Thompsonbillpuglianogetty

I haven't changed my mind on the essential vacuousness of Fred Thompson's candidacy. But watching the debate last night and judging it purely as style, I can see his appeal. Others have written of his solemn demeanor. For me, what stood out was that he seemed the only candidate who held something back, who wasn't obviously aiming to pander or please, who has a sense of self that isn't purely that of a candidate. (That's partly what I like about Obama as well: he hasn't become a total politician yet.) You get the sense that Thompson may actually have a view that is his own and not filtered through various polling mechanisms. When you compare him to the oleaginous Brownback, whose witlessness only propelled him to try about seven times to make an actual joke about his mother, he seems refreshingly sane and calm. He's also the only one who talks about the structural debt with any hint that he could win a bipartisan deal to head it off.

I guess I felt that if a crisis emerged in the four years after January 2009, Thompson would have a decent chance of appealing to the whole country and not losing half of them. Giuliani seems to want to piss off half the country; Romney's fathomless fakeness - it's irreparable now, I'd say - seems to be provoking something close to revulsion among my Democratic friends; McCain was off-form. The rest seem quite nutty to me. Ron Paul's refreshing perspective endures, but he veers rather quickly all the time into a somewhat cranky and near-hysterical vocal pitch. And that gold standard thing: c'mon. As the primary point of your candidacy? Give it a rest. Although, of course, a great deal of his appeal is that he won't.

(Photo: Bill Pugliano/Getty.)

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