The WORD this afternoon is that Fred Thompson is dropping his bid for the Republican presidential nomination.
Thompson’s problem, I think, was that the early buzz about his presidential ambitions convinced him that he would be hoisted on the shoulders of an ecstatic American populace and carried triumphantly to the White House — without his ever having to utter more than a few conservative cliches.
But he peaked too soon — way too soon.
This past June, nearly three months before he formally announced his candidacy, Thompson became the front-runner for the GOP nomination merely on the wings of rumors that he might throw his hat into the ring. He must have thought to himself that this exercise was going to be like a walk in the park. Perhaps that’s why he dawdled for so long before taking the plunge.
Thompson’s early popularity made no sense to me. The vast majority of Americans knew nothing of him beyond what they’d seen of him in movies and on television. Ordinary folks who saw him as presidential timber apparently were only enamored of the kind of fictional characters he plays. They seemed to think of him as a Washington outsider, unaware that he had been paid tons of money over several decades to pimp for corporations in the corridors of political power. They seemed not to know that his military experience had been pretty much limited to roles in movies like “The Hunt for Red October.”
It all seemed to fit a certain curious tendency among some conservative Republicans. They claim to hate Hollywood, but they’re more likely than liberal Democrats to fall in love with actors (Ronald Reagan, John Wayne, et al).
I have a theory: Social conservatives, more than liberals, tend to embrace myths and make-believe. They distrust realities that don’t jibe with their fairy tales. They’re more inclined to dismiss scientific evidence of evolution and global-warming. They’re more inclined to see the world in simple terms of good and bad — with no ambiguities — just like in John Wayne’s movies. And just like the false images of America Ronald Reagan used to peddle.
Social conservatives also aren’t likely to subscribe to this philosophy from Adlai Stevenson, the late governor of Illinois and twice a candidate for president: “Patriotism is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.”
Social conservatives generally see the American flag as more sacred than the U.S. Constitution. That’s because the flag is about emotion, while the Constitution is about complicated concepts that require courts to intepret. We get no freedoms from the flag, but we are supposed to treat it with almost religious reverence. We get our American system — freedoms and all — from the Constitution, but nobody’s going to get upset if I carelessly throw a copy of it in the garbage.
For Fred Thompson, the latest Tinseltown personality to seize the imaginations of social conservatives, the bubble burst when his soporific, almost disinterested, campaign style turned out not to be exactly what the GOP faithful had expected of him. He eventually showed a little zip in the winter debates, but it was too late.
However, if the Republicans are still looking for a Hollywood type to ride to the rescue, maybe Chuck Norris will make himself available once his candidate, Mike Huckabee, follows Thompson out the door.