"Madame, bear in mind That princes govern all things--save the wind." -Victor Hugo, The Infanta's Rose

Sunday, September 09, 2007

See Fred. See Fred Run.

I'm annoyed by the recent announcement that Fred Dalton Thompson has officially entered the 2008 presidential race. Many conservatives were positively orgasmic about Thompson, believing him to be the Second Coming of Ronald Reagan, but a lot of them -- particularly the religious right -- are starting to have second thoughts now that he's officially a candidate, so this is a point in his favor for me. Still, even though he seems like an affable sort of guy (at least for a Republican), I disagree with his stance on most of the issues.

But that's not what annoys me. No, I'm pissed that I won't be able to watch any more episodes of my favorite TV show, "Law & Order", in which Thompson appears. Federal campaign law requires broadcasters to give all candidates equal time on the airwaves, a rule which even applies to entertainment programs like L&O. TV stations that run the show would be required to give other GOP candidates a like amount of prime-time exposure, a move which would be prohibitively expensive.

"As a practical matter, they (the television stations) would in all likelihood have to pull all of the Fred Thompson shows for the duration of his candidacy," said Andrew Jay Schwartzman, president of the non-profit telecommunications law firm Media Access Project.

The L&O hiatus would not be without precedent; stations also dropped "Bedtime for Bonzo" and other Ronald Reagan movies during his campaigns for governor and president, and TV stations in California pulled movies starring Ahhhnold when he also ran for governor of the state in 2003.

There is some hope for me; the FCC has -- yet -- never applied the equal-time provision to cable TV channels, where most of the L&O reruns appear. However, several legal experts said cable often abides by voluntary equal-time guidelines in the hopes of avoiding a legal case that would set a precedent, and Thompson's situation could spark just such a case. If TNT continues to hold all-day marathons of episodes featuring Thompson, as it often does now, one of his rivals could seek to apply the equal-time rule to cable as well as over-the-air TV.

The L&O episodes featuring Thompson as tough-talking NYC District Attorney Arthur Branch are some of my favorites of the entire series. He portrays his character as a straight shooter, a no-nonsense kind of guy who says what he means and means what he says. It's an image that I'm certain Thompson would like to present in real life as well, but as with many other cases, reality isn't nearly as glamorous as Hollywood makes it out to be. While his hardscrabble small-town-boy-makes-good story reverberates with the public (not to mention sympathy for the loss of his daughter Betsy in 2002), the "real" Fred Thompson has not accomplished very much in public life. The ex-senator's legislative record reveals little in the way of a compelling legacy, and he is known more for his TV personae than for being a champion of the people.

Nevertheless, his entry into the race has injected a little extra interest and excitement into the 2008 campaign, and I can't wait for someone to post a mash-up video on YouTube of clips from Thompson's L&O scenes rearranged into a faux "press conference" parody of him as president. (You know someone's got to be working on that at this very moment.)

I am further going to be so bold as to predict that Thompson will eventually win the Republican nomination. He will choose Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander as his running mate, and they will face off against Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, with whom she will make up and choose as her running mate. Who will prevail in the end? The crystal ball's still a little foggy there, but a Clinton/Obama ticket would be formidable, and a win-win for the Democrats; I doubt that Obama has the strength or experience to take the nomination away from Hillary at the convention, but VP experience would give him a virtual lock on the White House in 2012 or 2016.

It bothers me to think that some people might vote for Thompson simply on the basis of his TV popularity -- but then, there's the Ronald Reagan factor again. I am equally troubled that millions of people might vote for Barak Obama for no other reason than he's been endorsed by Oprah Winfrey. What does it say about our society when celebrities and entertainers become our leaders? Are we really a nation of sheep? I am not alone in thinking that if Oprah herself ran for president, she would probably win by a landslide.

But what's the alternative? After all, this is a country that has now twice elected a dimwit for president -- so anything is possible. God help us.

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