Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Politics and entertainment: The fact and fiction of Fred Thompson

By Michael J.W. Stickings

According to Bob Novak, GOP celebrity Fred Thompson is -- wait for it, wait for it -- "for real"!

Yes: "In just three weeks, Fred Thompson has transformed the contest for the Republican presidential nomination. It is not merely that he has come from nowhere to double digits in polls. He is the talk of GOP political circles because he is filling the conservative void in the field."

The conservative void? Sure. McCain is now neither a maverick nor a conservative -- at the very least, social conservatives don't trust him. Giuliani is way too liberal on key wedge issues and has a past that is, well, eccentric. Romney claims to be a social conservative, but his Mormonism and his former liberalism on some of those key wedge issues have alienated quite a few of those whom he has tried to win over. And Brownback just isn't "a viable candidate," despite his extremism on the key wedge issues.

Which leaves the Thompsons, I suppose -- Fred and Tommy.

As I argued here, I don't think Tommy can win the nomination, but who knows? Given the problems with the major candidates, he could just sneak up into the top tier and pull off the huge upset.

Fred lacks Tommy's experience -- he lacks experience generally -- but, again, he's a celebrity. And not just a political celebrity like, say, Obama. No, he's a genuine pop culture celebrity, the macho star of testosterone-driven hits on big screen and small screen alike, just the sort of Hollywood type Republicans like.

Social conservatives may see Fred as "the only conservative who can be nominated," but in this case, as in most cases when it comes to presidential politics, it's all about image. Here's the most revealing line in Novak's column:

Their appreciation of him stems not from his eight years as a U.S. senator from Tennessee but from his role as Manhattan district attorney on the TV series "Law & Order." The part was molded to Thompson's specifications as a tough prosecutor, lending him political star power.

That says it all. Republicans are desperately searching for a celebrity candidate to run in '08 -- they won't be able to run on their record, which has been horrendous, so they'll have to run on the personality of their nominee -- and Fred seems to fit the mold perfectly.

Or, rather, his character does, the on-screen version of the man.

In a literal case of politics as popular entertainment, Republicans could soon find themselves supporting, and eventually voting for, a fiction.

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