Monday, November 05, 2007

A Lethargic Cheer for TV's Fred
I think it's increasingly clear that if we had to have a Republican president in 2009, Fred Thompson would be the least worst option. Yeah, the guy has the energy level of late-second term Reagan, and it would be weird to have dirty thoughts about the First Lady. He's way too hawkish on foreign policy for my tastes, and he hasn't always shown total command of the issues. But Thompson seems to have a quality that eludes, certainly, all the other serious Republican contenders and arguably the top-tier Democrats as well: willingness to stick to principle over political expediency.

In past weeks, Thompson has suggested that the federal government shouldn't have intervened in the Terry Schiavo case, and that he wouldn't support a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage--two views severely at odds with the rabid theocratic followers who serve as the backbone of the Republican electoral coalition. Sunday on "Meet the Press," he finished the hat trick, coming out against a nationwide ban on abortion. His reasoning was the same as in the previous two apostasies: principles of federalism always trump Washington's fiat. Yesterday he covered all three topics:

MR. RUSSERT: Let me ask you about an issue very important in your party’s primary process, and that’s abortion.


MR. RUSSERT: This is the 2004 Republican Party platform, and here it is: “We say the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution,” “we endorse legislation to make it clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children. Our purpose is to have legislative and judicial protection of that right against those who perform abortions.” Could you run as a candidate on that platform, promising a human life amendment banning all abortions?


MR. RUSSERT: You would not?

MR. THOMPSON: No. I have always—and that’s been my position the entire time I’ve been in politics. I thought Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided. I think this platform originally came out as a response to particularly Roe v. Wade because of that. Before Roe v. Wade, states made those decisions. I think people ought to be free at state and local levels to make decisions that even Fred Thompson disagrees with. That’s what freedom is all about. And I think the diversity we have among the states, the system of federalism we have where power is divided between the state and the federal government is, is, is—serves us very, very well. I think that’s true of abortion. I think Roe v. Wade hopefully one day will be overturned, and we can go back to the pre-Roe v. Wade days. But...

MR. RUSSERT: Each state would make their own abortion laws.

MR. THOMPSON: Yeah. But, but, but to, to, to have an amendment compelling—going back even further than pre-Roe v. Wade, to have a constitutional amendment to do that, I do not think would be the way to go.
MR. RUSSERT: And also with gay marriage, according to the Associated Press: “Thompson favors a constitutional amendment that bars judges from legalizing gay marriage, but also leaves open the door for state legislatures to approve the practice.” So if a state said, “We want to have gay marriages in our state,” you would be OK with that?

MR. THOMPSON: Yes. This, this, this—the—marriage is between a man and a woman. Nobody ever thought that that was contested until recently, and we’ve had a couple judges in a couple states decide to turn all that on its head. So we’ve, we’ve had, again, a judge-created problem. I would support a constitutional amendment that addresses this judge-created problem. But at the end of—and, and say judges can’t do that. But, at the end of the day, if a state legislature and a governor decide that that’s what they want to do, yes, they should have, they, they should have the freedom to do what Fred Thompson thinks is a very bad idea.

MR. RUSSERT: In March of ‘05, the Congress, the president signed legislation allowing a federal judge to intervene, to perhaps re-insert a feeding tube in the famous Terri Schiavo case.


MR. RUSSERT: You’ve spoken about that, about the death of your own daughter. Your view is it is a family’s decision to make whether to insert or remove a feeding tube.


MR. RUSSERT: And that should...

MR. THOMPSON: And then, and then, obviously, in consultation with their doctor.

MR. RUSSERT: But there should be no laws involved?

MR. THOMPSON: No. I’ve not said that. What—I mean, you, you got to put your lawyer hat back on, you know, with this most personal, should be nonlegal consideration. If there is a family dispute, then there’re courts in, in every state in the nation that you can take a dispute like that to. I said the federal government should not be involved.

MR. RUSSERT: But the government should not have gotten involved in Terri Schiavo?

MR. THOMPSON: No. Now, you know, keep in mind, now, the, the government didn’t come in and say “You got to do this; you got to do that.” It gave federal court jurisdiction. Federal court didn’t need jurisdiction, in my opinion. These are kinds of things where the, the, the—well, you mentioned it myself, my own personal situation. Let’s just say you never know when you make the right decision, what—it, it wasn’t totally comparable, but it was, it was the same, it was the same general end-of-life kind of consideration. And I, I—I’ve resisted and, and resent, frankly, the political football that’s been made out of all that, and, and it’s unfortunate. The less government, the better.

Those last five words represent a worldview. It's not a worldview I strictly agree with; I think when it comes to, say, making sure meat and produce sold isn't poisonous, or that a new anti-anxiety medication doesn't cause seizures, the opposite is closer to true. But it's a principle, and for a Republican Party that has almost gleefully thrown away any principles in pursuit of unlimited power to be wielded through a messianic leader, it's a start.

I doubt that Thompson wins the nomination and I think it's less than 50-50 he'll even win a single primary. He's not a good campaigner, and these deviations from right-wing dogma would seem to scuttle the media narrative of his candidacy as "the reliable conservative who isn't personally scummy (Giuliani) or the opposite of what he was five years ago (Romney)." Sadly, it's the fact that Thompson does seem to be a "reliable conservative," of the type that Barry Goldwater and Bob Dole might recognize, that's likely to ensure his defeat.


The Navigator said...

The strong form of federalism is a dumb principle - "the federal gov't can't tell us what to do! Instead, the state gov'ts can tell us what to do, and if 12 million Texans don't like it, the other 11 million Texans will have to live without it" - but you're quite right, it is a principle, and Thompson seems to be pretty consistent about it even when it's not obviously in his political interest. A very interesting development - and one that should prevent him from ever getting the nomination.

The Navigator said...

I guess there's not much to say about the Iggles, huh?

David said...

The Eagles stink. They didn't stink for a long time, so I can't get too bent out of shape about the current funk emanating from that organization.

We've never consistently applied federalism in this country, and certainly at its extremes the concept has had some ugly implications (slaveholding rights, for one), but as the country remains polarized it's a useful tool. The cultural norms and preferences of Vermont, New Jersey, Texas and North Dakota are sufficiently different, I think, that some variation in policy on social issues is okay, so long as basic rights are protected. Of course, the range of opinion on where to draw that line is pretty wide... but it's a framework within which we can argue a bit more comfortably than all-or-nothing lawmaking of the sort embraced by today's far right.