alien & sedition.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
  Being Fred Thompson

Hoover Institution fellow and former Reagan advisor Richard Allen has a rambling endorsement of Fred Thompson at the National Review. The point of the piece is to validate the Thompson-as-Reagan idea, but it mainly consists of nostalgic anecdotes about the political genius of the Gipper. Allen says little of substance about Thompson (despite mentioning that he's known him "for many years"), and the whole thing comes off as illustrative of precisely the mindset Thompson must be counting on among conservatives: a willingness to suspend disbelief, fueled by ever-fuzzier and ever-fonder memories of That Other Actor.

Says Allen:
It is undoubtedly too early to attribute the same comprehensive and plain-spoken vision to Fred Thompson, although his out-of-the gates speeches and remarks are very reminiscent of Reagan. But if they are there in Thompson they will reveal themselves; the Reagan qualities cannot be feigned or sustained for very long. Deep conviction will always be apparent as a campaign wears on, and the scarcity of it thus far in the wildly early presidential race has been conspicuous by its absence.
I've talked about the performativity of modern conservatism a great deal, but what's particularly interesting is how that acting is linked to a sense of conviction. The latter is seen as superior to knowledge, experience, discretion, or skepticism; it's a quality to be treasured in a leader and emulated in practice. But because it trumps knowledge, experience, discretion, and skepticism, because it triumphs over them, conservative conviction ends up being fixed to nothing, really, beyond a self-referential concept of abstract principles. I believe in individual freedom; the meaning and consequences of that statement of belief have nothing to do with testable results and everything to do with how well I project my conviction in that belief.

That's why, when we talk about conservative performativity, about conservatives as actors, it doesn't mean we're calling them phonies (except for those, like Mitt Romney, who really are phonies). They genuinely believe in their act, and they act to maintain their belief in their beliefs.

I know this is both abstract and probably well across the line into pop psychology. But I think it also has a lot to do with why Fred Thompson, despite his dismal resume and his disorganized campaign, has such purchase on the conservative imagination.

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