Tuesday, August 7, 2007

T. Thompson: "Innovator" & "Real Boob"

Eric Kleefeld provides a diagnosis for Tommy Thompson's ailing presidential hopes:

The consensus I found seemed to be that he did in fact have a sharp mind for policy, a genuine love of state government and all its inner workings, and really outstanding leadership qualities. Though on the dark side, he definitely had a certain autocratic notion of his powers as governor versus those of the legislature, not all that far from what we've seen in Bush.

At the same time, the people who saw him as a blockhead were not inaccurate, either. On a personal level, the man has never ceased to embody all the qualities of rural Wisconsin that most people would describe, in some of the more polite terms, as being those of a boorish country bumpkin.

Republicans had wanted him to run for Senate in 1998 and 2004 against Russ Feingold. If he'd run in 1998, I can say without hesitation that he would have won easily, 55%-45% at the very least. If he'd run in 2004 it would have been a tough call, but I'd lean towards a Thompson victory. The key here is that he never actually took the bait. Washington was never the right environment for him, and everybody knew it.

MORE: From Wisco readers at TPM:

As a news volunteer at Madison's community radio station, WORT, I interviewed Tommy Thompson when he was minority leader of the Wisconsin Assembly. I found him articulate, funny and charming, even though I knew even then (circa 1985) that Thompson was an early version of Newt Gingrich. I don't think Thompson is stupid, but I think that, like Mike Gravel, he humors himself by speaking unedited. He thinks this makes him authentic. As governor of Wisconsin, he came across as a clumsy, folksy gadfly, which was part of his political schtick. Something he probably copied from Proxmire, but which Proxmire did with much more actual authenticity.

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As for all the Republican innovative policy clap trap -- that was rolled out by the Heritage, Bradley and Olin foundations. Thompson was smart enough to get out of the way.

The last graph seems like a particularly astute point. The two great accomplishments of Thompson's time as governor were the school choice program in Milwaukee and the revamping of the state's welfare program. Those two hobby horses were ridden to death by think tanks like the Heritage Foundation (who were, and still are, funded by groups like the Bradley Foundation).

Still, think tanks develop policies, they don't implement them. Thompson's "innovation" may have been his ability to examine an idea he saw with potential and then push it through the legislature. That's not an easy thing to do, but that would qualify him more along the lines of sharp political operator, as opposed to a bright policy innovator.

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