Fred Thompson’s speech at the convention last night presented an interesting case for John McCain and critique of Barack Obama, who remained unmentioned by name. The case for Senator McCain constituted the larger part of the speech and centered on McCain’s character as revealed by his record of military service. The case against Obama actually addressed political issues with slightly more specificity than the case for McCain. Thompson did not tie either case to the ends of government or the appropriate means to pursue them.
By implied contrast with McCain, Thompson presented Obama as something of an international man of mystery:
It’s pretty clear there are two questions we will never have to ask ourselves, “Who is this man?” and “Can we trust this man with the Presidency?”
Thompson continued the contrast with respect to Iraq, saying of McCain:
He has been to Iraq eight times since 2003.
He went seeking truth, not publicity.
Unlike, well, you know who. Thompson then generalized the contrast with respect to travel abroad:
When he travels abroad, he prefers quietly speaking to the troops amidst the heat and hardship of their daily lives.
Unlike, well, you know who. Thompson offered then-Rep. McCain’s opposition to President Reagan’s deployment of Marines to Lebanon as an instance of his placing national interest over partisan loyalty:
My friends … that is character you can believe in.
The unstated contrast here was with the brand of “change” offered by, well, you know who. Thompson then implied that Obama might be guilty of the characteristic senatorial vantity:
The Senate has always had more than its share of smooth talkers.
And big talkers.
It still has.
Actually, this critique applies to both the top and bottom of the Democratic ticket. Thompson then contrasted McCain’s place on the world stage with that of Obama’s:
The respect [McCain] is given around the world is not because of a teleprompter speech designed to appeal to American critics abroad, but because of decades of clearly demonstrated character and statesmanship.
The reference to the world stage led naturally to Thompson’s avowal of the importance of character, judgment and leadership. “To deal with these challenges,” Thompson allowed, “the Democrats present a history making nominee for president.” Obama is “history making nominee” in two respects. Thompson specified the one that tells against him:
History making in that he is the most liberal, most inexperienced nominee to ever run for President.
How do Obama’s qualities suit the needs of the country? Thompson didn’t think they suited it very well:
America needs a President who understands the nature of the world we live in.
A President who feels no need to apologize for the United States of America.
Thompson turned to domestic issues in making the case against Obama:
We need a President who understands that you don’t make citizens prosperous by making Washington richer, and you don’t lift an economic downturn by imposing one of the largest tax increases in American history.
Now our opponents tell you not to worry about their tax increases.
They tell you they are not going to tax your family.
No, they’re just going to tax “businesses”! So unless you buy something from a “business”, like groceries or clothes or gasoline … or unless you get a paycheck from a big or a small “business”, don’t worry … it’s not going to affect you.
They say they are not going to take any water out of your side of the bucket, just the “other” side of the bucket! That’s their idea of tax reform.
It’s a good line of argument, but Thompson leaves the argument in metaphorical form. Moreover, Obama promises to confine his tax increases to “the rich.” It would have been good if Thompson had explicitly extended the argument to the traditional Democratic class warfare the Democrats are waging. Doing so, however, would have called for some statement of principle that the speech avoided. Thompson continued the critique of Obama with more praise of McCain on the question of “principle,” though without himself stating any principle:
My friends, we need a leader who stands on principle.
We need a President, and Vice President, who will take the federal bureaucracy by the scruff of the neck and give it a good shaking.
Then Thompson descended into one case that is in fact governed by principle:
And we need a President who doesn’t think that the protection of the unborn or a newly born baby is above his pay grade.
Who might that be? Barack Obama of John McCain? In case you missed the Saddleback Civil Forum, Thompson supplied the answer:
The man who will be that President is John McCain.
At the least, Thompson provided an entertaining context within which McCain can take up the argument on Thursday night.
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