Friday, September 07, 2007


The Politics of Hollywood

Ryan Sager terms Fred Thompson's initial foray into Iowa "unimpressive." Similarly, I wasn't exactly blown away based on what I saw on Jay Leno -- certainly not in comparison to Arnold Schwarzenegger's announcement four years ago that he was jumping into the California recall election.

Yet, ex-DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe admits that he is worried over Thompson's possibilities:
"There's not much there. That's what makes me nervous," said McAuliffe who remembers toiling for Jimmy Carter when he was trounced by Ronald Reagan.

"I'm never underestimating another B-Movie actor."

McAuliffe offered his assessment to ABC News just moments after Thompson entered the fray.

"I am certainly not disrespecting them," Thompson said of his '08 rivals while appearing on Jay Leno's show, "but it's a lot more difficult to get on the 'Tonight Show' than it is to get into a presidential debate."

I am relatively favorably disposed toward Thompson, but there's always something that has bothered me about the Reagan comparison. I couldn't put my finger on it -- until I saw Thompson on Leno.

Check out the Internet Movie Database. Compare the entries on Reagan and Thompson. Reagan may have been a "B-movie" actor, but in more than a few of those B-movies, he was the star. He was the lead character in films such as King's Road, Hellcats of The Navy and, of course, Bedtime For Bonzo.

Thompson, on the other hand, has made a career as a supporting character, never a lead. Yes, his films are considered more A-list than Reagan's -- In The Line of Fire, Die Hard 2, No Way Out, etc. Even in Law & Order, DA Arthur Branch receives just a few minutes of television screen time. He's unable to be a commanding "lead" in the storyline as either the cops investingating the crimes or the ADA actually prosecuting them in court.

His political career has followed the same pattern. It's often said that the reason why more governors become president than senators is that the former has the opportunity to be decisive and make identifiable decisions. Senators, on the other hand, deliberate and have thousands of votes (often seemingly contradictory) that can easily be isolated and make the candidate look like either extreme or indecisive.

There is a cultural sensibility to being a governor that translates into the presidential race -- governors and presidents (and, yes admittedly, mayors) are seen as "lead characters" in politics and governance. Legislators are supporting characters.

And so, Schwarzenegger and Reagan have more in common with each other than Thompson has with either. Both men ended up running for executive positions when they finally jumped into politics (the same office, governor of California). In truth, Schwarzenegger appeared larger than life when he made his announcement on Leno, whereas Thompson -- tall though he is -- looked like another actor flacking his latest project.

Fred Thompson has been a supporting character his entire life -- whether as counsel on the Watergate committee, a senator, a lobbyist and as an actor. Yet, now he is being called upon to launch a campaign to become the biggest "lead" in the political show.

Is that why Thompson didn't come across as the all-conquering hero when he finally hit Iowa on Thursday? Did Iowans turn out expecting a Bruce Willis and instead found a taller version of Charles Grodin?

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