‘Just an Actor’ Drumbeat Begins Against Fred Thompson
By: Warner Todd Huston
I have been waiting for the MSM to start the drumbeat against Fred Thompson that they so often and so boringly used (and still do) against Ronald Reagan; the refrain of â€œHe’s just an actorâ€ Now, Rebecca Sinderbrand of the New York Observer has used the general theme for her latest piece, The Mysterious Appeal of Fred Thompson. Subtitled â€œActor, Senator, presidential candidate… but what G.O.P. gap is he filling?, Sinderbrand makes liberal use of Thompson’s â€œrolesâ€ as a foil for his seriousness as a candidate and seems to be saying that the only reason anyone is considering him is because he looks the part as a result of his â€œcamera presenceâ€.
Sinderbrand’s entire piece is dismissive and shallow in its approach to the Senator with constant allusions to his being an actor playing a role and treats the Senator as if his candidacy is an effort at bait and switch, or at the very least a silly proposition. Throughout, Sinderbrand constantly mentions the acting aspect of the Senator’s life as if that is all there is to him just like they have always done with Reagan.
The â€œjust an actorâ€ accusation, though, doesn’t ring true in Thompson’s case because his acting was a late in life career move, not one that he pursued his whole life as other professional actors have done. This fact makes Thompson quite unlike Ronald Reagan who’s political career, not the acting career, was the later in life pursuit.
After a brief, somewhat perplexing, and vaguely insulting discussion of the loss of Thompson’s daughter in 2001, Sinderbrand launches into her attempt to belittle Senator Thompson by calling him a â€œmid-level actorâ€.
But it doesnâ€™t quite explain the mystery of how and why the 64-year-old mid-level actor suddenly finds himself a news cycle or two away from joining the top tier of Republican Presidential candidates.
Mid-level? What does that even mean? Thompson acted when he felt like taking a role. His livelihood didn’t hinge on an acting career. He didn’t haunt Hollywood casting offices lucky to get those â€œmid-levelâ€ jobs making his life as an actor somewhat pathetic. His acting is a sidelight, a hobby. So, what legitimacy does â€œmid-level actorâ€ hold for an assessment of the man? Nothing is the answer to that question, nothing other than giving Sinderbrand an opportunity to jab at him or belittle his acting career.
Sinderbrand undermines Thompson as much as she can with several well turned phrases. He is â€œa man whose screen presence is ubiquitousâ€, his â€œacting roles have played like slickly produced Presidential auditionsâ€, but is a man who has â€œideological squishinessâ€. All geared to make him seem a facade, unreal, and unbelievable. Sinderbrand feels that his appeal â€œcertainly, is cosmeticâ€.
So why Fred Thompson, and why now? Part of it, certainly, is cosmetic: Mr. Thompsonâ€™s craggy visage, comforting demeanor and, of course, considerable camera presence have inspired comparisons to Ronald Reagan from even the most level-headed G.O.P. operatives.
He just looks the part? Is there nothing to the man?
I think that Sinderbrand â€œmisunderestimatesâ€ and too easily rejects the appeal of a Thompson candidacy. Even in the places where Thompson drifts from the most starkly Conservative ideology, he presents himself as a man who honestly believes — and has never drifted from — his principles. Unlike all three of the top tier GOP candidates, Thompson is what he is. Guiliani has drifted back and forth on both abortion and the 2nd Amendment, McCain has drifted on… well, just about everything, and Romney has gone back and forth on the 2nd Amendment and Gay marriage. Thompson, on the other hand has done none of this sort of vote grabbing pandering to date. He seems to honestly believe in his positions and he is an articulate, powerful and even-tempered speaker on top of that.
At the end of her piece, Sinderbrand tries to assail Thompson’s policy positions under the rubric of â€œBack to Realityâ€, as if this â€œrealityâ€ will bring him down, or as if it is a deviation from his â€œcosmeticâ€ appeal. And she also tries desperately to hang Thompson with what she feels is the Bush millstone as well as attempting to link Thompson to the faux Libby scandal.
At a time when most G.O.P. Presidential hopefuls are putting as much distance as they can between themselves and the Bush administration, Mr. Thompson has made a point of fund-raising for Scooter Libbyâ€™s defense fund.
After a run down of some of his positions, Sinderbrand categorizes his overall history as â€œideological squishinessâ€ that might be a â€œproblemâ€. But her list of his â€œsquishinessâ€ is not very alarming, really.
Sinderbrand does make one valid point, however.
But still. Mr. Thompson is a candidate without an exploratory committee, a campaign war chest or a full-time staff. Apart from a few close friends, Mr. Thompson has, as yet, no real inner circle and no coterie of trusted advisors guiding his campaign.
This is, indeed, a problem for a Thompson run and one he’d better address in short order. A â€œdraftâ€ candidacy only takes you so far. To win you need an organization. And this is another area where he is â€œno Ronald Reaganâ€. Reagan spent 10 years creating a grass roots organization to support his run for the presidency. Reagan ran with very strong numbers against Ford before the 1980 run against Carter, so he was no sudden candidate in any sense of the word. Reagan had a strong bid in support as well as organization.
So far, Thompson has only the well wishes of dissatisfied Conservatives. If he is serious, he’d better shake a leg and get a move on!
There is one way for Thompson to gain an immediate organization, though. Should there be a meeting of minds between the nascent Thompson camp and the already flourishing Newt Gingrich camp, well, that would be a team that would be hard to beat. I am not suggesting Newt as a Vice Presidential candidate, to be sure, as that would not be the right place to use Newt to his fullest. But, perhaps, a cabinet member position in a Thompson administration could be offered the former Speaker. In any case, this pairing would lend Thompson a leg up on organization building, a boost that Thompson could sorely use.
Sinderbrand ends her piece with a jab at Thompson as a cut rate Reagan and uses her last words to solidify the â€œjust an actorâ€ theme.
â€œFred Thompsonâ€”well, heâ€™s not Ronald Reagan,â€ said Mr. Keene. â€œBut heâ€™s done enough, and is well enough liked. Heâ€™s a fallback.â€
The perfect role.
In the final analysis of her piece, Sinderbrand so out of hand rejects the legitimacy of a Thompson run for the White House that she has allowed the dismissal of him as a viable candidate to color her view making this piece just plain bad analysis.
But then again, Sinderbrand is just a journalist. And we all know how seriously to take them.