Folk Ways

By Dana Milbank
Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Tell us, Fred Thompson, about your national security policy.

"The good guys win and the bad guys lose -- how 'bout that?"

Profound. And your economic policy?

"Free people, free markets, doin' free things together."

Well said. Do you worry that tax cuts might cause lost revenue?

"It ain't lost, it's in my pocket."

As for how he came to hold certain views on health care, he has this answer for his audience in Anderson, S.C.: "I had a conversation with my little mama back in Franklin, Tennessee."

His 87-year-old mother's advice also persuades him to reject the new National Intelligence Estimate reporting that Iran has suspended its nuclear program. "Remember whatcha mama told ya," the former senator from Tennessee recommends. "If somethin' appears to be too good to be true, it probably is."

Is it possible to be too folksy? Thompson seems determined to find out. The big man with all those Hollywood roles is trying to slow-drawl his way to the GOP nomination. To the extent that Thompson has a pitch, it's that he doesn't change his views like, say, Mitt Romney or Rudy Giuliani. "Where I stand does not depend on where I'm standing or what political office I happen to be running for," he asserts.

Mostly, though, he's recommending himself to voters as a good ol' boy.

"Y'all know where a man can get a decent meal in this town?" he asks the crowd at Mama Penn's Real Southern Cooking, next door to the "$5 Christian Bookstore" and a few blocks from the Baptist church with the drive-through Nativity scene. "I'm a Tennessee boy. I consider this my neck of the woods and I hope South Carolinians think this is my neck of the woods, too." The last part he pronounces "mah neck-uh-da woods."

Thompson has a reputation for being a lazy campaigner, and he meets expectations when he arrives 10 minutes late even though his last event was hours earlier in the same town; he comes in a side door to avoid the need to work the room. But his speech, given without notes and with one hand in his pants pocket, is unexpectedly lively -- and expectedly down home.

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