I did not expect Fred Thompson to be still in second place in the race for the Republican Presidential Nomination in late October and I am pleased to find out that I overestimated him. After months of artfully crafted suspense concerning whether or when he would announce a bid for the Presidency, the actual event and his first debate performance and everything thereafter have been a fizzle. When I wrote my June 26 article predicting a Thompson GOP nomination, I expected Thompson would perform like an Arthur Branch, or the Admiral from “Hunt for Red October” or even the guy who appeared on an internet video smoking a cigar and deriding Michael Moore and his movie “Sicko”. The real Fred Thompson is none of those men and has little ability to be extemporaneous. What I am finding out about Thompson is that if you give him the chance to study a good script in advance and provide him the proper set, he can deliver a good performance. That is not enough to wage a successful bid for President. You have to be able to deliver great, unscripted lines in the heat of the moment surrounded by a gaggle of competitors and journalists who are analyzing every word and phrase hoping to use them to rip you apart.
In his debate performance, Thompson reminded me of an aging prizefighter who is way past his prime. He sees openings in his opposition’s defenses but is too slow to be able to exploit them. The real Fred Thompson has shown that he is not up to playing in the big game and the numbers show it. He has name and face recognition associated with popular television and movie characters most other politicians would give up more than one limb to have. Despite that, he is running a clear second to a Rudy Giuliani who has many problems with rank and file Republicans on social issues and doesn’t have near the Hollywood Law and Order star quality he has. If Thompson isn’t running a big first in the polls by now, he is never going to be. Combine that with a Giuliani who has shown that he is much tougher and more resilient then I thought HE was and it adds up to Giuliani winning the nomination.
I’ve never struggled so much and so hard to try to get excited about a politician as I have with Hillary Clinton. Some might ask why, but the reason is simple. She is far ahead in the polls and seems to be gaining momentum. It would be much easier to support her from a perspective of not having to struggle to get someone nominated, than it would to support anyone else right now. I’d certainly like ‘easy’ for a change. I wish she would help me be able to like her. I recently wrote, “The Democratic Party leadership seems intent on a course that fails but for the opposite reason the GOP failed. The leadership is bent on satisfying independents in the center and center right and ignoring the liberal/progressive base of the Democratic Party. That leads to failure just as assuredly as either party pandering only to their party’s extremes does.” I don’t think any Democratic Party politician currently embodies that sentiment more than Hillary does. I don’t think that was always so. In the 2006 senate race, I castigated New York progressives for campaigning against her. At the time I viewed her as moderate but not centrist. She has definitely become a centrist. I wonder if that is cause or effect. Did the idea that she had no traction with progressives push her toward the center to seek a constituency? Right now, the intellectual exercise to think and debate that is irrelevant. We, as Democrats, are hurtling toward nominating a candidate I am starting to have a hard time recognizing as a Democrat.
She and her campaign have been doing some things right. I complained in my February 23 article that the percentage of Americans that had a negative perception of her was too high. She has taken care of that, but she hasn’t allayed some of my other concerns. Here is an excerpt from that article that I think she and her campaign could use to make some big inroads with liberals and progressives:
Starting with the issues, when your husband pushed for and got NAFTA passed, many of us agreed with him and thought free trade was the way to go. I was one of those people who thought free trade was good and would balance out in the end. I thought it would open up new markets to American made products even as the influx of foreign goods might cause some loss of manufacturing jobs and may even cause a few bankruptcies in the sector. What has happened is very little of the former and a lot of the latter. I regret my personally supporting free trade and I think it has been shown to be a mistake from an American perspective. I would like to see you commission a serious study of the effects of NAFTA and other free trade initiatives on American manufacturing and labor. Perhaps a study like this already exists, I do not know. Either way, I would like to see you carefully examining the data from such a study and adjusting your positions accordingly. I would also like to see you come out strong on fixing what is behind the shrinking middle class and its deteriorating share of American wealth.
Since Hillary may very well win the nomination and perhaps the Presidency, I want to be excited about that. I want to be able, if she wins the nomination, to get behind her candidacy with a great deal of enthusiasm. I will support her if she wins the nomination regardless, but passion in your supporters (or the lack of it) means a lot in a Presidential race.
With Clinton and Thompson, I know how they are performing and I know why. I don’t understand why Edwards is running a distant third in the race for the Democratic nomination. He is a great speaker and debater, he is brilliant, and almost everyone who sees and hears him has to admit they like him. So why isn’t he doing better? One can guess from the above that I am a supporter of Edwards and they would be right. I think Edwards is an excellent candidate and that he would be the best President of any of the candidates running on either side of the aisle. I also think the popular criticisms of him are ridiculous. Let’s talk about the most famous one, the $400 haircuts.
I never understood the hullabaloo about the expensive haircuts. Everyone I know has one or more hobbies on which they tend to spend ‘a lot’ of money. ‘A lot’ is always relative to how much you have and how much you make. When I was in college, my hobby was computing. I think the computer equipment that I owned totaled, if one added up the amount I paid for each, one quarter of my annual income at the time. When I was growing up, my father had a man come in every other week to perform a thorough cleaning of our house. That man, who didn’t earn a lot of money, had an expensive model train hobby. Hobbies that involve personal comfort or taking care of ones looks are hardly special or new. In fact, for a politician, all of whom in the modern era spend time on television and in Edwards’ case, for whom appearance and charisma is an important asset, spending time and money looking after ones appearance makes sense. The haircut issue is such a red herring that I think it is insulting to anyone with an IQ greater than that of a goldfish.
Here is what I know about John Edwards. He cares about people, and I mean all people. He is concerned about America becoming the land of the haves versus the “have-nots”. John Edwards is self-made, and he knows what it is like to grow up as a member of the working class. He understands the challenges and issues faced by those of us in that class. He isn’t perfect; he has made mistakes in his life and in his votes as a politician. He understands and admits when he has made mistakes and he institutes changes in his policy proposals and in himself. When you hear Edwards speak, you come to know all of these things intuitively. He affects and reaches people at a level that none of the other frontrunners for either party can.
My hope and I don’t think it is an unreasonable one, is that when it comes time for the Iowa caucuses, caucus-goers look into their hearts, find the only one there politically is John Edwards, and give him a resounding victory. I further hope that victory propels Edwards to at least a strong second in New Hampshire and victories in every contest thereafter.Regardless of who wins the nomination, if a Democrat is raising their right hand on January 21, 2009 to be sworn in as our next President, I will be happy and it will be a massive improvement.