Saturday, April 28, 2007

Imaginary politics

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I'm not a fan of his work, on the whole, but Gerard Baker has a column up at The Times that is worth a read. It addresses the Fred Thompson phenomenon -- with unusual perception, I might add -- and what that phenomenon says about the current state of American politics. Here's a key passage:

[F]or all his real-world government service and his good conservative credentials, it is hard to escape the feeling that Mr Thompson is lighting up the contest at the moment because he is the Imaginary Candidate. Republican voters, demoralised by their present political condition and unenthused by their current field of candidates, are projecting their hopes and ideals on to a man that most still know best only as an entertainer. Much in his background remains unexamined -- it is not widely known, for example, that before he commanded fictional submarines and prosecuted make-believe criminals, he was a real-life Washington lobbyist, stained, it can be safely presumed, by some of the grime you have to wade through to do that job effectively.

And that's just part of it. What Baker fails to mention is that Thompson was also McCain's close ally in the Senate -- and we all know what the Republican base and conservatives generally think of McCain. Thompson was even a co-sponsor of McCain-Feingold, that hated piece of legislation that to the right restricts political speech but to the more sober and sensible was an effort to make politics more equitable. And there's muc more. At Slate, John Dickerson recently examined Thompson's other "problems": He was "soft on Clinton" -- Bill, that is). He's a federalist, not a nationalizing theocrat. Like John Edwards, he used to be one of those despised trial lawyers.

Thompson is no Reagan, in other words, but he nonetheless fits the mood of the electorate. Baker again:

The excitement around Mr Thompson reveals not just a dissatisfaction with the available Republican contenders, but a much larger escapism on the part of voters, anxious to flee the present-day horrors of real-life Washington. Barack Obama, suddenly now becoming the leading Democratic contender, may not have acted in any movies but his message of hope and change offers the same idealised blank slate for Democrats disillusioned by their own tired and uninspiring leaders.

And who can blame the American electorate for feeling this way? "President George Bush's ineptitude and increasingly bunkered immobilism makes Americans yearn for something new, even if it may not be wholly believable."

A fake, after all, is better than a failure.

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