September 29th 2007

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Articles from this issue:

FEDERAL ELECTION 2007: NCC policy initiatives on biofuels and Internet safety

EDITORIAL: Horse flu outbreak: time to face hard facts

CANBERRA OBSERVED: John Howard's risky succession strategy

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Will we learn from our quarantine debacle?

DEFENCE: Emerging nuclear challenges for Australia

NATIONAL SECURITY: Another triumph for the ABC or potential calamity?

EMPLOYMENT: Offshore assets most Australians never see

SCHOOLS: How much should we pay teachers who don't deliver?

LIFE ISSUES: 'Rosita', poster-child for pro-abortion lobby

UNITED STATES: Questions over Republican nomination

OPINION: Disgrace of the West's 'cognitive dissonance'

AS THE WORLD TURNS: libertarianism, lesbian's twins, Chinese toys, anti-Americanism

Kevin Rudd's motherhood statements (letter)

Kevinism or a Ruddism? (letter)

Facility with languages (letter)

Australia needs American help with defence (letter)


BOOKS: FAITH THROUGH REASON, by Janne Haaland Matláry

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Questions over Republican nomination

by Jerome Appleby

News Weekly, September 29, 2007
American actor, lawyer and former Senator, Fred Thompson, has made a late bid for the White House, reports Jerome Appleby.

At six foot five inches, US actor, lawyer, former Senator and presidential candidate Fred Thompson (born Freddie Dalton "Fred" Thompson) strikes an imposing figure.

It is no wonder then that film and television producers turn to him when they are looking for someone to portray a powerful governmental figure.

Thompson of course has played such a part in the popular Law & Order television series - up until recently, that is, when he quit the show in preparation for his presidential bid.

For some months there had been speculation as to when, if at all, Thompson would do so. Even back in March, he was being queried about whether he was leaving his run too late.

Thompson, however, refused to be rushed, preferring to sit back and let concerns about the inadequacies of the leading Republican Party contenders fester.

Late bid

On September 5, however, Thompson chose the set of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno to finally announce his intention to run for president. The announcement coincided with the lacklustre Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire. His late bid prompted one Republican contender Mitt Romney to quip: "Why the hurry?"

Responding on The Tonight Show to suggestions that his late entry was unfair to other candidates who had been campaigning since January, Thompson said that if you can't get your message out in three months, you're probably not going to.

Thompson was born in 1942 in Sheffield, Alabama, but grew up in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee. After completing a double degree in political science and philosophy at Memphis State University in 1964, he studied law at Vanderbilt University.

He returned home to Lawrenceburg and practised law for a private firm for two years, then worked as an assistant US attorney for three years.

During that time he became involved in politics, working in 1972 as campaign manager for Republican US Senator Howard Baker's successful re-election. Baker later appointed Thompson minority counsel for the Senate Watergate Committee, for which Thompson became known for having Baker ask of Richard Nixon: "What did the President know, and when did he know it?"

Thompson was elected to the US Senate twice, serving as Tennessee Senator from 1994 to 2003. In this time he served on various committees, including the finance committee and intelligence committee.

It is believed that his daughter's death in 2002, from a drug overdose, contributed to his decision not to seek re-election beyond his second term.

The movie Marie (1985) marked the beginning of Thompson's acting career. Thompson was the real-life lawyer for Marie Ragghianti, then head of the Tennessee Board of Pardons and Paroles, who refused to be a part of corruption. The director offered Thompson the role of playing himself after interviewing him as part of research for the movie.

Other movies in which Thompson has starred - in which he usually plays some powerful governmental figure - include In the Line of Fire and Hunt for Red October.

Thompson is a self-described pro-lifer; his voting record suggests so, too. During his time in the Senate, he voted in favour of every law restricting abortion.

However, in a questionnaire he completed in 1994 for his Senate campaign, he reportedly ticked a box stating that he believed abortion should be legal under any circumstances during the first three months of pregnancy. When queried about this in an interview, he responded: "I don't remember that box. You know, it was a long time ago, and I don't know if I filled it out or my staff - based on what they thought my position was."

Of even more concern for Thompson's White House ambitions are reports that he lobbied the administration of President George H.W Bush - on behalf of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association (NFPRHA) - to ease a restriction preventing clinics that received federal funding from giving abortion counselling.

Although a spokesman on behalf of Thompson has said he "has no recollection" of doing such lobbying work", the former president of the NFPRHA, Judith DeSarno, has said that she recalls discussing Thompson's lobbying work over telephone calls and in Washington restaurants.

In regards to gay rights, Thompson has stated that "marriage is between a man and a woman, and I don't believe judges ought to come along and change that". However, in regards to civil unions for gays, Thompson says that while he personally does not think they are a good idea, nevertheless, it is an issue he believes should be left to the states to determine.

Given his past acting, it is no surprise that comparisons between him and Ronald Reagan are being made. It remains to be seen whether he will be the man who can reinvigorate the Republican Party.

- Jerome Appleby

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