Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Fred Thompson, like 'Law & Order,' Is Hangover TV

What makes second-best "Law & Order" DA think he can be president?

(Commentary) The reason many Republicans are turning to Fred Thompson (for now) is the same explanation for why Americans watch "Law & Order" re-runs on USA and TNT. Nothing else (no other GOP candidate) can hold their attention and they are too hungover to get off the couch and do anything but remote-control to the comfort food of "Law & Order," which is the false sale of Freddie's bid.

There is no doubting that Thompson is one of the more estimable character actors in modern American movies and TV. His role as Rear Admiral Joshua Painter in “The Hunt for Red October” is so super cat-daddy cool that you could make a case for supporting his presidential bid just on the basis of his ability to deliver lines like: “Russians don’t take a dump, son, without a plan.”

Then again, Thompson's Arthur Branch isn't even the best district attorney in the "Law & Order" series. That distinction (hands down) would go to Adam Schiff, played by Steven Hill from 1990 to 2000. Schiff comes across as a real New Yorker with show-stealing lines -- and seems like he actually could be district attorney, perhaps because his character may be based on long-serving, real-life DA Robert Morgenthau.

What Thompson has shown so far on the campaign trail is underwhelming both substantively and stylistically. Thompson may want to hire some "Law & Order" writers to give him some better material. If you watch the nearly 30-minute speech (posted below) of Thompson in his hometown of Lawrenceburg, Tenn., recently, you won't be offended or inspired. But perhaps that's all he needs to be. He does have that folksiness that George W. Bush so desparately tries to affect. In his speech we learn that a local diner would throw two burgers on the grill whenever they spotted a younger Thompson coming and that he likes trucks. Some of his supporters are to be commended for clearly having seen the movie "All The King's Men" -- the new one -- and getting some camera angles for the video that make Thompson look exceptionally tall. And he does get off a few decent lines for the base like, "Our rights don't come from government, they come from God."

One issue with which the late-arriving Thompson has to deal is the swirl of speculation and complaining about his reported laziness -- something I asked both U.S. John McCain and U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin about recently.

He may also have a regional disconnect in Iowa.

As a rural Iowan I can tell you something about what we think of rural Southerners (Iowa had the highest per-capita service in the Union Army during the Civil War for starters). Here in the Midwest we are into what one might call age-appropriate relationships, and we find it disturbing when we see the children of Dixie entangled in marriages with the eye-popping age disparity in Thompson's. It is simply unsettling to watch Fred geezer around with a wife who upon first glance 99 percent of people would guess is his daughter (as he does in the beginning of this video).

In rural Iowa, back in the day, you would meet at a dance, perhaps stray once for a kiss before you hit 20, and then get married. As someone who has edited and worked on every section of a small-town Iowa newspaper I can tell you that we just don't see too many wedding announcements for our "Today's Living" section with Thompsonesque canyon-sized age diffences.

Think I'm going too far with that? If our last two Iowa governors, a Democrat and Republican, can criticize Rudy Giuliani for being married three times surely it is fair game to raise the age issue in Thompson's second government-recognized love connection.

Thompson may be doing well in some polls, but as one Republican-leaning Independent told me of his interest in Thompson: "To be honest, I just like him because I know nothing about him."

Some well-respected political observers are seeing right through Thompson as well.

Former Chicago Tribune national correspondent Jon Margolis, a reporter I read closely during my salad days in the business and a writer who understands Iowa, dissects Thompson brilliantly in a recent article for The American Prospect.

In a perceptive and hilarious post on her Web log journalist and Iowa Independent contributor Garance Franke-Ruta debunks the notion that Thompson will somehow have women swooning in his wake. She pretty much sums up Thompson's case as this: he's tall.

This story is cross-posted at Iowa, where it originally appeared.

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