Fred, Did We Really Know You?
Far be it from me to start trouble, but former Tennessee Republican senator Fred Thompson, the presidential candidate who portrays himself as a conservative outsider capable of reforming Washington, is playing down his kinship with this town. Thompson may campaign as a steadfast son of the South, but he is really one of us.
In fact, no other White House hopeful, Republican or Democrat, can come close to matching Thompson's insider credentials. He alone among the contenders has managed to reach the pinnacle of Washington influence: the presidency of the Federal City Council, a powerful, behind-the-scenes group comprising a who's who of this city's top business, professional and civic leaders. The Federal City Council is synonymous with the Washington establishment, and Thompson was its chosen leader from 2003 to 2005.
The list of former council presidents reads like a roster of the city's famous heavy hitters. Thompson succeeded former Senate majority leader Bob Dole. Former House speaker Tom Foley preceded Dole.
Then, as now, Thompson was regarded as wise in the ways of money, lobbying and our special-interest culture. He cut his teeth on Washington, arriving on the scene of the Watergate hearings at age 30 as an up-and-coming Judiciary Committee lawyer. He later stepped through the revolving door and made good money working Capitol Hill for corporate clients and causes that caught his fancy.
Why Fred Dalton Thompson wants to disown us is hard to figure.
No doubt, Thompson, a native of Sheffield, Ala., knows his way around the hills and valleys of the Bible Belt and Appalachia. But he's also a man of McLean, the upscale Virginia community just across the Potomac.
He may charm rural America with his drawl and "aw, shucks" manner, but we know better.
Which gets us to Thompson's lasting, and most tangible, contribution to our nation's capital: the Department of Homeland Security.
Thompson should raise his hand if that mammoth federal institution, home to more than 200,000 workers and 22 agencies -- the largest bureaucratic merger since the creation of Defense Department in 1947 -- is ever asked, "Who's your daddy?" Or at least he should admit to having had something to do with its birth.
'Tis true that Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman initially proposed creation of a Homeland Security Department shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. President Bush objected to the proposal. The idea nonetheless gained Democratic backing in the Lieberman-chaired Senate Government Operations Committee. Bush finally came around with a proposal of his own, but the Senate deadlocked. In 2002, with the Senate session drawing to a close, the homeland security bill was on life support.
Enter, stage right: Fred Thompson and the GOP takeover of the Senate in the fall elections.
As the ranking Republican on the Government Operations Committee and a chief sponsor of homeland security legislation, Thompson helped bridge the differences between the White House and Senate Democrats. I recall sitting in a meeting with The Post's editorial board as Thompson stumped for support of the compromise.