Fred Thompson: Independent & lazy

Fred Thompson, a Hollywood actor turned White House contender, had a reputation while a U.S. senator of being frustrated with the slow-moving legislative process and preferring dining with friends to late-night congressional sessions.

But the 64-year-old Republican, who retired from the Senate in 2003 after serving eight years, was also seen as a charismatic speaker who exuded confidence, battled government waste and abuse and backed campaign finance reform.

"The consensus seemed to be that he didn't like to work real hard, but was good to have on your team," said a Senate Republican aide. "People said the same thing about (former President) Ronald Reagan," another one-time Hollywood star.

But Paul Light of New York University's Center for the Study of Congress, said: "The risk he faces is that people want him so much to be like Ronald Reagan that he can't possibly live up to the test. He needs to develop a persona that's distinctly his."

Yet Light said the 6-foot-6 conservative may fill a Republican void. "There's a search for someone who has the right credentials and presence to take on someone like (Democratic White House hopefuls) Hillary (Rodham) Clinton and Barack Obama."

Before leaving Capitol Hill, Thompson voiced frustration.

"I don't want to spend the rest of my life up here," then Sen. Thompson said. "I don't like spending 14- and 16-hour days voting on 'sense of the Senate' resolutions on irrelevant matters."

Thompson and his advisers made it clear this week that he intends to run and a formal announcement may come soon.

He will join a crowded Republican field, which features three leading contenders — former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney — none of whom have been fully embraced by the party's conservative base.

Thompson hopes to do that with the help of his star power while facing tough new scrutiny.

The New York Times offered a glimpse of it this week by citing many of his recent comments. In them, he defended gun rights, opposed abortion, mocked warnings of climate change, said Iraq could become a haven for terrorists and described President John Kennedy, a Democratic icon, as "an astute proponent of tax cuts."


The examination will also include a look at his career in the Senate.

A veteran lobbyist said: "He was viewed as a lazy son of gun who would say at two in the afternoon, 'I'm done.' Can you name one major piece of legislation he authored? I can't."

Another lobbyist said: "I like Fred. But I'm not sure he has the energy to wage a long presidential campaign."

Yet Norman Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank, said he saw Thompson as a thoughtful lawmaker able to reach across party lines.

"He worked plenty and he absorbed plenty," said Ornstein.

Much of his work was as chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee where he battled government fraud and waste and took on abuses in campaign finance.

"He was a 'McCainiac,'" a congressional aide said, likening him to McCain. Thompson bucked his party in backing McCain's landmark bill to reduce the influence of money in politics. "Like McCain, Thompson is a conservative with an independent streak," the aide said.

Thompson grew up in Tennessee and became an attorney. He served as Republican counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee, which investigated the scandal that forced Richard Nixon to resign as president in 1974.

He was later named special counsel to investigate political corruption in Tennessee, a celebrated case turned into a movie with Thompson portraying himself.

He appeared in more than a dozen other movies before being elected to the Senate in 1994. After he left, he played a lead role in the hit TV series, "Law and Order."


  1. barneyrl

    You quote Paul Light who said: “The risk he faces is that people want him so much to be like Ronald Reagan that he can’t possibly live up to the test. He needs to develop a persona that’s distinctly his.”

    A persona that’s distinctly his… Mr. Light has just demonstrated his ignorance with respect to Fred Thompson. The senator has a very consistent persona which he used it in all the roles he played on the big screen and which he used during his tenure as a Senator. The persona is the real Fred Thompson and it’s quite different from Ronald Reagan. Does Mr. Light know who he is talking about?

    Bob Barney
    Wilmore, Kentucky

  2. bryan mcclellan

    We don’t need no stinking persona, We need someone who gives a damn about this countries direction.It’s not a contest of image but of substance,that which none of these hacks project.All I see is suits stuffed with ego and little else.Filling a void in either party has become an exercise in shoveling shit into a hole.There is no one out there people,and we certainly don’t need another bad actor to lead us,as evidenced by the tragic comedy that passes for an administration now.Persona my ass,give us someone who won’t be influenced by the cool-aid and doesn’t talk out of both sides of their mouth.Take away all the perks and golden parachutes and you won’t find any of these bastards climbing over one another’s backs to serve the American people.WAKE UP !!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. JoshuasGrandma

    A closer look at Thompson’s voting record and what he did between Watergate and running for the Senate is needed. The ACLU gives him a ZERO rating, which means he voted 100% of the time against legislation related to the Bill of Rights. So how does one do that and take an oath to uphold the Constitution? Or maybe in his laziness he hadn’t realized that the Bill of Rights was in the Constitution. Also have a look at who he was a lobbyist for in his intervening years – This guy has no coherent integrity and we certainly don’t need another one of those.

  4. ms

    I wonder if the conservatives are going to go for this guy whose wife is some 20-30 yrs younger. What happened to the first wife? Did she become chopped liver all of a sudden? (Maybe there’s a perfectly good explanation.) But if the man had substance, you would think he’d pick an age appropriate spouse. Kids from first wife? From second?

  5. Boots

    When longtime lobbyist and Hollywood actor Fred Thompson — a man who once rented a red pickup truck in order to campaign in Tennessee as a man of the people — indicated this week that he would seek the Republican presidential nomination, we knew how the media would describe him: Authentic. Folksy.

    Let’s back up a moment: Thompson didn’t even drive the rented pickup, as The Washington Monthly reported in 1996:

    Finishing his talk, Thompson shakes a few hands, then walks out with the rest of the crowd to the red pickup truck he made famous during his 1994 Senate campaign. My friend stands talking with her colleagues as the senator is driven away by a blond, all-American staffer. A few minutes later, my friend gets into her car to head home. As she pulls up to the stop sign at the parking lot exit, rolling up to the intersection is Senator Thompson, now behind the wheel of a sweet silver luxury sedan. He gives my friend a slight nod as he drives past. Turning onto the main road, my friend passes the school’s small, side parking area. Lo and behold: There sits the abandoned red pickup, along with the all-American staffer.

    The pickup was, literally, a rented prop designed to help a wealthy actor/Washington lobbyist/trial lawyer play the role of salt-of-the-earth populist.

  6. CheckerboardStrangler

    Of course Fred’s a prop. He’s an actor. Since Americans cannot seem to distinguish between actors and real people he is perfect!
    He can “act like” the President while the power elite continue to run things behind the scenes.
    This is straight out of Robocop.
    When do we get to see the real “ED209”?