By MAUREEN DOWD
Dying for a daddy, the Republicans turn their hungry eyes to Fred.
Fred Thompson acts tough on screen. And like Ronald Reagan, he has a distinctively masculine timbre and an extremely involved wife.
In his announcement video, Mr. Thompson stood in front of a desk in what looked like, duh, a law office, rumbling reassuringly that in this “dangerous time” he would deal with “the safety and security of the American people.”
As Michelle Cottle wrote in The New Republic, far more than puffy-coiffed Mitt and even more than tough guys Rudy and McCain, the burly, 6-foot-5, 65-year-old Mr. Thompson exudes “old-school masculinity.”
“In Thompson’s presence (live or on-screen),” she wrote, “one is viscerally, intimately reassured that he can handle any crisis that arises, be it a renegade Russian sub or a botched rape case.” But she wondered, was he really “enough of a man for this fight,” or just someone who meandered through life, creating the illusion of a masculine mystique?
Newsweek reported that some close to the Tennessean “question whether moving into the White House is truly Thompson’s life ambition — or more the dream of his second wife, Jeri, a former G.O.P. operative who is his unofficial campaign manager and top adviser.”
It took only two days of campaigning to answer the masculine mystique question. Fred gave an interview to CNN’s John King as his bus rolled through Iowa.
“To what degree should the American people hold the president of the United States responsible for the fact that bin Laden is still at large six years later?” Mr. King asked.
“I think bin Laden is more of a symbolism than he is anything else,” Mr. Thompson drawled. “Bin Laden being in the mountains of Afghanistan or — or Pakistan is not as important as the fact that there’s probably Al Qaeda operatives inside the United States of America.”
Usually, you can only get that kind of exquisitely inane logic from the president. Who does Fred think is sending operatives or inspiring them to come?
Fred is not Ronnie; he’s warmed-over W. President Reagan always knew who the foe was.
Fred followed W.’s nutty lead of marginalizing Osama on a day when TV showed another creepy, fruitcake manifesto by the terrorist, who was wearing what seemed to be a fake beard left over from Woody Allen’s “Bananas” and bloviating on everything from the subprime mortgage crisis to the “woes” of global warming to a Kennedy assassination conspiracy theory to the wisdom of Noam Chomsky to the unwisdom of Richard Perle to the heartwarming news that Muslims have lived with Jews and not “incinerated them” to the need to “continue to escalate the killing and fighting” against American kids in Iraq.
Can we please get someone in charge who will stop whining that Osama is hiding in “harsh terrain,” hunt him down and blast him forward to the Stone Age?
Fred must have missed the news of the administration’s intelligence estimate in July deeming Al Qaeda rejuvenated and “a persistent and evolving terrorist threat” to Americans.
Pressed by Mr. King on the fact that the Bush hawks went after Saddam instead of Osama, Fred continued to sputter: “You — you’re — you’re not served up these issues one at a time. They — they come when they come, and you have to — you have to deal with them.”
Democrats pounced. John Edwards issued a statement saying, “That bin Laden is still at large is Bush’s starkest failure.” John McCain and Rudy Giuliani also stressed the need to take out Osama.
Fred quickly caved on the matter of men in caves. At a rally later in the day he manned up. “Apparently Osama bin Laden has crawled out of his cave long enough to send another video and he is getting a lot of attention,” he said, “and ought to be caught and killed.”
He continued to insist that killing bin Laden would not end the terrorist threat, without realizing that this is true now because, by not catching bin Laden, W. allowed him to explode into an inspirational force for jihadists.
Republicans are especially eager for a papa after their disappointing experiences with Junior. After going through so many shattering disasters, W. seems more the inexperienced kid than ever.
In Australia, the president called Australian soldiers in Iraq “Austrian troops,” and got into a weird to-and-fro on TV with the South Korean president.
W. cooperated with Ropert Draper, the author of a new biography of him, yet the portrait was not flattering. Like a frat president sitting around with the brothers trying to figure out whether to party with Tri-Delts or Thetas, W. asked his advisers for a show of hands last year to see if Rummy should stay on. And W. is obsessed with getting the Secret Service to arrange his biking trails.
“What kind of male,” one of his advisers wondered aloud, “obsesses over his bike riding time, other than Lance Armstrong or a 12-year-old boy?”