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Commentary: Anyone But Them

By Chris Tucker, KERA 90.1 Commentator

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/kera/local-kera-601803.mp3

Dallas, TX –

Every so often the voting public goes through a spasm of near-revolt against the talent being offered up for the presidency. The mood can be expressed this way: Anyone But Them, or ABT. ABT candidates may exhibit a whole range of abilities and intriguing wrinkles, but their main qualification is their Anyone-But-Themness: They are not the well-known front runners, so we love them, at least for a while. Right now, the sweetheart of the Anyone But Them crowd is former Senator Fred Thompson, but the grass has long been greener on the other side of American politics.

The longing for Anyone But Them gave us the Gary Hart bubble of the mid-1980's when Walter Mondale, the anointed Democratic front-runner, was front-running his way to eventual destruction by Ronald Reagan. Hart was the fresh face du jour who became the candidate of "new ideas" largely by saying "new ideas" a lot.

The best ABT candidates are almost blank slates, or Rorschach ink blots onto which discontented voters can project just about any scenario of wonderfulness they desire. The blankest slate of them all, of course, was billionaire Texan Ross Perot, whose erratic crusade in 1992 helped defeat George H. W. Bush and bring Bill Clinton to Washington.

Perot was an ABT dreamboat. Because he had never served a day in public office, there was no telling what he might do. Because he had zillions of bucks, he could be seen as a radically independent voice not beholden to any special interests. Even after dropping out and re-entering the race, he still finished with an amazing 19% of the vote because millions of ABT voters stayed with him to the bitter end. The Anyone But Them phenomenon reflects something positive about the country - our undying hope that there is a leader out there who is unspoiled, unbought - someone who, as Jimmy Carter once said, is "as good, honest and decent as the American people."

On the flip side, though, it also reflects our naive reluctance to face the reality of a system that makes it almost impossible for any truly independent candidate to run the campaign gauntlet without endless compromises.

This political season, we've already heard ABT longings for former vice president Al Gore, and we've seen a good ABT bubble for Senator Barack Obama. He's fresh, he's smart, he's got an exotic background, he hasn't been in the Senate long enough to be saddled with much baggage--what's not to like?

Already, though, another ABT candidate is clearing his throat in the wings: Fred Thompson, the actor-turned-Senator-turned actor again who brings his burly gravitas to TV's Law & Order. With the ABT wind beneath his wings, Thompson raised millions of dollars in just days after creating an exploratory committee. One national poll already puts him at 21 percent, and a recent straw poll of Dallas County Republican precinct chairs gave him a lofty 48%, compared to 15% for actual candidates Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney. And, though he's a craggy 64 years old, Thompson's use of YouTube video to attack filmmaker Michael Moore shows he's pretty savvy about new media.

It looks like Thompson may jump in the race around July 4, but don't worry. There's still plenty of time for other Anyone But Them ink blots to enter the race.

Chris Tucker is a writer and literary consultant from Dallas.

If you have opinions or rebuttals about this commentary, call (214) 740-9338 or email us.