Common Dreams commentary:
Of course you didn't watch the first Republican presidential debate on MSNBC. Even the party's most loyal base didn't abandon Fox News, where Bill O'Reilly, interviewing the already overexposed George Tenet, drew far more viewers. Yet the few telling video scraps that entered the 24/7 mediasphere did turn the event into an instant "Saturday Night Live" parody without "SNL" having to lift a finger. The row of 10 middle-aged white candidates, David Letterman said, looked like "guys waiting to tee off at a restricted country club."
Since then, panicked Republicans have been either blaming the "Let's Make a Deal" debate format or praying for salvation-by-celebrity in the form of another middle-aged white guy who might enter the race, Fred Thompson. They don't seem to get that there is not another major brand in the country -- not Wal-Mart, not G.E., not even Denny's nowadays -- that would try to sell a mass product with such a demographically homogeneous sales force. And that's only half the problem. The other half is that the Republicans don't have a product to sell. Aside from tax cuts and a wall on the Mexican border, the only issue that energized the presidential contenders was Ronald Reagan. The debate's most animated moments by far came as they clamored to lip-sync his "optimism," his "morning in America," his "shining city on the hill" and even, in a bizarre John McCain moment out of a Chucky movie, his grin.
The candidates mentioned Reagan's name 19 times, the current White House occupant's once. Much as the Republicans hope that the Gipper can still be a panacea for all their political ills, so they want to believe that if only President Bush would just go away and take his rock-bottom approval rating and equally unpopular war with him, all of their problems would be solved. But it could be argued that the Iraq fiasco, disastrous to American interests as it is, actually masks the magnitude of the destruction this presidency has visited both on the country in general and the G.O.P. in particular.
This is the only thing that Fred Thompson really has going for him, and it explains the sudden support he gained. Reagan had the greatest political charisma since FDR, and he could deliver a speech with the best of them. Of course the elegantly-tailored suit was ultimately an empty suit, but conservatives have always given a lot more credence to image than reality which is why they so often elect has-been actors and washed-up athletes. I actually saw a commentary praising Thompson which credited him with always playing "manly" roles, as if they made him a manly man...
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