It's official - the candidate-who's-not-a-candidate has officially become a candidate. Fred Thompson, former real-life Senator from Tennessee and former celluloid District Attorney from Manhattan, is now chasing the Big Kahuna - the Presidency of the United States. He formally announced his decision to Jay Leno on the Tonight Show to a burst of applause. Thompson told Leno that he actually started seriously discussing the possibility in March, and that he doesn't believe his later start will hinder him. He prefers one-on-one informal campaigning over the orchestrated forums, since the latter, in his opinion, are oriented towards sound bites rather than substance. Biography on Wikipedia.
Thompson also discussed some policy issues with Jay Leno. He reminded us that he did originally vote for the Iraq War, and believes we should remain until the Iraqi government can consistently provide for the country's security. While he favors war with Iran only as a last resort, he cited Iran's introduction of IEDs and trained fighters to Iraq, as well as their support of Hezbollah and Hamas as reasons to remain prepared for the possibility of military action. He believes international hostility is triggered mostly by envy and jealousy of our superpower status and our advanced standard of living. However, he also believes our leaders need to communicate more succinctly with the American people and the international community in order to mitigate hostility towards us. There's a lot of "neocon" embedded within that philosophy.
Since much of the media has already treated him like a Presidential candidate, his formal announcement almost seems anti-climatic. Rasmussen currently has him second at 23%, just one point behind Rudy Giuliani. The National Journal has been rating him along with other candidates for weeks now; according to their latest Republican ratings published on July 30th, they place him third, behind Rudy Giuliani (first) and Mitt Romney (second). Here's their assessment:
His campaign is not in chaos. Jeri Thompson is in control. But his margin for error is less than it once was. Thompson needs to find a way to resolve his optics problem. He is on the verge of failing to meet the prodigious (and unfair) expectations placed upon him. Announcing in prime time (i.e. after Labor Day) means he will get a lot of attention, so everything will be magnified -- the good and the bad. Thompson folks hate the Wesley Clark comparisons, but if we were Thompson, we'd make a call to Clark and just, well, chat.
Wesley Clark? They're comparing Thompson to the Butcher of Belgrade (1999 Serbian War)? Hell, I'd be pissed too. There's no way you can compare Fred Thompson to the man who was little more than Bill Clinton's favorite toy soldier.
Thompson's website, http://www.fred08.com/, has been up and running for a while. It appears the driving foundation of his political philosophy is federalism, but not the bloated countefeit that exists today. Instead, he echoes the Founding Fathers' idea of federalism, which was intended to divide power between the states and the federal government as a tool to promote freedom.
According to Thompson, the Framers (a politically correct term he uses as a substitute for "Founding Fathers") believed in free markets, rights of property and the rule of law, and they set these principles firmly in the Constitution. Above all, the Framers enshrined in our founding documents, and left to our care, the principle that rights come from our Creator and not from our government.
Thompson further reminds us that we developed institutions that allowed these principles to take root and flourish: a government of limited powers derived from, and assigned to, first the people, then the states, and finally the national government. A government strong enough to protect us and do its job competently, but modest and humane enough to let the people govern themselves. Centralized government is not the solution to all of our problems and – with too much power – such centralization has a way of compounding our problems. This was among the great insights of 1787, and it is just as vital in 2007.
The federalist construct of strong states and limited federal government put in place by our Founders was intended to give states the freedom to experiment and innovate. It envisions states as laboratories in competition with each other to develop ideas and programs to benefit their people, to see what works and what does not.
One of the major problems he identifies is the judicial system, which, instead of restricting itself to interpretation of the law as a co-equal branch of government, has chosen to anoint itself the preeminent branch of government and legislate from the bench. Certainly, we can agree that no 18th century jurists would have ordered the Alaska State Government to award spousal benefits to the domestic partners of gay public employees.
But Thompson also takes Congress to task for routinely forgetting that our checks and balances, the separation of powers, and our system of federalism are designed to diffuse power and protect the liberties of our people. Before anything else, folks in Washington ought to be asking first and foremost, “Should government be doing this? And if so, then at what level of government?” But they don’t. Instead, they pass intrusive, oppressive, and invasive legislation like the USA Patriot Act and Real ID, and are now considering the Matthew Shepard bill to make homosexuals an official "protected" class. While Thompson did not address those specific pieces of legislation himself, these are examples that come to my mind whenever I think of intrusive government. And the result: Decades of growth in the size, scope and function of national government. Today’s governance of mandates, pre-emptions, regulations, and federal programs bears little resemblance to the balanced system the Framers intended.
Fred Thompson does not believe that federalism is an 18th century or 19th century notion. It retains its force as a basic principle in the 21st century, because when federalism is ignored, accountability, innovation, and public confidence in government at all levels suffer.
It is as true today as it ever was: the closer a government is to its people, the more responsive it is to the felt needs of its constituencies. Too often, however, state and local leaders have to answer to federal bureaucrats first and their constituents second. When the federal government mandates a program that states and localities are forced to implement, or when a federal grant program is created to fund a specific state or community need, it blurs the lines of accountability. And what happens if a program fails? The feds blame the states - the states blame the feds.
Fred Thompson cites as an example of successful federalism the welfare reform of the 1990s. The key to the approach were elements of welfare reform that had proved successful in various states, such as Colorado, Michigan and Wisconsin. The result was a law that allowed us to better meet our commitments to our fellow citizens. It was one of the great political successes of the 1990’s, because Washington – for once – had the good sense to learn from state and local authorities and empower them in return.
Thompson believes that a good first step to return to classic federalism would be to codify the Executive Order on Federalism first signed by President Ronald Reagan. That Executive Order, first revoked by President Clinton, then modified to the point of uselessness, required agencies to respect the principle of the Tenth Amendment when formulating policies and implementing the laws passed by Congress. It preserved the division of responsibilities between the states and the federal government envisioned by the Framers of the Constitution. It was a fine idea that should never have been revoked. The next president should put it right back in effect, and see to it that the rightful authority of state and local governments is respected.
Of course, the next question is, how well did his voting record while a U.S. Senator from 1994-2003 reflect the aforementioned sentiments? Americans for Better Immigration tracked and recorded his votes on immigration bills during his career in the Senate. While Thompson was strong on border control and other measures to prevent illegals from entering the country in the first place, he was weak on amnesty for illegals and on guest workers. Additional information of his immigration voting record can be found on the Numbers USA website.
CQ Politics also compiled a two-page PDF document listing all of his Senate votes from 1997-2002. Of particular interest to those of us in Alaska is his 2002 vote in favor of opening up ANWR to responsible oil exploration and development. And yet another site, VoteSmart, provides information on his positions and prior voting record. A brief scan implies that Fred Thompson has voted rather consistent with his expressed philosophy.
Analysis: Fred Thompson can be considered a serious candidate, and advocates somewhat of a return to organic constitutionality, although not nearly as far as Ron Paul. His understanding and respect for the Tenth Amendment and the separation of powers is gratifying and refreshing. Unfortunately, in his foreign policy, he supports the vision of America as an empire, or, at the very least, an imperial republic. He fails to grasp that not only do Americans no longer want the burden of empire, but that the burden has driven our national debt to astronomical levels. In contrast, Ron Paul recognizes this problem, and if he becomes President, will reduce the burden of empire and steer us back on a course of fiscal sanity. Thompson's a good guy, but Ron Paul is who the country needs most.