This is an excellent and perceptive read. Mr. Will notes that perhaps the emperor is wearing no clothes. Excerpt:
"Some say he is the Republicans' Rorschach test: They all see in him what they crave. Or he might be the Republicans' dot-com bubble, the result of restless political investors seeking value that the untutored eye might not discern and that might be difficult to quantify but which the investors are sure must be there, somewhere, somehow.Ouch.
"One does not want to be unfair to Thompson, who may have hidden depths. But ask yourself this: If he did not look like a basset hound who had just read a sad story—say, "Old Yeller"—and if he did not talk like central casting's idea of the god Sincerity, would anyone think he ought to be entrusted with the nation's nuclear arsenal?"
The Kosher Hedgehog dissents: Of course, George Will was also one of the strongest critics of the Harriet Miers nomination to the Supreme Court, for which Lowell was an enthusiastic advocate. If I am not mistaken, Lowell, you accused Mr. Will at the time of elitism and snobbery, suggesting that the basis of Will's opposition was that Ms. Miers did not come from the right schools or socialize with the right crowd. You were right then, and I think the Will article you are citing approvingly today has the same whiff of elitism.
Thompson's experience includes having been an assistant U.S. Attorney; the campaign manager in 1972 for the successful re-election campaign of Senator Howard Baker; co-chief counsel to the Senate Watergate committee; counsel in a Tennessee Parole Board case that ended the political career of Democratic Governor Ray Blanton, whose office was found to have sold pardons; and a term in the U.S. Senate. That resume is far more lustrous than that of a small-town Illinois lawyer, undistinguished one-term member of Congress and failed Senate candidate who received the GOP Presidential nomination in 1860, a fellow named Abraham Lincoln. I don't think the likes of George Will would have been much impressed by Lincoln at the time either.
On the other hand, we had another President who in his U.S. Navy career became a qualified command officer for a nuclear submarine, armed with nuclear weapons. He did post-graduate work in nuclear physics and nuclear reactor technology. Why, to use Mr. Will's phrasing, anyone would think that such a person is fit to be entrusted with our nation's nuclear arsenal! That former President's name is Jimmy Carter, and I believe that Mr. Will and Lowell (and I as well) were rather harsh critics of his actual performance in office.
Like Lowell, I am backing Mitt Romney for the GOP nomination. I feel that he is hands down the better candidate. But that does not mean we need to tolerate or join in mud-slinging against his Republican rivals, one of whom we may find ourselves backing in the general election if Governor Romney fails to win nomination. Fred Thompson is a movie and television actor. While that alone does not qualify him to be President, the rest of his life experience does, and, as Ronald Reagan proved, the acting experience doesn't hurt.
The Hedgehog responds: Ralph is right, George Will has annoying elitist tendencies (and history). But I am not adopting an elitist stance towards Fred Thompson; I simply can't explain his appeal to conservatives, other than to attribute it to a visceral wishfulness. I may be proven wrong, but Fred hasn't had time to do that yet. Right now, I am disposed to be an enthusiastic supporter should Fred get the nomination. But I'd rather have Romney as the nominee.