Archive for June 10th, 2007

Josiah “Jed” Bartlet for President

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fancyfredWASHINGTON –Fred Thompson’s expected entry into the tight Republican presidential race is drawing crucial strength from conservatives and older men, vaulting him into the thick of the nomination fight, an Associated Press-Ipsos poll says.

Thompson, who has sandwiched an acting career around a largely anonymous eight years as Tennessee senator, has not formally entered the race. But he already has impressed many people. One in four of his supporters cites his strong character, more than any other GOP candidate.

“He can be kind of Reaganesque in his engaging with people,” said Ronald Coppinger, 47, a carpenter from Indianapolis, describing a plainspoken style like the late President Reagan’s. “I think that’s important.”

from the Boston Globe

The instant first-tier status awarded to ex-Sen., ex-D.A. Fred Thompson, vaulting him over most of the pack of Republican hounds baying at the heels of Sen.’s Clinton, McCain and Obama, is further evidence, if such is needed, that Americans have lost the ability to differentiate between objective reality and television reality.

For millions of Americans, especially those under 40, there is little cognitive difference between things they have seen on a screen and things that they have seen with their naked eyeballs. And a sociolically devastating corallary of this fact is that they feel that they know people personally who they have only seen on TV.

How many know more about the people who live in Jerrry Seinfeld’s apartment building than they do about the people in their own apartment building? How many spend more time wondering and worrying about the problems of the characters in their favorite soap operas than the problems of the members of their own families?

We have gotten to the point that just about any actor who is known for portraying beloved or iconic characters and can put together a half-way coherent political philosophy has a decent chance to first, be taken seriously as a candidate, and second, actually win an election.

The only requirements seem to be that they are men, and manly men at that, and that they are famous for playing trustworthy, take-charge guys.

Reagan was the prototype. Nigglers can say that Reagan was a movie actors rather than a TV star, but by the time he actually ran for President his movies were only available on TV, and most of the voters knew him from there, or Wagon Train, a 1950’s television show sponsored by 20 Mule Team Borax. As a politician, he played the same role he did in the movies; tall, taciturn, morally unbending. The public ate it up.

Schwarzenegger reprised the role in the 90’s. Despite his improbable accent, be sold himself as a Real American Hero. His indestructible and incorruptible larger-than-life persona was just what California voters were looking for.

Now Thompson is following in their footsteps. All three of these guys got famous for playing law officers; sheriffs, marshals, DA’s, street cops, FBI agents, CIA agents and kindergarten cops. This is an easy sell when the bad guys are shooting up the town and the current squad of Pinkerton men are more worried about feathering their nests and staying out of the hoosgow themselves than making the streets safe for ordinary folks.

What about Warren Beatty, you may ask? Well, we guess he didn’t play enough cops. His most convincing roles always involved an assumption of smug superiority that doesn’t play well in the hinterland.

On the other hand, if someone could convince Jeb Bartlet, er, Martin Sheen, to run for something, and fixed him up with some decent political handlers, we wouldn’t bet against him…..

ADDENDUM: Check out Paul Krugman in today’s Times on the topic:

On the other hand, consider the case of Fred Thompson. He spent 18 years working as a highly paid lobbyist, wore well-tailored suits and drove a black Lincoln Continental. When he ran for the Senate, however, his campaign reinvented him as a good old boy: it leased a used red pickup truck for him to drive, dressed up in jeans and a work shirt, with a can of Red Man chewing tobacco on the front seat.

But Mr. Thompson’s strength, says Lanny Davis in The Hill, is that he’s “authentic.”