A man walking along the edge of a cliff slips and plummets toward jagged rocks and crashing surf, barely saving himself by clinging to the cliff's face. But the cliff is too steep to climb, so he shouts, "Is anyone up there?" A voice fills the sky -- God's voice -- saying: "Have faith and pray. If you have sufficient faith and pray well, you can let go and land gently, unhurt, amid the rocks and surf." The man ponders this promise, then shouts: "Is there anyone else up there?"
This is the "Anyone else up there?" phase of the campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, which explains the political flavor du jour, Fred Thompson, the former senator from Tennessee. Conservatives are dissatisfied with the array of candidates. Of course, people usually want what they do not see, a candidate who is a combination of John Kennedy, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln -- handsome, energetic and wise.
Handsome? Thompson, whose eight-year career in electoral politics, all in the Senate, ended more than four years ago, perhaps looks presidential, meaning grave. Energetic? He is said to be less than a martyr to the work ethic, but is this a criticism ? Granted, Alexander Hamilton famously said that "energy in the executive" is a prerequisite for good government. But what kind of energy?
One litmus test of conservatism is: Who would you have supported for president in 1912? The candidates were a former president, Theodore "I don't think that any harm comes from the concentration of powers in one man's hands" Roosevelt; the incumbent president, William Howard Taft, and the next president, Woodrow Wilson. Conservatism warns against overreaching, hence rejects the energetic Wilson, would-be fixer-upper of the whole wide world. And conservatism teaches distrust of hyperkinetic government, the engine of which is the modern presidency, of which TR was the pioneer. So: Steady, prudent Taft.
Thompson has never had to show consuming energy as a candidate, never having been in a closely contested race. He won his two elections with 60 percent of the Tennessee vote in 1994 (for the remaining two years of Al Gore's Senate term) and 61 percent in 1996. He did not seek re-election in 2002 -- not a painful sacrifice for a man who disliked the Senate: ``I'm not 30 years old. I don't want to spend the rest of my life up here. I don't like spending 14- and 16-hour days voting on 'sense of the Senate' resolutions on irrelevant matters."
Does Thompson have enough energy to raise the money he will need to be competitive -- say, $50 million by the end of November? He would need to raise $1.5 million a week, starting immediately.