Fred Thompson: Authenticity and Anti-'Gotcha' Politics Looks Good to Many Democrats

Far be it for me to say anything nice about former Republican Tennessee Sen. Fred Dalton Thompson.

First, he was the chairman of the Government Oversight Committee's 1997 campaign-finance abuse hearings aimed at the Clinton White House — and thus made my life miserable when I served as President Clinton's special counsel in charge of "handling" those hearings and being sure the White House and national political media covered them accurately (I almost say "fair and balanced"). Sen. Thompson was very tough on the Clinton campaign's fundraising practices. And I strongly disagreed with him, at the very least, for not applying the same standard to Republican fundraising practices. (At one point, I must admit, I was flattered when Thompson sarcastically interjected a comment during the televised campaign-finance hearings in the summer of 1997 (I am paraphrasing, but this is close), "This testimony is so significant that even Lanny Davis won't call it 'old news.'")

Second, he is a conservative on many issues, and I consider myself a Clintonian liberal — meaning, I guess, liberal on social issues, moderate on cultural issues, and conservative on fiscal policies. So I guess I can say Mr. Thompson is too conservative for my tastes.

Third, I often disagree with the decisions he makes on whether to prosecute or not on my favorite TV program, "Law & Order."

I am running out of negative things to say about Sen. Thompson, so I guess I'll end with the one that is probably the most important: I don't want to say anything nice about him that may hurt his chances to be the Republican presidential nominee, because if the right wing hears that I like him, that could be the end of his candidacy.

So let me just limit my positive comments by saying: He is authentic and powerfully smart and very fair.

I hope he isn't the GOP nominee because he would be very difficult to beat — although my candidate, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), and he, if they were the Democratic and Republican nominees, respectively, would ensure a great and high level of debate on the issues, rather than "gotcha" attacks back and forth that both of them, I am certain, completely reject.

So Sen. Thompson — you can say that I strongly disagree with you because you are too conservative and am supporting Sen. Clinton. But honestly: I think an awful lot of Democrats and independents would share with me their high level of respect for you, as well as their concern that you may be the most difficult Republican to beat in November 2008.