By DICK POLMAN
It’s hard to believe that Fred Thompson once was ballyhooed as the ’08 savior who would galvanize the GOP’s Christian conservatives. Those summer days seem like eons ago, because every time this guy opines on an issue near and dear to the religious right, he probably loses another congregation.
A week ago, for instance, Thompson declared that the GOP Congress had no business intruding in the Terri Schiavo case back in 2005 — a stance that is deemed anathema by social and religious conservatives, who believe that President Bush and the reigning Republicans were correct when they endeavored to dictate their view of morality to a grieving Florida family.
Thompson also has refused to endorse an amendment to the Constitution that would ban gay marriage — another staple of the religious right’s agenda — because he happens to believe (it sounds so quaint) that true conservatism requires respect for state’s rights. That’s the doctrine of federalism. As Thompson explained Sunday on “Meet the Press,” during his first appearance on the show as a presidential candidate: “At the end of the day, if a state legislator and a governor decide that (gay marriage) is what they want to do, yes, they should have the freedom to do what Fred Thompson thinks is a very bad idea.”
But perhaps the clincher was his lengthy explanation about why he opposes the official Republican position on abortion.
For more than a generation, the GOP platform has articulated support for an amendment to the Constitution, known as a Human Life Amendment, that would impose a blanket ban on the practice; as the plank puts it: “We say the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed.” But when Tim Russert asked whether Thompson was on board, the candidate twice replied: “No.”
It’s that darn federalism doctrine again. Here’s Fred: “I think people ought to be free at state and local levels to make decisions that even Fred Thompson disagrees with. That’s what freedom is all about. And I think the diversity we have among the states, the system of federalism we have where power is divided between the state and the federal government, serves us very, very well.”
Well, that kind of answer just won’t do, because the party’s social and religious conservatives don’t endorse that concept of freedom. They believe in Conservatism 2.0, the updated model, whereby the federal government in Washington shall be free to dictate what people at the local level can or cannot do in their private lives. They’re fans of top-down morality, whereas Thompson was talking about bottom-up morality — allowing the locals to decide on the definitions of right and wrong.
In fact, from the perspective of the average religious conservative, the longer Thompson talked, the more blasphemous he sounded. He’s not even wild about the idea of the states enacting restrictions on abortion — not even to ban the practice for minors:
“People ask me hypothetically, you know, ‘OK, it goes back to the states. Somebody comes up with a bill, and they say we’re going to outlaw this, that or the other.’ And my response was, I do not think it is a wise thing to criminalize young girls and perhaps their parents as aiders and abettors, or perhaps their family physician. And that’s what you’re talking about. ... You can’t have a law that cuts off an age group or something like that, which potentially would take young, young girls in extreme situations and say, basically, ‘We’re going to put them in jail to do that.’ I just don’t think that that’s the right thing to do. It cannot change the way I feel about it morally, but legally and practically, I’ve got to recognize that fact. It is a dilemma that I’m not totally comfortable with, but that’s the best I can do in resolving it in my own mind.”
X Dick Polman is a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.