Alan Greenblatt is a GOVERNING correspondent.E-mail: email@example.com
Tommy Thompson was one of the great governors of recent years and no doubt possessed the ability to have done great things as a Cabinet member in most administrations (e.g., those that let their Cabinet members have something to do with setting policy). In other words, there's a case to be made that he should be taken seriously as a presidential hopeful, but of course he's not.
But he's not helping that case, due to foot-in-mouth disease. You may have caught the news a few weeks ago that he said making money is "part of the Jewish tradition" (to a Jewish audience, no less). The other day, Thompson said that private employers should be able to fire gays.
He blames his latest gaffe on illness and a bum hearing aid. Oh -- and he had to go to the bathroom. Pretty lame.
It's right and proper for gaffes like these to get attention and undoubtedly sink what limited hope Thompson had in succeeding in this race. Running for president is in large part a great big long audition for not just leader but lead spokesman of the free world. Thompson is clearly not cutting it.
But it's too bad these blunders are the only thing he can get coverage for. Second-tier candidates should be able to bring forward ideas that at least force the anointed front-runners to address them. Thompson's success in pushing welfare reform has meant that welfare is a subject that no longer resonates. But he's pushed big ideas about health care funding, for example, that are in fact worth talking about, along with his total lack of stump-speech diplomacy.
Update: Ross Douthat is harsher: "In an era without television, Tommy Thompson might have been a fine presidential candidate and as effective a chief executive as he was a governor in Wisconsin. But in a world in which a national politician's effectiveness -- his ability to rally support for his agenda, in particular -- depends on his ability to communicate through mass media, a Thompson presidency would be an epic disaster."
Written and compiled by staff writers and editors, GOVERNING View is an on-the-ground, and sometimes behind-the-scenes, look at the topics we're covering in print and online. From notes on what's up in statehouses, county courthouses and city halls, to encounters with people, places and things, GOVERNING View is a window into the side of state and local government you don't always see.