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September 09, 2007


Why not assume his dumb answers are a reflection of his intelligence?

It is the simplest explanation, and I don't see anything that disconfirms it. And plenty of things could.

Hell, why shouldn't we think that the reason he is still unprepared has as much to do with his intelligence as his vanity?

There is no reason to doubt Thompson's intelligence or skill.

Consider that as district attorney he won almost every case.

The RNC knows that it is going to need a Ronald Reagan moment to pull the '08 election out of the hat. They'll be working their vote suppression, voter disenfranchisement, and paperless trail electronic vote machine rigging.

The right wing is cranking-up its noise machine. A recent ad is supposed to create the feeling of an interview with a familiar influential person who implies that good Americans, smart ones, realistic ones, and the strong will come down on the side of administration policy. And all those other people? It's anybody's guess where the hell they are coming from.

A line that gives the propaganda away as a shill for the Republican Party is the shared deliberate obfuscation of the difference between those who actually committed the crime of 9/11 against America, and those who did not represent a threat, as if they are one and the same. They hope that arguments like this will serve as an adequate defense at war crimes trials in the future.

The republicans are desperate to "win" in Iraq, because if they don't, they will lose at trial. It is difficult to imagine the depression many G.O.P. cocktail gadflies will suffer after they are humiliated, because their ludicrous and untenable familiar arguments are well known. The presumed efficacy of the conservative management style is entirely without merit.

DMS, the obvious way for a DA to win nearly every case is not to follow up on any cases that don't look like a sure thing.

We might do very well with a president like that. At least he won't try to invade iran.

started visiting funnel cake stands in Iowa

Publius, I visited with funnel cake stands in Iowa; I knew funnel cake stands in Iowa; funnel cake stands in Iowa were friends of mine. Publius, you're no funnel cake stand in Iowa.

Actually, the idea of funnel cake stands in Iowa (specifically at the state fair) is much better than the actual funnel cakes in Iowa (they always come out burnt for some reason).

It's not hard to imagine a Thompson presidency as a continuation of that uniquely inept GWB approach to things: a preening, unengaged executive handing the levers of power over to lobbyists, cronies, and industry hacks, and pretty much flying by the seat of his pants. A possible new twist, in Thompson's case, could be a vice president who after a year or two actually assumes the presidency, rather than simply assuming the powers of the presidency, as Thompson's health is a real question mark. Given all this, I can't imagine he could catch on with the voters, but then I predicted Walter Mondale would crush Reagan at the polls after having destroyed him in their debate.

DMS, district attorneys rarely have to bring cases they don't expect to win. Moreover, their opponents are frequently poor criminal defendants who can't afford good lawyers. These are advantages that other types of lawyers generally don't have. It would be shocking if a candidate who used to be a DA could not say he had won almost all his cases.

(No disrespect to the public defenders out there, I know some of y'all are awesome.)

Publius, you could do better with answers than Thompson has done, as could I, as could most of the commenters here and at other blogs, precisely because we've been arguing these points for months, if not years. What's scary is that Thompson, who is supposed to be better informed about this stuff than any of us, given his connections, can't answer the questions any better than he has already.

the Messiah Fred Thompson hasn’t exactly stormed out of the gate.

Interesting metaphor. I suppose there have actually been a fair number of people who pinned their hopes for redemption on a race horse, though I think it has seldom worked out.

I guess that's Publius' point, in a way.

Bernard Y., unfortunately the honorable senator Incitatus is not running this time (and he was of the Green party anyway) ;-)

Fred Thompson was once an Assistant U.S. Attorney, but I'm pretty sure he only played a D.A. on TV. I suspect DMS's comment was tongue-in-cheek.

Thank you, Gromit.

My point was an indirect one: that TV is so powerful that many voters will in fact confuse life with art and believe that Thompson was in fact a top-notch DA. Uh...some readers here on this very sophisticated blog seemed to have forgotten that Thompson was a DA only on TV.

In fact it's hard to imagine that Thompson's campaign won't do everything it can to foster that perception --- Thompson as a wise but tough DA -- without violating the letter of campaign laws.

Imagine a tag-line such as "Thompson stands for law and order." Could that be stopped? It's probably true, in fact. Thompson probably is in favor of law and order, along with maybe 300 million of the rest of us. So maybe he has to modify it to "Thompson stands for compassion as well as law and order."

The message comes through.

I don't see much celebrity appeal when it comes to Thompson. He strikes me as a bit like R. Lee Ermey when it comes to acting. Not to knock his ability or anything, but, as with Ermey and the military, Thompson is most best known for a limited range of roles that are heavily informed by his professional experience as a lawyer and a politician. Basically, he plays Fred Thompson onscreen, and that means he tends to play cynical political insiders, as epitomized by his role on Law & Order. As an elected official, D.A. Branch is always the one to inject political considerations into otherwise principled legal discussions. His screen persona isn't a particularly inspiring model for a presidential candidate, if you ask me.

Did I really just write "most best known"? Ugh.

Um, just because the WaPo ran something that echoes Thompson's rhetoric doesn't make it true.

I'm inclined to think it had a hell of a lot more to do with the attempt to use marriage (sometimes coercively) to insinuate Al Qaeda into the tribal hierarchy, than with smoking.

DMS wrote,

[S]ome readers here on this very sophisticated blog seemed to have forgotten that Thompson was a DA only on TV.

From most voters' point of view, Thompson's service as a federal prosecutor (Assistant U.S. Attorney) is functionally equivalent to having served as an assistant D.A. His service as legal counsel to multiple congressional inquiries was also quasi-prosecutorial in nature, and at a very sophisticated and important level.

Giuliani blurs the distinction in exactly the same way with his line that "Fred's been busy playing the part of me on TV" — but of course, Giuliani was also a federal prosecutor, not a local or county one, and both were more likely to be prosecuting tax evaders or securities fraud than homicides or rapes. It's also fair to say that the particular U.S. Attorney slot Rudy held — for the Southern District of New York, which subsumes Manhattan — is one of the two most important (along with the District of Columbia) in the country. So Rudy has the better prosecutorial chops of the two. But he's never held an elected federal office, though, and his executive and prosecutorial experience is largely outside Washington.

Publius, you wrote:

It’s a shame [that Clark's candidacy immediately imploded] because, in many respects, Clark was probably the strongest candidate.

With due respect, there is no respect in which Clark was "the strongest candidate" except, possibly, in terms of his knowledge of the military and whatever advantages that might have given him in his role as Commander in Chief. Even as a general, he certainly was no Washington, Grant, or Eisenhower; he's arguably not even a Tommy Franks (speculation about whom as a Veep nominee is generally drawing nothing but giggles). And with the dedicated professional career military officers we have in this country, we have the luxury of not having to elect former generals without losing much, if any, military credibility or capability. Our guys, from the Joint Chiefs on down, will do their best whether the next president wears boxers or panties (insert obligatory joke about Giuliani in drag here, along with obligatory joke about Hillary, yada yada).

Your comparison breaks down not because Thompson has such a great record of governing and government service and political successes to run on, but because Clark had none. I've written more about this in a post and then in follow-up comments on my own blog, which I'll link here because my trackback is either didn't get through or still in an approval queue.

Interesting points Beldar and the only place I'd disagree with you (and it would be somewhat jocular) is that Thompson's role in the Watergate investigations was less prosecutor and more defense counsel for Nixon. The Republicans eventually came around and saw that Nixon had to go; but they resisted for a long time and Thompson was part of that resistance. In short, I don't remember that he covered himself in glory.

He formulated the question that revealed the very existence of the Oval Office tapes that brought Nixon down. He ghost-wrote Sen. Howard Baker's line, "What did the President know, and when did he know it?" And he earned sufficient respect from his Democratic counterparts that they were perfectly happy to see him reprise investigatory roles not long after, as with the investigation of Reagan CIA appointee William J. Casey. You're stinting with your glory, DMS. Thompson earned as much as any other Republican did in excising the Nixon cancer from America (including from the GOP).

Beldar: did you miss this story about Thompson's role on the Watergate Committee?


"Thompson tipped off the White House that the committee knew about the taping system and would be making the information public. In his all-but-forgotten Watergate memoir, "At That Point in Time," Thompson said he acted with "no authority" in divulging the committee's knowledge of the tapes, which provided the evidence that led to Nixon's resignation. It was one of many Thompson leaks to the Nixon team, according to a former investigator for Democrats on the committee, Scott Armstrong , who remains upset at Thompson's actions.
"Thompson was a mole for the White House," Armstrong said in an interview. "Fred was working hammer and tong to defeat the investigation of finding out what happened to authorize Watergate and find out what the role of the president was.""

He didn't formulate the question about the tapes, either; he was just chosen to ask it publicly.

Further excerpt:

It was after Thompson heard Nixon incriminate himself on the tapes that Thompson finally decided that Nixon was a crook -- and stopped being a Nixon apologist. Eventually, he even stopped beating his wife.

Ok, I made that last line up.

"Fred was working hammer and tong to defeat the investigation of finding out what happened to authorize Watergate and find out what the role of the president was."

That's even worse than I remembered.

Slarti: k, I made that last line up.

Now you're a Fred Thompson loyalist?

Just for fun, I should present my grand unified theory of Clark's failure (speaking as someone who was working her heart out for him, and following the campaign closely):

(1) Clark had a huge disadvantage compared to all the other candidates: not being a politician, he hadn't spent decades working with and observing all the pollsters, consultants, etc. that you need to work with in a campaign. (Likewise, if the fight for the nomination were decided on the field of battle, Clark would have had a huge advantage over and above military training: he had worked with all the commanders people would have to hire, and so would know firsthand who was good, who had an inflated reputation, who you could count on and for what, etc.)

(2) This meant that he had to trust other people's judgment about who to hire. And since hiring good people is massively important, this is a correspondingly massive liability. Especially since the Democratic consulting class has an alarming number of idiots in it.

(3) It also meant that he was more than usually at the mercy of the people he hired, since he didn't have any political experience or expertise. (I mean: at running campaigns. I'm sure he was good at office politics etc. etc., but that's different.) Some people might trust their own judgment over "experts", but that's normally a dumb thing to do (for all that every so often it works spectacularly), and Clark would have known that.

(4) And that was what really did him in. The press didn't help, and neither did his inexperience, but I think this was the truly damning thing. I thought this was one of his main vulnerabilities from the get-go, but decided that it was therefore incumbent on me to make it the case that, as far as everyone I knew was concerned, his campaign staff was irrelevant.

Strange to say, my efforts didn't swing the election for him. ;(

Interesting insight into the nature of a Presidential campaign, Hilzoy,
But your comments about Clark won't be read widely-enough, buried here in comments.
May I suggest raising them to a full post.

Posts like this about that reference General Clark's run for President leave me scratching my head, for various reasons, not the least of which is why anyone thinks there is any comparison whatsoever in abilities between Fred Thompson and Wesley Clark.

Also, I think you underestimate the knowledge and expertise of Clark outside the military. Take a look at his presentations at the Yearly Kos science panel, and some of his position papers.



He has also been commander of Fort Irwin, a huge military base. Responsibilities for running such an installation are like those of running a small city, encompassing everything from health care to education for troops and their families.

As for General Clark's military abilities, I don't want to say that your opinion counts for nothing, and you're certainly entitled to it. However, I think the following speakers' acumens about things military is probably superior to yours:

"Major Clark is one of the most outstanding officers of his grade in the U.S. Army...an officer of impeccable character with a rare blend of personal qualities and professional attributes which uniquely qualify him as a soldier-scholar. While he has the intellectual grasp of world affairs attained only by the top scholars in the field, he projects soldierly qualities of strength, character, leadership, and above all an unyielding sense of personal responsibility. It is this sense of responsibility which clearly sets him apart from his contemporaries. [He] has the intellectual, moral and physical stamina, coupled with an unrelenting quest for excellence, which insures the completion of every task to near perfection. Major Clark's earnestness, sincerity of purpose and absolute dedication convey a moral force in his work which gives him a significant voice in this headquarters..."

-General Alexander M. Haig, Jr., July 19, 1978

"Wes Clark has the character and depth to be another Marshall or Eisenhower in time of war."

-Brigadier General William W. Crouch, March 16, 1988

"Professional and moral attributes are impeccable. Strong in all areas. Best leader-thinker in the Army....a great leader who takes care of soldiers and families.... He has it all and has done it better than anyone else."

-General Edwin Burba, Jr., March 20, 1992

"Clark exhibits the best balance of professional ethics of any officer I know. Particularly noteworthy is his demonstrated selfless dedication to his men, his unit, and the Army. He exhibits absolute integrity of word, deed... he establishes and observes scrupulous ethical and moral standards."

-Colonel Lester E. Bennett, June 2, 1980

"Major Clark is the most able White House Fellow I have known during my seven years in Washington...He brought to his work a brilliant mind and rare common sense. He has initiative, style, imagination, moral courage, and integrity-each in extraordinary degree...He has a rare sensitivity to others and a remarkable ability to motivate and lead them....He is totally dedicated to public service as a military officer."

-James T. Lynn, Director, Office of Management and Budget, July 8, 1976

"He is unquestionably one in a million. A professional whose perceptions are correct, whose plans are thorough and complete, whose executions are artistic, and whose success is inevitable....I have never been more impressed with an officer's talent and dedication. He should rank with men like Douglas MacArthur, Maxwell Taylor, Creighton Abrams..."

-Colonel Charles G. Prather IV, June 23, 1977

"Major Clark is the most outstanding Major I have ever seen. Brilliant, innovative, hardworking, and extremely enthusiastic, professional in every respect - I can not praise him too highly....The fact that General Haig selected him for his personal staff is indicative of his caliber. Further, his gracious wife is a distinct asset to him and to the Army."

-Brigadier General Clyde W. Spence Jr., March 7, 1978

"I think he's a national treasure."

-Ret. General Barry MaCaffrey

He's also thought of pretty highly abroad:


We could use such international legitmacy in the White House these days. Not to mention that being Supreme Allied Commander is akin to being a head of state in Europe as far as conducting diplomacy and negotiation. Especially considering that NATO must have absolute consensus in order to act.

And on the practical point of political potential, I agree he ran a less than ideal campaign in 2004, and partly for some of the reasons you mention. However, it also seems that you've bought into the press narrative about Clark's *failed* run. When one looks at the facts, he's left wondering why the fawning over Edwards' performance and disappointment in Clark.

"Simply stated, because he chose not to contest Iowa (due to too short a time and too little resources)....he missed the big media blitz that blew Kerry and Edwards onto the finish line.

Still less than a week prior to Iowa and left out of the whole media blitz, Clark was polling 2nd in New Hampshire, 4 points behind Howard Dean, and 1st in Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, North Dakota and 2nd in South Carolina.

Regardless of the media slams and the media ignores, Clark still managed to come in third in New Hampshire (after the two favorite New England sons, Kerry and Dean) and beat out John Edwards, who would become Kerry’s last standing opponent in the primaries and later be chosen as Kerry's Vice Presidential running mate.

And with all of Edwards' Free press fresh from his Iowa 2nd place win, Clark not only beat Edwards in New Hamsphire, he also outdid Edwards on the Mini Tuesday primaries by first winning Oklahoma (a win that showed Clark as the only primary winner besides Kerry who won what wasn’t his home state), and then winning second place in New Mexico, Arizona and North Dakota, all without any free publicity. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mini-Tuesday
Of course, Wes Clark didn’t get any media frenzy or camera's in his face for his Oklahoma win, as CNN refused to call it till the next day. Meanwhile the big story that did get much coverage was that Edwards had won South Carolina, his birth state."

Much more on that here:


Like DMS, I too would love to see Hilzoy expand on what she saw in Clark, because I saw it too, and was very disappointed that he didn't seem to get a fair shake from the media. Again, he ran a campaign with a lot of warts, but I don't think the coverage of him was fair, and I think that is what contributes to the impulse to lump his campaign with that of the relatively empty suit of Fred Thompson.

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