In 1952, Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson's aide George Ball, furious at the clever way the Republicans were packaging Dwight Eisenhower on television, declared that someday "presidential campaigns would have professional actors as candidates."
It was one of the truest predictions a disgruntled staffer of a losing candidate ever made.
The news that thespian Fred Thompson is finally in the race--and announced his candidacy on that hoariest of venues, "The Tonight Show"--sent my heart a-fluttering for the grand old days of Ronald Reagan's first presidential run in 1980. Today's Times discusses Thompson's desire to "don Reagan's mantle," but I'm not sure the erstwhile character actor is even fit to tie the Gipper's sandals, candidate-wise.
In 1980, Reagan--sixty-nine years old and grinning from ear to ear--hit America like a breath of, er, air freshener, blowing away the stale odor of the intrepid but grim Carter presidency with a cheery aerosol hiss. Carter measured his words, even down to the "lust in his heart," while Reagan was prone to astonishing statements. He said "the finest oil geologists" had told him America had more oil than Saudi Arabia. He claimed the eruption of Mt. Saint Helens released more sulfur dioxide into the air "than has been released in the last ten years of automobile driving." In the New Hampshire primary, reporters overheard him telling a joke that began: "How do you tell who the Polish fellow is at a cockfight? He's the one with the duck!" When reports of this were published, Reagan claimed that he was merely providing an example of the kind of jokes that candidates shouldn't tell.
It is doubtful that Thompson, whose main facial expression is that of a man trying to stifle a pressing bowel movement, can provide us with this level of entertainment. We can only hope.
It definitely worked for Reagan, who cleaned Carter's clock for him, taking the popular vote by almost nine million and winning the electoral tallies in all but five states. Of course, it didn't help matters any that Jimmy Carter had a tendency to cite his thirteen-year-old daughter on matters of national importance ("I had a discussion with my daughter Amy the other day...to ask her what the most important issue was. She said nuclear weaponry.")
Yep, as Ronnie would say, there he went again....