Election 2008: March 2007 Archives

Below I'm going to try to provide some cultural context for James Dobson's comment casting doubt on Sen. Fred Thompson's Christian faith (while applauding serial bigamist Newt Gingrich). But first, these folks had some worthwhile things to say on the subject:


Dobson has alienated a lot of people with his comment and he's also set up the biggest Sistah Souljah moment of the upcoming race. Fred ought to use this as a chance to talk about his faith, and also to differentiate himself from shrill voices like Falwell and Dobson.

Allahpundit at Hot Air, where See-Dubya has this to say in the comments:

Speaking as someone who was baptized in the Church of Christ myself, [Dobson] has just used up every last bit of goodwill I had for him. It’s sanctimonious jackass spokesmen like Robertson, Dobson, and Reed who are making Christian conservatism irrelevant and driving us into the arms of mushy-headed Rick Warren feelgoodism.

In the comments of the same post, blogger Right Wing Sparkle defends Dobson's career, but not his comments in this situation.

Karol writes:

Much as my instinct is to lash out at Dobson (I mean, who is he to say who is or is not a Christian) I know that he is quite a big deal, especially in the swing state of Colorado. I don't know what he has against our man Fred, but I do hope he cuts this nonsense out.

The USA Today article included a quote from a Dobson spokesman that may be difficult for non-evangelical readers to parse:

In a follow-up phone conversation, Focus on the Family spokesman Gary Schneeberger stood by Dobson's claim. He said that, while Dobson didn't believe Thompson to be a member of a non-Christian faith, Dobson nevertheless "has never known Thompson to be a committed Christian -- someone who talks openly about his faith."

"We use that word -- Christian -- to refer to people who are evangelical Christians," Schneeberger added. "Dr. Dobson wasn't expressing a personal opinion about his reaction to a Thompson candidacy; he was trying to 'read the tea leaves' about such a possibility."

Let me try to translate and provide some context, without justifying Dobson's comment.

Evangelicals draw a distinction between nominal Christians and committed Christians. Within the evangelical subculture, the bare word "Christian" means someone who has a personal relationship with Jesus, someone who has had a conversion experience, someone who has asked Jesus to come into his heart, someone who has been born again. (As I write those phrases, I'm struck by the difficulty of explaining the concept to people who aren't native speakers of evangelicalese.)

While other branches of Christianity define being a Christian in terms of participation in the sacrament of baptism, which they regard as objectively making a person a Christian, evangelicals understand being a Christian in experiential terms -- making a decision to follow Christ, having a conversion experience.

The pietistic predecessors of modern evangelicalism looked at the institutionalized churches of the 17th century and saw a dead orthodoxy -- the form of religion was there, but the life-changing power of the resurrection was absent. America's Great Awakening in the early 18th century was not about converting pagans but about calling a nation of outwardly moral, faithful churchgoers back to a lively personal faith in Christ.

From the evangelical frame of reference, it makes perfect sense to ask the question, "Is he a Christian?" of someone who was baptized and has gone to church every Sunday morning of his life. As the saying goes, being born in a Christian home doesn't make you a Christian any more than being born in a garage makes you a car. The reality of your faith and the security of your salvation is suspect if you can't point to a date and place when you came to faith.

I can remember, as a Campus Crusader in college, being very suspicious of people who claimed that they couldn't remember a time when they weren't Christian. There were a number of students in our group who grew up in Christian homes and had been baptized as infants, but they had conversion experiences in college. Many chose to be baptized as adult believers, because only now did they consider themselves Christian. Their earlier church involvement was mere religion, not living faith in and a vital personal relationship with Christ.

To bring this back to politics: Here in Oklahoma, even our Catholic politicians are expected to be born again. When a Republican politician from a liturgical background runs for higher office, you can expect to see an interview with him in a magazine like Community Spirit, in which the pol tells of a personal conversion experience and describes his devotional habits of prayer and Bible reading. (Extra points for being part of a Bible study or prayer group with fellow politicians.) Evangelical voters are reassured to hear a politician talk in this way: He must really be saved, and therefore he has the spirit of God dwelling within him, and therefore he can make godly decisions as a government official.

The demand to hear a conversion story can have comical results. I can't find the exact quote, but I recall that the elder George Bush, a lifelong Episcopalian, had a typically awkward answer when asked, during his campaign for the White House in 1988, whether he was born again. He knew he had to say yes, but it was clear that he didn't really understand the question.

While Dobson might be upset that Thompson hasn't come to pay his respects, I suspect Dobson's main problem is that Thompson doesn't wear his faith on his sleeve, that he doesn't talk about his prayer life or having a quiet time or being in a Bible study or listening to Christian radio. The problem with that is that it mistakes the talk for the walk. It puts Dobson (and those he influences) at the mercy of whoever can make the most convincing use of the standard evangelical buzzwords, which doesn't necessarily correlate with genuine devotion to Christ.

UPDATE: Mollie Hemingway at Get Religion gets it. She agrees that the follow-up quote from Schneeberger is the key to understanding what Dobson said:

I also think it’s worth highlighting that what we’re seeing here are classic distinctions in how various Protestants define Christian.

Whether they admit it or not, many Americans adopt a view similar to that held by Dobson: Christianity is mainly about behavior and feelings. Christians of all stripes — as well as folks who don’t define themselves as religious — tend to judge Christians’ fidelity to their faith (and adherents of other religions) by their actions. Many of them incorporate personal testimonies into the equation as a means of speaking to behavioral change or a change of feelings. I bet that many readers are nodding their head and saying, “And what’s the big deal about this?”

Well, this view is extremely different from that held by other believers, myself included. In my church body [Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, one of the most conservative branches of American Lutheranism] we don’t really speak of personal behaviors or statements — as Dobson seems to have done — to determine someone’s religious status. Instead we point to whether they’ve been baptized.

ALSO: Barb the Evil Genius, a Lutheran blogger, initially thought I was defending Dobson and wondered if I still held the opinions that I say I held as a Campus Crusader in college. You can see my response, plus some additional thoughts, in the comments below. If you can't imagine that someone can be a genuine Christian without a crisis conversion experience, you need to read Barb's thoughts on the subject.

Columnist Mona Charen explains "Why Fred Thompson Should Run":

The current Republican field is like a smorgasbord at Denny's -- lots of OK choices, but nothing to get the heart racing. That's why the potential candidacy of former Sen. Fred Thompson is creating a palpable stir.

She runs through the leading candidates, explaining how each one falls short: Giuliani, McCain, Romney. What about Brownback, Huckabee, Hunter, et alii?

The other candidates in the race are barely registering in the polls, and one of those waiting in the wings is carrying enough baggage to sink a cruise ship.

So. What about that likable fellow from Tennessee? Thompson is not "just an actor" (though they said that about Reagan, and he turned out OK). He began his professional life as an assistant U.S. attorney, worked as Sen. Howard Baker's campaign manager and did a stint as co-chief counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee. It was he who asked the innocuous-sounding but momentous question of Alexander Butterfield: "Were you aware of the existence of any listening devices in the Oval Office of the president?"...

His voting record is solidly conservative. He is articulate, self-made (his father was a car salesman), highly intelligent, and exudes calm authority. His star power offers him an opening with independent voters that other candidates can only dream of, while his solid conservative credentials will excite the Republican base.

Mark Alexander likes Thompson on every issue:

Thompson's record as a U.S. Senator from 1994 to 2003 shows that he was on the right side of every critical issue. As chairman of the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs from 1997 to 2001, he voted for national-debt reduction, the all-important balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution, a presidential line-item veto to eliminate congressional pork and efforts to privatize elements of Social Security. He supported legislation in the interest of free enterprise and opposed many regulatory and tax measures. He opposed growth in social-welfare programs, including expansions in Medicare and welfare for immigrants. He supported efforts to decentralize or disenfranchise unconstitutional government programs.

Fred voted for limits on death penalty appeals, product-liability punitive-damage awards and class-action lawsuits. He opposed decreasing restrictions on wiretaps. He supported increased oil exploration, including ANWR drilling permits, and is an advocate of free trade, understanding well the underlying national security implications. He supported an amendment to prohibit flag burning and voted for numerous measures in support of Second Amendment rights. (Charlton Heston campaigned for him in '94.)

On family and social issues, he opposed "marriage" between homosexuals, partial-birth abortion, cloning, the addition of "sexual orientation" to hate-crimes legislation and legislation prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. He voted for many education-reform measures, including the provision of school vouchers.

Most important, Thompson's support for Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom was, and remains, steadfast. Thompson has the authoritative grasp of national-security issues necessary for a commander in chief, particularly with respect to the long-term jihadi threat.

Peggy Noonan has a general comment about the field which may explain the appeal of Thompson. She says Republicans should stop being intimidated by the legacy of Ronald Reagan:

For Republicans especially he should be a reorienting memory. He was modern conservatism. If they are for more government, more spending, a more imposing state, what are they?

For Democrats he should function as a reminder that ideas and philosophy count, that they give politics meaning.

Republicans should take heart from his memory but not be sunk in him or spooked by him. Life moves. Reagan's meaning cannot be forgotten. But where does it get you if it's 1885, and Republicans are pulling their hair out saying, "Oh no, we're not doing well. We could win if only we had a Lincoln, but they shot him 20 years ago!" That's not how serious people talk, and it's not how serious people think. You face the challenges of your time with the brains and guts you have. You can't sit around and say, "Oh what would Lincoln do?" For one thing it is an impractical attitude. Lincolns don't come along every day. What you want to do with the memory of a great man is recognize his greatness, laud it, take succor from it, and keep moving. You can't be transfixed by a memory. Hold it close and take it into the future with you....

Doesn't matter what you call yourself, matters who you are. Reagan wasn't magic. He was serious, farsighted and brave about the great issues of his time. Republican candidates could try that. If they did, it would have a secondary benefit. They'd start respecting themselves instead of merely being full of themselves. This would help them stop being spooked.

A Rasmussen head-to-head poll shows Fred Thompson beating Hillary Clinton 44-43 and only 12 points behind Barack Obama. (Via Alarming News.)

The American Spectator blog has this observation:

Suffice it to say that a number of folks in Massachusetts and Manhattan and Arizona are getting nervous. Without having spent a dime, Thompson is a more credible candidate than some folks who have spent upwards of $10 million.

An Iowa, ARG has Giuliani and McCain tied at 29, Thompson in third at 12, and Romney in fourth at 10.

In Texas, ARG shows Giuliani at 30, McCain at 20, Romney at 13, Thompson at 12, and Gingrich at 11.

ARG hasn't done an Oklahoma poll since the Thompson buzz began. Their February poll has Giuliani at 37, McCain at 21, and Huckabee at 14. Romney is at 2.

(Huckabee is doing great in Arkansas, but is in the single digits at best everywhere else.)

Looking at all of ARG's state-by-state polls, the message that come across clearly is that Romney should just give up. He is in the single digits almost everywhere except his two home states -- Utah and Massachusetts -- and New Hampshire, where he had a lot of exposure as governor of a neighboring state. Even where he's just into the low teens, he's well back of Giuliani and McCain, competing with a couple of undeclared candidates. For all of the money he has spent, he's not making an impression. Only a win in Iowa or an overwhelming win in New Hampshire (a close win would fall short of what would be expected of a Massachusetts official there) would make him a contender in later primaries. For all of the advertising he has done, for all of his time in those two states, Romney's numbers aren't budging.

(But, you say, shouldn't that be true of Huckabee, Brownback, and the rest, too? The difference is that they could credibly claim they haven't made their media push yet in those states, so they wouldn't expect to see much support at this stage.)

Finally, Karol at Alarming News tracks the tempest over Thompson's views on abortion. A group called "Evangelicals for Mitt" posted an entry on its blog with quotes from 1994 and 1996 news stories saying that Fred Thompson was a supporter of abortion rights at the time, just as Romney was in '94. But an executive with the National Right to Life Committee interviewed Thompson at length in 1994, during his first race for Senate:

[National Right to Life executive co-director Darla] St. Martin said that she went down to Tennessee in 1994 to speak with Thompson personally when he first ran for Senate, and that she determined he was against abortion.

"I interviewed him and on all of the questions I asked him, he opposed abortion," St. Martin said. She told me that the group went on to support him in that election, and his record reinforced for her that their determination was correct.

"He has a consistent voting record that is pro-life," she said.


Thompson dominated a straw poll held at the Gwinnett County, Georgia, Republican Convention. Gwinnett County, in the Atlanta suburbs, ought to be Gingrich country, but Newt finished with 17%, well back of Thompson with 44%. It's not a scientific poll, but county convention goers are the sort who volunteer for candidates and persuade their neighbors to vote.

Michele of Reformed Chicks Blabbing comments on these results:

I think we are seeing the erosion of support for the leading candidates and the beginning of a ground swell for the closest we are going to get to an electable, conservative candidate. At least I hope that's the case.

George Korda, writing in the Knoxville News Sentinel, remembers August 1994, during Thompson's first run for U. S. Senate, when he was running well behind his Democratic opponent. The column has a great title: Thompson and the Hunt for a Red November. That's red as in Republican. How long has it been since we had a president that wasn't from the sunbelt?

There's a lot of interesting news on Bill Hobbs's Elephant Biz blog including a Daily Fred roundup. Hobbs also ponders whether Thompson's surge disproves the conventional wisdom that an early entry into the presidential race is essential, dissects Hugh Hewitt and Michael Barone's analysis of Fred's chances, and why Mitt Romney's success at fundraising may all be for naught.

The American Spectator blog has more on who's funding and supplying info to the Evangelicals for Mitt blog, which lately seems focused on downplaying anyone who might compete with Romney for conservative support.

Finally, here's a blog devoted to news about Fred Thompson.

YET MORE: Robert N. Going says he "likes a guy who says what he means and means what he says." He cites Thompson's response to the question, "Do you want to overturn Roe v. Wade?"

I think Roe vs. Wade was bad law and bad medical science. And the way to address that is through good judges. I don't think the court ought to wake up one day and make new social policy for the country. It's contrary to what it's been the past 200 years.

Last week, the Oklahoma House of Representatives passed, by a vote of 82-14, HB 2595 (link opens a Microsoft Word-compatible Rich Text Format file), which would move Oklahoma's 2008 presidential preference primary from the first Tuesday in February to the last Tuesday in January. The bill was authored by State Rep. Trebor Worthen and State Sen. Todd Lamb, both Oklahoma City Republicans. The bill has been assigned to the Senate Rules Committee.

Oklahoma is already in a strategic position with its current primary date, which it shares with California, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Missouri, and Utah. (West Virginia has a state convention for delegate selection that day, and North Dakota has caucuses.) Although California will attract a lot of attention, it doesn't have the majority of delegates up for grabs that day. In fact, Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma have a combined total of 125 delegates. Add in Alabama's 45, and you have what amounts to a south central regional primary offering 170 delegates. (The numbers exclude the three uncommitted superdelegate seats allocated to each state's RNC representatives.)

Despite a much greater population, California has the same number of delegates, a consequence of the party's overall lack of success in statewide races there. California gets one bonus delegate (for winning the Governor's Mansion); Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma have a total of 55 bonus delegates.

(Arizona and Utah are inconsequential -- likely locks for McCain and Romney, respectively.)

While California was a winner-take-all state in years past, in 2008, there will be 54 separate elections. Three delegates will be allocated in each congressional district to the candidate with a plurality. The winner of the statewide tally will get an additional 11 seats. There's an incentive for an underfunded candidate to focus on winning in just one of California's media markets, while spending more time and money in the less expensive, more compact south central states.

So there are already plenty of strategic reasons for presidential hopefuls to spend plenty of time in Oklahoma. If HB 2095 passes the State Senate, Oklahoma would become even more important, leaping ahead of South Carolina by four days to become the second primary on the calendar, just a week after New Hampshire.

Of course, any other state might move its date, too, if there is still time for its legislature to act. In some states, legislatures have authorized the governor or the state's chief election official to move the date in response to the actions of other states, whether or not the legislature is in session.

LINKS: The Green Papers has a wealth of information about the 2008 primary process, including a chronological calendar of primaries, caucuses, and conventions, which in turn has links to details on each state's rules, delegate allocations for the Republicans and Democrats, showing the allocation formula used by each party. There is also a table showing who is eligible to participate in delegate selection and what allocation method is used for each state for both Republicans and Democrats. Each state page includes notes on legislation affecting the date of the primary.

The fact that the Green Papers got Oklahoma's legislative information wrong makes me wonder about the reliability of their other information, however. They have this:

Oklahoma HB 1790 was amended on 7 February 2007 to change the Presidentail Primary date from the first Tuesday in February (5 February 2008) to the first Saturday in February (2 February 2008).

HB 1790 is actually Rep. John Trebilcock's very sensible bill to reduce the number of permitted special election dates from 21 to 14 in every two-year cycle. Unfortunately HB 1790 didn't make it out of committee. I can't find any legislation that would move the primary to a Saturday.

Bits and pieces:

Here's a website dedicated to the proposition that Rudy's Really Liberal. Quotes from Mr. Giuliani on a variety of topics, including his rather callous views on abortion.

WMCA talk show host Kevin McCullough doesn't think much of Newt Gingrich's assertion that private lives should be off limits in the 2008 presidential campaign:

Bill Clinton deserved to be scrutinized. His behavior (supposedly in private) put the nation's security at risk. He also ended up committing felonies.

Since the dirt of these men's lives IS going to be examined. They would be better off demonstrating that they are no longer the men they once were - as opposed to making these waste of time statements about how this part or that part of their lives should be "off limits."

Telling Dr. Dobson that he did something wrong doesn't fully address Gingrich's character problem. Newt didn't just make one oopsie while tipsy. He did the trophy wife trade-up not once, but twice, in each case taking up with wife N+1 while still married to wife N. (Six years overlap in the case of his second-to-third-wife transition.) And there's more -- Google "Newt Gingrich" and "little boy smile" and you'll see what I mean.

Now on to the continuing buzz about former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson.

Mickey Kaus wants to know

Wherein lies the greatness of Sen. Fred Thompson? Just asking!

Ron Coleman has a similar question:

But is this another case of mistaking the TV character for the person? ....

Conservatives are in the dumps because there isn’t a Reagan, or even the version of George W. Bush they thought they were buying, in this race. But what exactly it is that they see in Thompson is not clear unless, as I said, they are actually voting for a rich baritone voice, six-and-a-half-feet of USDA Grade A beef, and — here’s the kicker — his role as a fair but firm, if a little politicized, urban crime-fighter.

I'm getting excited about a candidate for the first time in this race, and I've never seen "Law and Order," so that isn't all there is to it. I suspect Thompson's stint as a Paul Harvey fill-in has done more to get conservatives excited. Here is someone who is saying all the right things on fiscal issues, social issues, and foreign policy -- and saying them so well!

The point Kaus makes about Thompson's lack of executive experience is a valid one, but does that lack outweigh the benefit of having a nominee who holds the right views on the key issues of the day and who can articulate and defend them?

Thompson's radio commentary on illegal immigration has Karol waxing lyrical. And she points to Ryan Sager's piece in the New York Sun weighing the effects of a Thompson candidacy on the rest of the GOP field:

But there's one candidate whose campaign he could end almost instantaneously, should he choose to run: that of Mr. Romney. Mr. Thompson is pro-life, pro-gun, anti-gay marriage, and anti-tax — like Mr. Romney. But he has one advantage over the former governor: He didn't just come to these positions over the last year or so, in a "Road to Des Moines" conversion.

On virtually every issue, Mr. Thompson is as far right, or further, than Mr. Romney, and he has been for some time. Mr. Romney's claim to fame so far in the campaign has been that he's the "true conservative" in the race — in contrast to Mayor Giuliani and Senator McCain. If Mr. Thompson jumps in, however, the rationale behind Mr. Romney's candidacy drops out.

"Road to Des Moines conversion." Heh.

Washington Post blogger Chris Cillizza thinks Thompson can do what social conservatives like Sam Brownback and Mike Huckabee have struggled to do: raise money.

McCain, Romney and Giuliani have all been in the race and raising money for months (if not years), and with the pricetag for the nomination estimated at between $50 and $100 million the ability to raise millions of dollars is a huge hurdle.

Lucky for Thompson that his home state is renowned for its willingness to donate to political candidates. Beginning with Sen. Howard Baker's (R-Tenn.) run for the presidency in 1980 and with Al Gore's first run in 1988 and then both of Sen. Lamar Alexander's unsuccessful bids for national office (and don't former Sen. Bill Frist's abbreviated run), Volunteer State donors are acclimated to supporting their native sons.

Baker, Frist and Alexander are intimately involved in the recruitment of Thompson and would undoubtedly bring their financial networks to bear on his behalf -- ensuring a solid financial base on which to build a national campaign.

That via Mary Katherine Ham, who notes that John McCain is helping to make the case for Thompson by his slap at the Club for Growth. She notes: "We fiscal conservatives don't take kindly to Club for Growth bashing." No, we don't.

Finally, via WorldMagBlog, an interesting piece from the Weekly Standard on believers and the presidency -- not about whether past presidents were serious about their faith in God, but about whether they really believed in the direction they were leading the country:

Four or so years ago, I heard the comedian Jackie Mason mock George W. Bush's slender rhetorical powers. "He stumbles, he stutters, he mispronounces. He goes arghh, he goes ahhh; he twists himself up in words; it's hopeless. Unlike Bill Clinton, who speaks with never a pause, never a miscue, never a hitch of any kind. You know, when you come to think of it, it's a hell of a lot easier to speak well when you don't believe a word you're saying."

More than merely amusing, this comic bit is provocatively suggestive. What it suggests is that American presidents can be divided into those who are true believers and those who are something else: managers, politicians, operators, men who just wanted the job. While in office, Bill Clinton, who seems to have had as little true belief as any politician in recent decades, sensed that the country wanted to move to the center, so he moved to the center along with it: changing the welfare system, doing nothing radical about health care, rocking no boats, giving the people what the polls told him they wanted....

Belief is not a sine qua non in a president. At times the country does better with a politician whose aim goes little beyond keeping the ball in play, the game in motion. And where belief is detectable, the question of course is what is the content of the belief a candidate holds. If Churchill was a believer, so was Hitler.

Yet no great American president I can think of has not been a believer. The greatest of our presidents, perhaps the greatest American, Abraham Lincoln, was great precisely because of his deep, almost religious belief in the necessity of maintaining the Union and doing everything he could to keep it intact. Had they then existed, polls heavily in favor of his bringing the boys back home by stopping the Civil War would scarcely have dissuaded him.

Oh, one more thing, not specifically presidential, but related, given the concern about the true leanings of Giuliani, Romney, and McCain. Rush Limbaugh has been criticizing California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's shift to the left on a variety of issues. On the Today show, Schwarzenegger called Limbaugh "irrelevant." Limbaugh took that in stride -- assumed that Arnie meant Rush isn't relevant to his decision-making process in California. Here's a link to a transcript of Rush's response. Rush notes the electoral disasters that befall Republicans when they fail to govern or campaign as conservatives. He mentions that he hasn't settled on a presidential candidate yet. "[O]ne of the things I'm concerned about is there's not one Reagan conservative in the bunch -- which is okay, but then don't tell me that there is."

He also makes an interesting point about friendships between commentators and politicians:

I know Arnold. I have smoked stogies with Arnold, and I like Arnold! He's an engaging, friendly, nice guy. But that's why I always said, "Folks, when you're in a position, as I am, a national commentator, the one thing you can't do is become friends with these politicians." When you become friends with them, you can't criticize your friends. When they become part of your traveling gang or your inner circle, they are insulated from criticism, and that's not going to help me and that's not what I'm here for, is to make friends with these people.

It is a tough thing for me to be critical of politicians I've gotten to know. (Mostly -- some politicians I've gotten to know well enough that it's extremely easy for me to criticize them.) I hope I can effectively criticize their policies while being sympathetic to the challenges they face in making the right decisions.

Schwarzenegger called in to talk to Limbaugh (here's the transcript) and they had a frank but friendly exchange on the increase in the state's minimum wage, health care for illegal immigrants, and cigar smoking. Neither one backed down, but they kept it civil.

On a Dean Barnett entry about Newt Gingrich's "creepy" televised confession of adultery to James Dobson, a commenter called GenXDad nails it:

It's not Newt's infidelity in and of itself that bothers me, it's his self-centeredness and egotism that bothers me. His infidelities are a manifestation of his overinflated sense of self. In that respect, I dislike Newt the man for the same reasons I dislike Bill Clinton the man.

Anyone else remember Gingrich's public complaint about being forced to ride in the back of Air Force One. Which was worse: That he was genuinely bothered by such a minor slight, or that he felt it was appropriate to complain about it publicly?

Related to that: Here's an interesting piece from Vanity Fair in 1989, capturing Gingrich at an interesting moment. He has risen to the House leadership, he has gained national attention for his attacks on the ethics of Speaker Jim Wright, and you can begin to see the arc of the next five years, leading to the Contract with America and the Republican majority in the U. S. House.

Gingrich is an interesting thinker and strategist, and I admire the groundwork he laid in making Republicans competitive in the House of Representatives. I just don't want him to represent the Republican Party in next year's election.

Some stories on the 2008 Presidential sweepstakes:

Jim Geraghty wants to know: Where are the policy wonks? We see candidacy trial balloons going up all over the country, but who is floating an issue trial balloon?

So far, there’s been nothing strikingly compelling or repelling about these candidates’ vision of where they want to take the country, and so we argue about their past stands, decisions, and positions, instead of what they want to do with the office they seek.

How many candidates on either side are running for president because they want to do something? How many candidates on either side are running for president because they want to be somebody?

My guess is that the policy wonks are waiting until the field thins out a bit. If a wonk picks the right candidate to help, he can look forward to, at the very least, White House invites, maybe even a cabinet post or a role as a White House advisor. Pick the wrong guy, and you've lost your chance at being in the next president's inner circle.

Now a wonk might team up with someone for reasons other than personal vision. If a candidate offers a compelling agenda that aligns with a wonk's ideals, the wonk might sign up to help whether the candidate as a chance or not, just to have the opportunity to get some attention focused on his key issues.

But the candidates don't seem to have the boldness to talk about new ideas at the moment. Everyone seems afraid of putting a foot wrong. So expect the policy wonks to stay on the sidelines for a while longer.

Meanwhile, former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson is being talked up by more and more conservative activists, who until now felt their choice was between conservative candidates who can't win and RINOs who might be able to win. Thompson is filling in this week for Paul Harvey and has been wowing listeners with his plain-spoken commentary. He has the ability to say something principled and pointed without being apologetic, but also without being shrill or obnoxious.

For example, read Thompson's commentary on Gandhi, Iraq, and pacifism. Pointing to the anti-war protesters who have made Gandhi an icon of their movement, he reminds listeners of the extremes to which Gandhi took his pacifism. Gandhi said that Jews under Nazi rule should have willingly abandoned themselves to the slaughter rather than resist. "Collective suicide would have been heroism," Gandhi said.

Thompson's concluding thoughts:

The so-called peace movement certainly has the right to make Gandhi’s way their way, but their efforts to make collective suicide American foreign policy just won’t cut it in this country. When Americans think of heroism, we think of the young American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, risking their lives to prevent another Adolf Hitler or Saddam Hussein.

Gandhi probably wouldn't approve, but I can live with that.

Thompson conveys substance (and he actually has substance), he has a way with words, and American voters are not going to cringe when they hear him speak.

He is a conservative of conviction, not of convenience. He is a social conservative, a fiscal conservative, and is pro-victory in the Global War on Terror.

This is the first candidate that I've felt any enthusiasm about supporting -- Fred Thompson is, as Doug Patton writes, a conservative who can win. Can anyone give me a good reason why I shouldn't jump on the Fred Thompson bandwagon?

The compressed 2008 presidential primary schedule may not be the only thing that leads to an early conclusion to both parties' nomination processes.

Mickey Kaus passes along an e-mail from an anonymous reader who writes that the mainstream media networks don't have the resources to cover two long battles involving multiple candidates. He says the networks will simplify the race to match their staffing levels -- two leading candidates plus one wild card in each party. Other candidates will simply not get any attention from the networks, which will lead donors, volunteers, and voters to assume that they aren't viable and to throw their support behind one of the three in the media spotlight.

It has always frustrated me to see my preferred candidate drop out before our turn to vote in Oklahoma. In 1988, I was a Pete du Pont fan -- first candidate with the guts to call attention to the looming social security crisis -- but he was gone after New Hampshire. In '96, Phil Gramm was my pick. I don't think he even made it to New Hampshire.

I understand that candidates need money to keep up a campaign, and if they can't win in a state like Iowa and New Hampshire where campaigning is relatively inexpensive and where there's no need to jet across the country, then they won't be able to convince the donors to invest in them.

I even understand the bandwagon effect that leads politicians to get behind the apparently inevitable candidate early on. A senator or congressman wants to be able to remind the new president that he was on his side when it counted, while there was still a degree of uncertainty about the nomination.

But I don't understand the bandwagon effect on voters. So what if New Hampshire backed McCain and South Carolina backed Bush? So what if Forbes suspended his campaign? If Forbes is still on the ballot, and you think he's the best choice, vote for him.

This is the first time since I don't know when -- 1952? -- that neither party has an heir apparent for the nomination. 1960 was a race for an open seat, but Nixon was Ike's heir apparent. 1968 started out with LBJ planning to run for re-election, but then he dropped out in favor of his veep. The next year with no incumbent running was 1988, and Vice President Bush was the obvious Republican front runner. In 2000, it was the Goracle's turn to succeed his boss.

This year we have a huge number of candidates on both sides. Everyone you might call a front-runner for the Republicans has some significant negative. This could be a long nominating process, but will the mainstream media succeed in portraying early 30% primary pluralities as landslides and starving close second place finishers of the attention they need to keep campaigning? Kaus seems to think that candidates being starved of MSM attention could maintain viability via blogs, YouTube, and other forms of new media.

I doubt it. The most faithful primary voters aren't internet users. They're the last demographic that still depends on the 30 minute Big Three news shows to find out what's happening in the world.

Hat tip to Ace of Spades, who also has the straw poll numbers from CPAC: Five candidates within a few percentage points of each other. Romney had the most but only 21%; Giuliani and Brownback were close behind. I wish they had done an instant runoff ballot. It would have been interesting to find out the attendees' second and third choices.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Election 2008 category from March 2007.

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