Fred "Publius" Thompson


Sen. Fred Thompson's endless campaign rollout has lacked substance and policy positions, and it's starting to wound him—reports on a nine-minute speech he gave were devastating, a favorable crowd grumbling that "there's nothing there." Thompson's response: less banality, more big ideas. And this week's big idea is federalism. On Friday he posted an essay on the topic at his campaign blog that included rare references to his brief Senate career. (Thompson has, for want of a better word, "campaigned" as a Washington outsider and only talked about the Senate in the context of his landslide election wins and the 2005 confirmation of John Roberts to the Supreme Court.)

I held hearings on the over-federalization of criminal law when I was in the Senate. You hear that the states are not doing a good job at prosecuting certain crimes, that their sentencing laws are not tough enough, that it's too easy to make bail in state court. If these are true, why allow those responsible in the states to shirk that responsibility by having the federal government make up for the shortcomings in state law? Accountability gets displaced.

On Saturday Thompson spoke to the American Legislative Exchange Council conference in Philadelphia and ditched his usual conservative sloganeering for a speech on federalism. Depending on who you ask it either was politely, gamely received or it was a snoozer that was easily upstaged by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. "We had to nudge a woman at our table to wake her up," one attendee told me. Larry Eichel's report in the Philadelphia Inquirer found people who liked the speech but in a very meta sense: "it takes courage to do something more thoughtful and philosophical in this sound-bite culture." In other words: "it was boring but it's what he needs to do."

It's also an odd issue for Thompson. Rudy Giuliani's been beating the federalism drum for a while but Giuliani has a problem Thompson doesn't: He's pro-choice and pro-gun control and he needs to mollify the base on those issues. Thompson simply needs to prove that there's a brain somewhere above that larynx. Hilariously, his fans are still more interested in that larynx.

NEXT: Stuck in the Truck

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  1. If hes gung-ho for federalism, then he must favor the states controlling drug policies, right? Or, at least allow the states to have medical marijuana laws?

    Yeah, don’t hold your breath. Conservative sloganeering is right.

  2. Sounds like “pube-liest”

  3. Hilariously, his fans are still more interested in that larynx.

    Sorry, but I just can’t find that funny anymore.

  4. So Fred Thompson is opposed to the Ashcroft/Gonzo Justice Department’s strategy of bringing federal murder charges against defendants who commited crimes in states that don’t execute prisoners in order to override the state?

  5. Breaking news: Wannabe Presidential candidate Fred Thompson is a-okay with gay marriage. You heard it here first.

  6. Devoid of substance? Start drawing up invitations to his inauguration already (performance by Brooks & Dunn).

  7. Fred Thompson is the Republicans’ Barack Obama: all hat and no cattle, but man, doesn’t he just sound presidential.

  8. I dunno. I’m not even sure he sounds prosecutorial.

  9. Who knows if he means it, but it is good to see someone anyone making this point. When is the last time a mainstream politician came out against federalizing crimes?

  10. What would the president need with cows anyway?

  11. Maybe he’ll pick Sam Waterston as his running mate.


  12. Caption Contest!

    “Aaack! Aaaaack! Gnnk! Aaack!”

  13. Fred Thompson: the Three Million Dollar Man.

  14. Caption Contest

    “Come-on, put em’ up, put em’ up.”

  15. Caption contest:

    And I just unscrew this nozzle here….

  16. caption: And now for my Scalia impersonation.

  17. I’m with John. A potentially national politician talking about federalism in a meaningful context is fairly interesting.

  18. SuperMike and John,

    I agree that discussing federalism on this level is good, but it becomes sour when one realizes that he’ll likely do little to advance federalism.

    In this context, he’s using it because it plays well with the blue states.

  19. I’ll vote for Fred Thompson because his wife is hot. I’ll like to see a MILF for at least 4 years in the White House.

  20. less banality, more big ideas.

    One thing I don’t like from my politicians are big ideas.

    “Idealism is based on big ideas. And, as anybody who has ever been asked “What’s the big idea?” knows, most big ideas are bad ones.” –O’Rourke, P.J.

  21. As good as it is that he at least understands Constitutional principles, throwing “federalism” at political hot spots just seems like a convenient way to cop out of taking a stand on some controversial issue. Any candidate who says “let the states decide” should necessarily be able to answer the question: “if you were in a state legislature, what policy would you support?”

    Besides, there are instances where using the federal government (through the Constitution) to end statewide violations of people’s rights is a very good idea, by, for instance, outlawing costly state controls over health care. Or ending slavery.

  22. He’s starting to show that “Innsmouth look.”

  23. Yes, yes he is. Well put.

  24. I thought the concept that federalism is only discussed as a way to avoid addressing the issues you don’t fare well on was a given. Anybody see Rudy’s take cut plan for healthcare?

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