Fred “Tonka” Thompson

May 8, 2007

red toy pickup truck
We don’t know yet who the presidential nominees for either party will be next year. But one thing we do know. Whoever the Democratic nominee is, the press will inform us endlessly that he is a phony, a poseur, inauthentic; desperately trying and failing to look tough, or desperately trying and failing to look like a regular guy. Because that is how the press has portrayed every Democratic presidential candiate for the previous thirty-odd years, with the exception of Jimmy Carter, who was treated more kindly in his first, though not in his second, run. (Not coincidentally, that year Jimmy was the most conservative candidate in the Democratic field.)

Meanwhile, the Republican will probably be presented as a straightforward, simple-hearted man of the people. Because that is how nearly every GOP nominee has been presented . This rule had two exceptions, who were coincidentally the only ones from the centrist wing of their party: George Bush senior and Bob Dole. No moderates are applying for the job this go-round, though. So the standard media thumbnail narrative will apply: Do you want a phony baloney elitist Dem, or a forthright folksy GOPer?

Former Senator and former boob tube pretend D.A. Fred Thompson made rather less splash than expected on his fledgling introduction to the party faithful. He came across jowly and dull, and inept at throwing red meat into the conservative cage. But none of the other hopefuls are striking flint with Republican heartfire either, so Fred may well end up with the nod anyway. In case he does, it behooves us all to remember his red truck. Kevin Drum reminds us all about it:

The truck in question is a 1990 Chevy, which the famed statesman-thespian rented during his maiden Senate campaign in 1994. The idea was that Thompson would dress up in blue jeans and shabby boots and drive himself to campaign events around the state…

When Thompson ran for re-election two years later, says Michelle Cottle, Drum’s cohort at Washington Monthly

Seated in the audience is a childhood friend of mine….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.

But it’s okay. He’ll be a regular feller with no fancy airs, so long as Maureen Dowd doesn’t describe any of the browns in his shirts, pants, or boots as “earth tones”.


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