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Fred Thompson’s second chance

On a bus between Minneapolis to St. Paul–Where was this a year ago?

That was the only response I could ultimately come up with after watching former Tennessee senator and Republican presidential nominee Fred Thompson address his party’s national convention from a Cleveland hotel bar Tuesday.

He was folksy, direct, mean, authoritative–all of the things we were waiting for as he seemed to sleepwalk his way through what has to be considered one of the worst primary runs in recent memories.

It was the ideal set-up for Sen. John McCain’s speech tonight. Thompson told the Vietnam War hero’s story better than he could ever tell it himself.

In truth Thompson was playing the part we all expected of him–Arthur Branch, the brash New York District Attorney from my favorite television show “Law & Order.” As a L&O addict like most reporters (if you travel as much as we do there’s no time to follow Jim and Pam or whatever their names are on “The Office”) I came to love Branch. As the conservative counterweight to Sam Waterston’s Jack McCoy, Branch provided a solid anchor for the show whose strict view of the Constitution often provided tense, intellectually heft moments in the show.

But it occurs to me we’ve been asking the same question of a lot of ex-candidates lately. Where was the Al Gore who spoke at Invesco Field in 2000? How come John Kerry couldn’t have generated the kind of fire he did last week in Denver?

The conventional wisdom of course says they held back because they were running for office and wanted to be careful. And really, it’s a shame. At a time when people crave candor out of their candidates, we are left with the passionless, scrubbed-version of their true selves. And what we are left with watching these men nearly always starts with a sentence that begins with “What if…..”

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