Tuesday, September 11, 2007

FDT: The Rookie

Nashua, NH -

It was a dreary Sunday afternoon in sleepy downtown Nashua when Fred Thompson came to town. It was also the opening weekend of the NFL season, and Thompson’s ever-increasing tardiness was beginning to annoy me for fear that I would miss too much of the 4PM Seahawks-Bucs game. I had driven up from Connecticut in the morning, still a little bit sore from the previous day’s Wesleyan alumni xc race, and stopped in at Martha’s Exchange for a cask-conditioned IPA (delicious) and a visual on the fourth quarter of the Pats-Jets game.

The WBCN Rock Radio Network comes in clutch, but nothing beats actually seeing the green of the field, the white of the hash marks, the orange of the first down chains, and the unparalleled look of panic and relief on the face of a running back when he is breaking down the field and looks back to see if he is about to be leveled, or about to score a touchdown. Dread or glory, accentuated by lactic acid.

I would like to say that the crowd of people here to see Fred Thompson had the same look on their face, dreading the likes of Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani while dreaming of pay dirt with Fred Thompson, but that would be pushing a metaphor that just won’t budge.

The crowd was much smaller than I anticipated, maybe eighty in total and at least twenty-five of which were press and staff. There was a lot of press on hand, and certainly proportionately more than any other campaign event to date. Granted it was a rainy Sunday, and a football Sunday, but it speaks to something when there are nearly as many media types as supporter types at a downtown rally.

On the bright side the rain, which had earlier been falling at a near torrential rate, had subsided by the time that candidate arrived. Furthermore, the pre-event music was quite good. It was a nice mix of country and rock, and Thompson arrived to George Strait’s Heartland which, although only my second favorite song with that title, remains a good one. Quick shout-out to high school street hockey-mates Kyle Elmer and Alex Crossett, who introduced me to Strait’s version back in 1997. Elmer wore a Whalers jersey to our weekly scrimmages, and Crossett the Bruins. Your Quabblogger wore the Blue and White of the Toronto Maple Leafs. They were good times, but I digress.

Fred Thompson began his speech by thanking Nashua’s mayor for introducing him and extending his friendship, despite not having endorsed him. He said it spoke well for Nashua, and immediately expressed his gratitude to the football gods that both New England and Tennessee had won that day and noted, “as far as I’m concerned, everything is good in America.”

Sports pandering is nothing new in Presidential politics. But the first things I noticed about Fred Thompson were in fact political novelties. For starters, his gracious acknowledgement of the mayor’s so-called friendship was a breath of fresh air, even if it was a little ham-fisted. Second, Thompson was wearing a microphone piece clipped to his blue polo shirt, something I haven’t seen in a long time.

The mic clip brought to mind our boy Bob Dole, who characteristically held a pen on the stump to help keep his hand in check. I suspect this is why a lot of candidates like to have a microphone in their mitts when they are away from a podium. Anyone who has spoken in front of a large audience without training knows the importance of controlled arm movement. With all of his acting experience, Thompson had no trouble using his hands and arms to his advantage. He kept them under control and often moved them to emphasize the minor points he was making in his speech.

He talked about his life story, a humble teenaged father who turned his life around and worked his way into an unbelievable position.

“I’m just like you,” he said, referring to his concern for the country. But I think he meant it in a more meaningful way.

Yet as he continued to tell his story, my attention was diverted. At first by the mayor’s wife who continually tried to add her comments to the speech, and later by a constant stream of traffic from Main Street just behind us. Despite the press risers and the abundance of tv cameras, it was all a little bush league. There was a Ron Paul supporter standing behind Thompson the entire time holding a massive sign, and the Thompson team was unable to block him out. Textbook rookie jitters.

From there he went on to talk about his principles of governing: Security, Unity, and Freedom. Economic freedom, individual freedom, personal freedom and political freedom. Not that he talked about any of these principles in depth.

The closest he came to a real discussion of issues was when he talked about the virtues of low tax rates under the aegis of it being in the best interest of our children.

But really the highlight of his speech was his wording. Witness some of the gems:

“People are ready to consider serious things seriously in a serious manner.” I guess he is...serious, in spite of his easy going manner.

He talked about “Brother Michael Moore” and said he “talked to [his] mama” about health care.

“Congress is more cantankerous” than ever before, what with the “boondoggles and the pork-barrelin’.”

Clearly, it was a vernacular not native to New England. And whenever he got too far into a discussion of policy, he would trail off by citing one or vague two issues and then saying, “and things of that nature.” Considering the amount of times he used that phrase to weasel out of saying anything substantive I would have to say that it is a huge nature he speaks of. Maybe the Amazon basin.

For all the flack that Fred is catching in the media, particularly the New Hampshire media there are a few bright spots. His gentle demeanor did evoke a Southern Fried Reagan, even if just the teeniest bit. His vague statements and complete lack of specifics brought visions of a harmless, bootstraps version of George W. Bush. These are the things that Republicans can fall in love with everywhere but New Hampshire. His conservatism is more of a kitchen table conservatism, less of a Kennebunkport conservatism.

Make no mistake, this was a flawed performance from the most accomplished actor in the race. I was practically yawning at the 25-minute mark, and I was hardly alone. As Thompson began to answer questions from the audience, often taking five or more minutes to respond without actually answering the question, handfuls of people were going home early. I would estimate at least fifteen people headed for the exits prematurely before all was said and done, particularly during one answer where Thompson took nine minutes to get his words out, and not just from talking slow.

A woman in the audience asked him how he proposed to fund American infrastructure while continuing to fight the Iraq war, leaning on his mantle of fiscal conservatism.

“What a great question!” he responded with a squint and a smile, calling the supplemental funding bills “deceptive” and “not right.”

Thompson then proceeded to spend, like I said, nine minutes discussing issues ranging from pre-war Iraq to big picture us vs. them freedom struggles. He brought up rape images with the Hussein family. He talked about Saddam’s WMD’s! Next thing you know he was issuing “no apologies about trying to preserve Western Civilization.” Did I mention that he never once brought up anything at all regarding funding? Well, he didn’t. And in the midst of all this the crowd was crumbling away like a Siasconset bluff.

He even had the gall to thank the woman for her question once again after his retort, as if he had actually addressed the question. Which he didn’t.

Like I said, it was a true rookie performance. Light on message, lighter on expertise.

Nevertheless I issue a caveat to those who write him off in these early stages of the campaign. That caveat can be found in the words of George Strait that were streaming out of the speakers when Fred Thompson ambled his way up to the stage:

When you hear twin fiddles and a steel guitar,
You're listening to the sound of the American heart.
And Opry music on a Saturday night
Brings a smile to your face and a tear to your eye.

Sing a song about the heartland,
The only place I feel at home.
Sing about the way a good man
Works until the daylight's gone.
Sing the rain on the roof on a summer night
Where they still know wrong from right.
Sing a song about the heartland.
Sing a song about my life.

There’s a place where mornings are an endless blue
And you feel mother nature walk along with you,
Where simple people living side by side
Still wave to their neighbor when they’re drivin’ by.

Sing a song about the heartland,
The only place I feel at home.
Sing about the way a good man
Works until the daylight's gone.
Sing the rain on the roof on a summer night
Where they still know wrong from right.
Sing a song about the heartland.
Sing a song about my life.

Sometimes when you hear a candidate you feel at home, like you’re hearing about your life. It isn’t out of the question, folks.

Of course, I’m sure Mike Huckabee would object.

1 comment:

netto said...

damn, homey, that's what i call real reporting from the campaign trail. huzzah!