THE PLANK SEPTEMBER 27, 2007
While, as Chait points out, many social conservatives remain unconvinced of Fred Thompson's commitment to their cause, the Southern Baptist's Richard Land continues his tireless cheerleading for Big Daddy.
Even having talked to Land about Fred at some length a few months ago, I still don't understand this particular attraction. It's not as if Fred is the most conservative or the most religious or has the most irreproachable personal history of the GOP contenders.
My best guess is that Fred's appeal for Land is culture based--i.e., he is the only arguably top-tier Southerner in this race. Rich or poor, Southerners tend to be protective of our own, in part because we're sensitive to the fact that much of the rest of the country still looks down their noses at us as a bunch of racist, ass-backward, banjo-pickin' hicks. (Don't deny it: non-Southerners hear a drawl or a nasal twang and immediately assume the speaker is a little on the slow side.) Land grew up in Houston--which ain't exactly Jena, but it also ain't exactly Cambridge. And it's entirely possible that when he went off to college at Princeton, and later to Oxford for his PhD, he may have encountered a bit of anti-Southern snobbery.
Further fueling my suspicions is Land's recent attempts to explain Fred's appeal to CBN News' David Brody:
"Fred Thompson grew up in a very modest means in a small town in America just like Ronald Reagan grew up in very modest means in a small town in Illinois. You acquire not only an understanding of but a respect for everyday folk when you come from the background that you don't get otherwise and people sense it. That this is a guy who respects me, a guy who understands that we are the backbone of this country, we are the salt of the Earth and he not only understands us, he's one of us. He's a successful one of us but he's one of us and they trust a guy like that. They give a guy like that a larger margin of error. Nobody gets everything right but its core values. My assessment is that this guy is a whole much like Reagan including his Teflon quality. The press has been beating up with him for these types of gaffes and he continues to climb in the polls."
Admittedly, Houston hardly qualifies as a small town. But even many big-city Texans tend to identify with the country-music image of themselves as salt-of-the-earth types with old fashioned small-town values. And certainly Land's constituency includes lots of small-town folks.
Then again, maybe there's an even simpler answer: The SBC's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, of which Land is president, is headquartered in Thompson's old stomping grounds of Nashville. Even if Land spends most of his time in the ERLC's DC office, he and Fred probably share old friends and acquaintances from Music City, not to mention fond memories of gorging on fried chicken and biscuits out at the Loveless Cafe.
Granted, this seems like an odd reason to support a man for president--although, come to think of it, not any odder than the fact that many Americans support Fred because they dug him on "Law & Order."