Being There

In the latest issue of the Atlantic, Christopher Hitchens has a wonderfully savage review of Philip Roth's new novel, in which he punctuates his summary of what sounds like a dull rehash of better Roth plots by remarking "Am I by any chance boring you?" And then, later, "Are you absolutely sure that I am not boring you?" It isn't the most cutting line in the piece (that one has to do with oral sex of a particularly unpleasant variety, but you'll have to subscribe to read it, I'm afraid), but it's the one that seems most applicable to the candidacy of ol' Fred Thompson, who looks more and more like the political equivalent of a bad Philip Roth novel - that is, a mediocre simulacrum of a far superior product.

For instance, Thompson went on Hannity and Colmes last night, and one of the questions Hannity asked him was this:

When you look at the other current crop of candidates, Republicans, where is the distinction between your positions and what you view as theirs?

Seems like a pretty important question for a candidate - especially one jumping into the race late - to answer. Now sure, a twenty-minute interview on Fox News isn't the time or place for a terribly substantive answer, but you'd think that Thompson would have something to offer - some one-liner, at least, about how "I'm the only candidate who X, or Y, or Z." Not so much:

Well, to tell you the truth, I haven't spent a whole lot of time going into the details of their positions. I will be doing — I mean, publicly. I obviously know where they stand and what they have done and what they've written.

And there will be a time when we will need to have a good debate, if they are interested in debates, and we will do it one-on-one or we will do it in a big group, however they want to do it. And we will get into that.

Right now, I have got a lot of work to do about myself. It is essentially going to boil down between — as far as I'm concerned, between myself and the American people, myself and the people of Iowa, initially, and then the people of New Hampshire and South Carolina and as we go along. And I want to make sure that nobody else, not the commentators and not the press or anybody else, makes these decisions. The American people need to make these decisions as to who they think will be the best president.

If I do what I'm supposed to do, and if I'm in sync with the American people, and I have the priorities that they think should be our nation's priorities, it doesn't matter what any of these other guys say or do, because taking the position is an important thing.

But you also have to ask, where has that person been before? How does that compare with what he is today? And more importantly, where will he be tomorrow when the strong winds blow?

Are you absolutely sure I am not boring you?

Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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