Soporific (so-po-rif-ik): causing or tending to induce sleep.

In just a few days former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson will appear before a multimedia cluster of reporters to announce his entrance into the Republican presidential race. For many, he is most familiar as the actor who plays a New York prosecutor on TV’s “Law and Order.” Others will remember him as a lawyer who helped Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee pursue Richard Nixon during the Watergate hearings. And still others will recall Thompson’s single term (by his choice) in the U.S. Senate from 1994 to 2002 as a moderate conservative on such issues as states rights and fiscal policies.

There are those such as Reid Wilson, an often quoted pollster and an editor for RealClearPolitics, who thinks Thompson’s window of opportunity has already slammed shut. Although he has yet to enter the fray, Thompson’s “campaign” has been punctuated by staff turnovers, failure to raise sufficient campaign contributions, and the suspicion by some that his conservative credentials are open to question. As Wilson puts it, “Every day he remains out of the race is another day of organizing and winning support lost.”

Then there is John Dickerson, chief political correspondent for the online magazine Slate, who depicts Thompson as a good ‘ole boy in the character he portrays in “Law and Order.” Just like prosecutor Arthur Branch, “Thompson rolls in, gives a little guidance, solves the problem, and everyone’s home in time for dinner.” Which is another way of asking, what has Fred Thompson done to qualify him to be president?

Yet Thompson talks a mean game. Over breakfast recently with The Washington Post’s David Broder, Thompson promised to take risks that the other candidates haven’t – particularly the issue of our military involvement in Iraq and who is going to pay all those bills in the future. Thompson is said to sense nationwide disillusionment over how Democrats and Republicans alike have mutilated many of the major issues they have attempted to handle. His disenchantment is confirmed by the fact that he left the Senate after only one term.

But Thompson’s single term is interpreted differently by John Dickerson in his Slate article. Thompson was perceived as someone who didn’t have the heart for a second political try and who wasn’t known for burning the midnight oil in the Senate. Dickerson minces no words in calling Thompson “lazy” by relying on one-liners and the Internet. Voters, notes Dickerson, want to be sure their president is up at night worrying about terrorist threats so they don’t have to.

When Thompson enters the fight, probably early next month, he will be expected to open with, as they say in Las Vegas, a show stopping extravaganza, and to compete with the performance abilities of a Barack Obama or a Mitt Romney. Add to this Thompson’s controversial positions on such issues as gun control (“Allowing Virginia Tech students to carry concealed weapons could have limited the massacre”); war and peace (“I would do essentially what the president is doing in Iraq”); and abortion (“Roe v. Wade was bad law and bad science”); and you have Thompson entering dead center on the issues.

Of course many of Thompson’s faithful say his strategy is the neatest thing since the invention of the forward pass. His Republican cohorts have dipped deep into their finances just to get as far as Iowa. Mitt Romney is said to have spent two million dollars to win a straw poll in the Hawkeye State, yet recent polls show that one out of six Iowa Republicans has yet to decide how they will cast their ballot.

Unofficially, Thompson has been running for president for several months. There are many who think he ought not be raising campaign funds until he officially announces. Yet even without an official declaration of his candidacy, Thompson has drifted in and out of third place among the GOP front-runners. Apparently being languid is not always a negative. In response to Dwight Eisenhower’s love of golf, Tennessee governor Frank Clement coined the lasting image of Ike “gazing down the green fairways of indifference.” Eisenhower’s opponent in two elections, Adlai Stevenson, referred to the commander-in-chief as “lazy” and a “do nothing” president.

Writing in The Atlantic, political analyst William Schneider has characterized Fred Thompson’s appeal as “The Papa Bear Factor.” Six feet, six inches tall and with a “tremendous voice and presence,” Thompson is said to have many of Ronald Reagan’s qualities. Thompson is famous for his TV role, less so for his one term in the senate. And at a time when Americans are concerned about physical security, Schneider notes, Thompson is the ultimate Papa Bear.

Ronald Reagan was embraced for his anti-Washington stance. In this regard, Thompson specializes in criticism of the Inside-the-Beltway crowd. Example: “I think the biggest problem we have today is the disconnect between Washington D.C. and the people of the United States.”

So far, Fred Thompson has been given a pass on his lack of detail and his “message.” As long as he is simply testing the waters, as he puts it, he is under no obligation to declare specifically what he would do if elected president. The time is near when Thompson will shift roles from non-candidate to candidate, and at that moment Americans will have an absolute right to know where Fred Thompson stands.

– Chase.Hamil

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