When our nation's leaders need help, we Tennesseans heed the call, which is why we're the Volunteer State. It used to be all about military assistanceour forebears' participation in the War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War are the reason for the nickname. These days, though, it's volunteer support of the political kind. In the dark days of Iran-Contra, President Ronald Reagan called on former Sen. Howard Baker of Tennessee to be his chief of staff. Presidential contender Bill Clinton tapped Sen. Al Gore for a viable runningmate. And now, President Bush has called on former Sen. Fred Thompson to be his consigliere during the Supreme Court nomination process. With at least one current vacancy (Justice Sandra Day O'Connor) and at least two more possible ones (Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justice John Paul Stevens) in the offing, Thompson's new position arguably makes him the most influential lawyer in the country right now. Not bad for a guy whose legal career for the past two years has consisted of playing a make-believe district attorney on a broadcast television crime drama.
It's also a great choice for Bush, who will need all the help he can get. Let's start with the obvious reasons. Thompson left the Senate just three years ago, he's well liked on both sides of the aisle and comes across on TV (where this political war will ultimately be won or lost) with the sort of avuncular goodwill rare among Washington politicians. The man can sell a nominee.
OK, so all those are no-brainers. But here's a theory of why Bush tapped Fred that you may not have heard much about: Sen. John McCain. Recall that, well before the 2000 Republican presidential primary season ever began, Fred Thompson was one of the very few GOP Senate members to back McCain's bid for the White House. The two have historically been very close, and they share similar political philosophies. (Thompson has always been more of a moderate than many Tennessee Republicans seem to realize.) In fact, if Thompson were still in the Senate today, he probably would have been among those Republicans who put a stop to Bill Frist's "nuclear" option back in Maythe ones without whose support Bush simply can't push any of his nominees through. The ones, that is, led by John McCain.
So you see, then, where we're going with this. The filibuster battle royale between Bill Frist and McCain demonstrated to the Bushies that, when it comes to judicial nominations, they won't be getting anywhere without support from the McCain faction. They have no choice but to play ball with McCain, lest they end up fumbling this politically crucial undertaking. What better field general to have than a fellow who has always been chummy with McCain? Works out perfectly.
Oh, one more thing: back in 2000, George W. Bush appointed a guy named Dick Cheney to help him sift through hundreds of possible vice presidential nominees. After all was said and done, Bush just decided to hell with it and picked Cheney himself. Hmmm. You know something? For all the helping out we Tennesseans do for them people in Washington, it's been 40 years since a Tennessean's been appointed to the Supreme Court.
Chief Justice Thompson anyone? Hey, we could do a whole lot worse.
President Bush also appointed former Tennessee Gov. Don Sundquist to chair his commission on Medicaid, creatively called the "Medicaid Commission," which is charged with developing ideas to reform the federal health care program. Why Sundquist, whose oversight of Tennessee's own Medicaid program left a lot to be desired, has gotten this nod is something of a mystery. Perhaps he'll be there to tell everyone what not to do. Or maybe it's just that Bush owed "Sunny" something for his past support and this was what he came up with. Whatever. It's not like these commissions really accomplish anything anyway. Nevertheless, if the Democratic Party can tout Gov. Bredesen as a resident expert on Medicaid, why can't Bush do the same with Uncle Don?
The Rev. Paul Durham Memorial Hall of Fame for Nashvillians Who Enjoy Pretending to Run for Political Office has announced a new inductee. His name is B.C. "Scooter" Clippard, former finance chair for the state Republican Party, who decidedafter months of very public hemming and hawingthat he would not run against Gov. Bredesen next year. This is but the latest such chapter in Clippard's life, which includes at least two non-candidacies for Congress in recent years. Scoot, you've officially turned into a political pumpkin. Don't call us next time until you actually file papers and hit the campaign trail for real.
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