Friday, December 14, 2007

Fred Thompson: Bigger Than Life

This article in CBS News Shows why Fred Thompson is larger than life
  • Fred Thompson: Bigger Than Life

  • Washington Post: Candidate Was A Formidable Presence Who Could Win A Lot Of Battles Just By Showing Up

  • Dec. 12, 2007

  • Fred Thompson
  • Fred Thompson fits an archetype: the solid guy. He isn't charismatic in a traditional sense. He has no flash, no dazzle. His charisma is physical: He fills up a room. (AP)

  • ( This story was written by Joel Achenbach as part of a Washington Post series of profiles of the leading presidential candidates.

  • Freddie Thompson hit full height in the 10th grade, some 6 feet, 5 3/4 inches. His buddies called him "Stick." He was a nice-looking kid, played football and basketball, chased girls, horsed around in class, rarely cracked a book.
  • "Basically, just a carefree, underachieving kid," he says today. "Pretty good kid. Never gotten in trouble or anything like that. But didn't care much about my studies." Years ago, he put it a different way in an interview with The Washington Post: "I was interested in two things -- and sports was one of them."
  • He must have had something going for him, because he caught the eye of Sarah Lindsey. Freddie was smitten. She was a year older, a pretty brunette, smart, bookish and on her way to becoming salutatorian at Lawrenceburg High School in Lawrenceburg, Tenn. She planned to study English at Vanderbilt University. The Lindseys were pillars of the community, a clan that peopled the important jobs such as mayor and lawyer and county administrator. They owned a business manufacturing church pews.
  • The Thompsons were a rung down on the social ladder. Freddie's parents, Fletcher and Ruth, had grown up on farms during the Depression, and neither had made it beyond the eighth grade. They lived at the edge of town in a one-story house on a hillside that plunged to a creek. Fletcher sold cars for a living, on Route 43, and did it well, selling to the same folks again and again, eventually opening his own used-car lot. Freddie admired his father's manner, how he could be at ease with anybody, whether it was a guy who didn't have two nickels to rub together or the governor passing through town on a campaign stop. Fletcher Thompson was a serious man, but always good for a joke. "He saw the humor and the tragedy of life," Thompson says.
A few more snippets;
  • There are presidential candidates who are congenitally ambitious, having started campaigning for votes shortly after leaving the womb. There are other candidates for whom being presidential timber is a birthright, something inherited, along with a famous name and a jaw line and maybe a beachfront compound.
Wonder who that's talking about?
  • Then there's someone like Thompson -- a reluctant candidate, not terribly interested in stumping, slow to enter the race and so laid-back that he declines to take a wide-open shot at an opponent during a televised debate.
  • Thompson fit an archetype: the solid guy. He isn't charismatic in a traditional sense. He has no flash, no dazzle. His charisma is physical: He fills up a room.
  • Thompson started the first Young Republicans chapter in Lawrence County just as the South was switching from Democratic to Republican. He rode the wave.
  • A job opened in Nashville for an assistant U.S. attorney; thanks to his Republican connections he was transformed again, into a federal prosecutor, nailing moonshiners and bank robbers. He won every bank-robbery case but one (a bad guy whose name he can tell you instantly to this day).
  • When Howard Baker, a Republican senator from Tennessee, ran for reelection, he asked Thompson to help manage his campaign. The two spent many hours on the stump, and Baker came to trust the young lawyer. After Baker's victory, he approached Thompson with an idea. The Senate, he said, was forming a committee to look into this Watergate business. He needed someone to be the minority counsel on the committee. "I wanted somebody I trusted rather than a legal luminary," Baker explains.
  • Thompson leaped, as always.
  • His three kids were in grade school; they stayed with Sarah in Nashville. Thompson flew away, and into a maelstrom...
  • ...In Armstrong's view, Thompson and Baker were working with the White House to shape its defense -- "trying to put the fix in for Nixon."
  • Thompson calls that "absurd" and says his contacts with Nixon's aides were appropriate, a view shared today by several Democratic staffers who recall Thompson fondly. "The White House trusted nobody. I don't think they even trusted Fred or Senator Baker," says Rufus Edmisten, a Democratic staffer. Terry Lenzner, another Democratic staffer, grew to recognize Thompson as "a solid guy and a good thinker" and says: "By the end of the investigation I had complete trust in him."
  • Thompson would eventually write a book about Watergate, "At That Point in Time," in which he acknowledged his reluctance to face Nixon's culpability in Watergate: He wrote that he was subconsciously looking for "a reason to believe that Richard M. Nixon, President of the United States, was not a crook."
  • After Nixon resigned in 1974, Thompson moved back to Nashville and started a lucrative private law practice. In 1977, he was hired by Marie Ragghianti, who had been fired after blowing the whistle on corruption in the Tennessee parole system, to represent her in a lawsuit against Gov. Ray Blanton. She recalls Thompson's effect on her antagonists: "When I walked in with Fred, they were visibly intimidated. I never felt so secure in my life."
  • The article goes on to talk about Fred's movie career.
  • His younger brother, Ken, says that after Fred became famous, "it was a little bit like walking around with Elvis."
  • Thompson insists he's not aware of how he fills up a room, all that alpha-male stuff that people always mention. "I'm not cognizant of it to this day," he says. Asked to describe himself, he says, "I have an inner peace, and an inner confidence."
  • After he announced his bid for the presidency, Fred Thompson returned to Lawrenceburg. About 10,000 people thronged the village square to see the local boy in a suit and tie, thinner than he used to be, talking without notes and pacing the full length of the makeshift stage.
Read the full article here.

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