bob Novak says, with Fred Thompson there is much less than meets the eye. He's a desperation pick by conservative Republicans - especially in Tennessee - who don't like the army of panderers and philanderers among the current GOP top crop. He's one of a long line of "projection candidates" onto whom disaffected voters can project their own longings. Ironically, Thompson's greatest appeal is that he seems "authentic," unlike the others.
But one thing I find striking about the Fred phenomenon is the touchiness with which his supporters guard his aura of authenticity. It's as if his own life story can't stand on its own. Nothing reveals this more than defensiveness over the red pickup truck in the 1994 Senatorial election. By most accounts, it was the moment that jumpstarted his campaign. His supporters say he was simply jettisoning the highly scripted political theatrics expected of a Senatorial candidate; it was just "Fred being Fred." A sycophantic article from Frank Cagle claims that Thompson wasn't really comfortable until he could hold impromptu rallies in rural Sevier County. Never mind that 1994 was a banner Republican year and any Republican who railed against the Washington establishment was likely to draw a crowd in rural East Tennessee. And note the way Terry Frank mocks a Tennessean article that chides Thompson for his Washington insiderness. As if Thompson did not, in fact, spend most of his career in Washington. Hmm, a bit touchy, huh?
Well, Kevin Drum, who brilliantly commented that Thompson "has done nothing to distinguish himself this year except deliver a few vaguely Reaganesque pastiches in a nice baritone," has again nailed Thompson on his phony "let Fred be Fred" persona. Apparently, not only did Thompson lease the red pickup truck in his 1994 campaign, but he didn't even drive it around the state. According to Michelle Cottle, who wrote a 1996 article outlining a potential Thompson Presidential run, "My friend stands talking with her colleagues as the senator is driven away by a blond, all-American staffer. A few minutes later, my friend gets into her car to head home. As she pulls up to the stop sign at the parking lot exit, rolling up to the intersection is Senator Thompson, now behind the wheel of a sweet silver luxury sedan. He gives my friend a slight nod as he drives past. Turning onto the main road, my friend passes the school's small, side parking area. Lo and behold: There sits the abandoned red pickup, along with the all-American staffer." In other words, Thompson only rode the red pickup truck for the last couple hundred feet so all the Sevier County locals could be impressed. He then promptly returned to his luxury sedan. Was this Fred being Fred? Or Fred the Fraud?
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