What’s wrong with Fred Thomson’s presidential campaign isn’t Fred Thompson or his messages. It’s those preposterous televised debates that trivialize and trash the presidency, itself.
It’s not too late to separate himself from them, and the quicker and more dramatically the better.
Because he doesn’t perform in the debate circus the way the ring masters demand, Thompson is being disrespected and dismissed as a valid candidate by critics left, center and right.
Here’s what he’s been doing right:
He launched his campaign at precisely the right moment — not too late, as conventional wisdom insists.
He travels with far-less uncomplimentary baggage than any of his rivals.
He has, so far, committed no disqualifying flaw.
Despite slurs and blind eyes to the contrary, he has offered far more specific policies and programs on the imperative issues facing this country than any other contender.
As the most-consistently reliable conservative, he has more going for him for the Republican nomination than any of the others.
By temperament, knowledge and experience, he remains by far the most-qualified candidate, Republican or Democrat.
He has not lost that unique ability among all candidates to convince voters he is addressing them personally.
He is the candidate most likely to win the so-far-non-committed voters necessary for victory in the Nov. 4, 2008, general election.
Of interest to those who waste their time handicapping horse races based on the latest betting odds, he runs second in the national polls to the Republican leader du jour. Plenty of track lies ahead.
Yet, Thompson is in danger of disappearing off the public-awareness radar. In terms of typical presidential races this makes no sense, but this campaign isn’t politics as usual. There’s been nothing like it, ever.
Here’s what’s gone awry:
To date, the news media — from one side of the political compass to the other — have coalesced on the whimsical proposition that televised debates are “where it’s at.” These non-debate debates give the lazy press a picturesque puppet show for speculating on “who won the debate last night?”
Pre-nomination debates in both parties — all 24 of them so far, with another dozen waiting to disport themselves — are show biz at its glitzy worst, from stage-positioning of the candidates right down to space-age Plexiglas podiums.
The smarmy truth has already leaked: Questions are stirred up in the unclean kitchens of leftist political witches and accommodatingly put to selected candidates by the likes of CNN.
If the rancid stew they are peddling to the American populace were canned and marketed in grocery stores, the Food and Drug Administration would be mandating recalls and class actions would be flying.
Even if questions were squeaky clean and arrow straight, how on Earth can any sane candidate possibly be expected to gargle out an intelligent, comprehensible answer in the skimpy seconds allotted?
Recognizing this, the candidates except for Thompson have resorted to tossing porcupines of trivia into one another’s lap.
This falls right into the media’s format of choice — celebrities screeching simultaneously, with a biased “host” egging them on.
This is not what the American presidency is about. This is not what most Americans expect or will tolerate from their president.
By keeping his temper and refusing to play that game, Thompson, the authentic adult in the pack, has not been dragged into these juvenile micturating duels.
That has cost him a hefty price. By not going bug-swattin’ nuts in front of the cameras trained on the staged lineup of usual suspects, he has been left standing tall — but in the shadows.
Result: The far-left talking heads (who recognize the strongest Republican candidate when they see him) have rushed to write Thompson off. Usually perceptive pundits, such as a couple on Fox News, preoccupied with inside-the-Beltway chatter and the latest popularity readings divined from owls’ entrails, are snickering at him.
Like their less-conservative brethren in Masscomm Fantasy Land, they are titillated by gingham-dog and calico-cat fights between those they have anointed as their top two. Even The Wall Street Journal, which is about all that remains of genuine-journalism newspapers in this country, has taken to fretting on its editorial pages about Thompson’s fate, blaming the victim instead of the perp.
So, is Thompson doomed? Don’t be silly. He’s still the best bet, by a country mile.
The time has come, however, for him to climb off the bouncing buckboard of televised “debates” before that creaky wagon turns over and God knows who might emerge from the pile.
What a refreshing delight for the American electorate if they could see Thompson calmly denounce the pseudo debates for what they are, come to the defense of his fellow Republican and Democratic candidates by saying what they have been put through is a travesty, announce he will no longer be part of the stage scenery for this insult to the institution of the American presidency and the intelligence of the American people and then stride off the set with dignity.
True, he would be vilified as a quitter by those who never wanted him to succeed in the first place. That would be far outweighed by what he could gain. He would instantly recapture center stage and in a far-loftier, better-attended venue.
Were he then to sit down with the American people, talking individually to them as only he can, and tape this to run on his Web site, he could explain without interruption the specifics of his programs, one by one. The Internet is far-better attended than CNN.
Such a startling departure from what every other candidate is doing would also garner him more free media access than he could otherwise expect to receive.
Moreover, he could reintroduce into his campaign that one quality so grievously missing from American political discourse — logical eloquence. There is no place for eloquence, let alone logic, while tap-dancing grotesquely for a few seconds on demand during a made-for-TV knockoff of American Idol on a bad amateur night.
Thompson’s common-sense ideals and ideas lend themselves naturally to eloquence, and there is a reemerging national hunger for such language.
Here’s what it boils down to: Fred Thompson has what it takes to be one of the truly great American presidents. How to put that across?
First, get off the freak-show circuit. Then, via the Internet, talk directly to the American people about what is in his heart and mind.
Step, dramatically, out of the lesser role of presidential candidate. Speak, and act, as a president should in response to the critical issues of the day and in anticipation of those yet to come.
Forget what the rest are saying. Let them do their things.
He’s said all along he will campaign his own way. Do it.
By word and deed and stature, show the American people what President Fred Thompson will be.
John L. Perry, a prize-winning newspaper editor and writer who served on White House staffs of two presidents, is a regular columnist for Newsmax.com.
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