Is Fred Thompson another Reagan?

He’s an actor-turned-politician in the mode of Ronald Reagan, someone who is at ease in front of a camera or a crowd, a man who can charm an audience with a folksy tale or a clever turn of phrase.

But is Fred Thompson truly Reaganesque?

Reagan was, after all, the Great Communicator, a leader so skilled at connecting with his subjects that he has become the standard by which all would-be presidents are judged.

Thompson’s admirers, elated over his decision to seek the Republican nomination for president, already are hailing his candidacy as the second coming of Reagan.

The former Tennessee senator, an ex-prosecutor who plays a stern district attorney on the television crime drama “Law & Order,” is expected to officially enter the race sometime next month.

Like Reagan, Thompson believes in smaller government and fiscal conservatism.

But let’s put aside ideology for a minute and focus on the other trait that he shares with the last actor who was elected president — that is, an innate ability to communicate, to tell a story in a way that captures the public’s attention.

Both men come across as strong, authoritative figures on stage and screen. Their speaking voices are fluent and resonant, though vastly different. Reagan’s was smooth, mellow, grandfatherly. Thompson’s is deep, gruff, sometimes gravelly. Both men were blessed with the gift of gab and a flair for spinning a good yarn.

But is Thompson Reagan’s equal as a communicator?

Thompson does have the Reagan touch, said John Geer, a political scientist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.

“Thompson is at ease with the camera,” Geer said. “Certainly, Reagan was at ease with the camera. Second, at least from what I can see so far, Thompson, when he decides to be critical of somebody or question them, he does it in a way that has less of an edge to it than a lot of current politicians, and I think that is also Reaganesque.”

In some ways, though, Thompson seems less like “the Gipper” and more like Sheriff Andy Taylor of the old “Andy Griffith Show,” Geer said.

“He has this kind of disarming quality about him, where he tries to use folksy kinds of metaphors just like Taylor did,” Geer said. “But at the same time, Taylor was the most wily (man) in that entire city. Thompson is very smart as well, so he has this old country-boy kind of routine that I think serves him pretty well.”

Clark Judge, who worked as a speechwriter for Reagan in the White House, also sees a little of Reagan in Thompson.

“Thompson has a very solid, reassuring presence at a podium and before a camera,” Judge said. “He comes across as someone you trust a lot. … Look at him on some of his TV speeches, responses to State of the Union, that sort of thing. He’s very much someone who’s talking to you.”

One of Reagan’s greatest attributes, at least as an orator, was his ability to take written text and give it additional meaning, Judge said.

“For me, it was very, very different listening to Reagan before I started working for him and then listening to him when he was delivering text that I had actually written,” Judge said. “He would find meaning in the text and bring it out through his delivery.”

Judge said he doesn’t know whether Thompson has that talent because he’s never written for him. But, “Thompson is a very effective communicator, which is one reason he has moved up so fast (in the polls),” Judge said.

Others are less impressed by Thompson’s oratory skills.

“He’s no Reagan,” said John Kares Smith, a professor of communications at the State University of New York, an expert in presidential and political communication and a devotee of Thompson’s television show.

“Ronald Reagan had an ability and a real underestimated skill of being able to touch very deep-held American myths and beliefs,” Smith said. “When he would talk about the city on the hill, he really could resonate with our Puritan past. Fred Thompson, I don’t think he has any of those skills at all.”

Thompson “just doesn’t connect the way Reagan did,” Smith said. “Reagan had maybe three ideas, and everybody knew what they were. He knew people. He had a wonderful sense of humor. Fred Thompson is not known for his humor.”

Reagan was also the eternal optimist and, like Franklin D. Roosevelt, used his speeches to raise people’s spirits, said David Johnson, a political consultant in Atlanta who worked on Bob Dole’s presidential campaign in 1988.

“That was Reagan’s whole persona,” Johnson said. “That’s what his greatness was, very much like Jack Kennedy. Thompson, on the other hand, is more a ‘just-the-facts’ type of person. He doesn’t lift to the oratorical lengths that Reagan or Roosevelt did or even Bill Clinton did.”

As evidence, Johnson cited a speech that Thompson gave to a group of Republicans last May. Some complained that the address, Thompson’s first as a prospective presidential candidate, was disappointing.

But whether Thompson can live up to the Reagan legend may be beside the point. He doesn’t have to be a Reagan clone to win the GOP nomination, Judge said.

“The real issue,” Judge said, “is how he compares to the rest of the field.”

10 Responses to "Is Fred Thompson another Reagan?"

  1. nachthund  August 21, 2007 at 3:55 pm

    Please! The only thing that was great about Reagan was that he caused the collapse of the U.S.S.R. by outspending them on military projects with our tax dollars. Where do you think Bush got his ideas for tax cuts to the rich? The trickel down effect did not work with Reagan, and does not work with Bush. Do we really need more of the same? Can we even take a chance? The Nachthund

  2. bryan mcclellan  August 21, 2007 at 5:25 pm

    I can see it now,thompson pulls up to the White house in a cloud of dust behind a twenty mule team perched atop a wagon of republicon bullshit,ready to spoon feed the public more neocon trickle down crap than can be swallowed by Ahabs whale.Reagan clone my eye,orators we’ve had enough of,and dip shit actors have no place in government.He is bought and paid for over and over by lobbyists and corporate hacks.He is a lobbyist for christs sake!We all have read his record here and know he is a shill for any who will grease his palm.Sadly there are people who can’t see past his dumb ass cop show persona to the reality of what another scripted politician will do to our nation as they line up for his autograph.They elected the good ship jellybean borax man,I suppose they will label fred the second coming of ,there you go again,Judge Fred Bean,the Lawyer Poet. God I’m making myself sick…

  3. Helen Rainier  August 22, 2007 at 4:58 am

    Bryan,

    As I read your descriptive scenario, I envisioned the old Boraxo container picture with the 20 mule team pulling the wagon.

    Maybe that cloud of dust is actually wife Jeri sprinkling the Boraxo to clean out the permanently soiled WH.

    I would suggest that before any new “president” moves in that we have the whole place fumigated and steam-cleaned to rid as much of the s*it and stench as possible from the Bushies.

  4. Nogood  August 21, 2007 at 7:35 am

    The second coming of Reagan?? Please have mercy on the American worker. When do you think the decline of labor started? Reagan destroyed labor and with Thompson being hailed as Reagan’s “second coming”, the American worker might as well start looking for a nice plantation.

  5. www.nazilieskill.us  August 21, 2007 at 10:10 am

    Reagan gave people the actor they wanted. He pandered and then let in the crooks. This creep is just the same, only lazier.

    John Hanks, Laramie, Wyoming

  6. Jim C  August 21, 2007 at 12:30 pm

    So thompsons smart ? I can see lucky , but smart , give me an example . He does seem to be following the reagan path though . Look the part , substance doesn’t matter , just be folksey , spin yarns and the public will go gaga . The fact that you’re a venal boob with the IQ of a turnip , no problem , you look presidential . Maybe he’ll trot out the ” trickle down theory ” and pass that 100 plus year old poison as a new idea again . How in the hell ronald reagan has become some kind of folk hero is amazing . That bumbling fool couldn’t speak in public intelligently on anything without 3 by 5 cards and a bevy of handlers . Every time he would wander away from his script the ignorance and inanity would fly , confusing old movie scripts with reality and displaying a total lack of intellect . Thompson , the new reagan , maybe , he seems to fit the empty suit .

  7. Steve Horn  August 21, 2007 at 2:06 pm

    Can he give us another Iran/Contra scandal? Can he find another Oliver North to lie his ass off for him? Can he wrangle a hostage release to sully the reputation of another candidate? If you can respond “yes” to a couple of the above then yes, he can be another Ronnie Ray-Gun … otherwise he’ll just be another overweight white guy running for president …. (with a very attractive wife!)

  8. Helen Rainier  August 22, 2007 at 4:55 am

    Steve,

    Why bother finding another Oliver North when the original is still available?

    Ain’t nothing like the real thing, Baby! ;-)

  9. RSW  August 21, 2007 at 2:10 pm

    We did not need Ronald Reagan. We do not need this clown, either.

    Of course he looks good in front of a camera. That’s what he does for a living. And like Reagan, he’ll do his scripts just fine, too.

    So far, I’ve not seen a reason to get out of bed on election day.

    Oldernwiser

  10. VietnamVet  August 21, 2007 at 8:59 am

    It never ceases to amaze me as to that saint like coverage of Reagan. The man did more to set this nation on a financial ruin course than any other president in this nation’s history. He was/is responsible for the mind boggling increase in the national debt as well as that trickle down philosophy that benefits only the well-to-do. See this link:

    http://www.lafn.org/politics/gvdc/Natl_Debt_Chart.html

    If you look at this site, you can see that it is/has been the Republicans, starting with Reagan, that are responsible for the vast increase in our debt, Bush 1, and now this warmonger of president continued on the same course. If you do not believe this National Debt is affecting our financial well being, consider:

    1. It is, in part, responsible for the loss of value of the US dollar against other world currencies, especially the European Euro; 45+% in only the last five years.

    2. Other nations fleeing from the US dollar as a hedge currency hasten the decline in value.

    3. Potential increase in the price of oil when oil producing countries start pricing oil in Euros, rather than dollars. (A couple have already done so, and others are considering doing so.)

    4. Some holders of our national debt are NOT our friends, China for example, and if they start calling in the debt, it could cause financial ruin for this nation.

    “We owe Japan $714.9 billion; China, $191.1 billion; the United
    Kingdom, $152.5 billion; the Caribbean Banking Center, $76.2 billion;
    Korea, $69.3 billion; OPEC nations, and we wonder by gasoline is so
    high, OPEC nations, we have borrowed as a Nation $66.6 billion from
    them. The list goes on and on. In fact, we have borrowed, this
    administration has borrowed more money from foreign governments and
    foreign banks in less than 5 years than the previous 42 Presidents
    combined…”

    You can see more at:

    http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=725796

    Then, there was Iran-Contra and all the lying that took place there!

    And I could go on, but….

    Reagan was NOT/IS NOT the saint so many, including some Democrats, portray him to be. Given this, any candidate would do well to avoid trying to emulating Reagan!

Comments are closed.