Wednesday, June 6, 2007

p3 Memetic Market Watch: "Fred Thompson is too lazy to run for president."

Here's one I predict you're going to see a lot more of in the coming weeks (until, if I"m right, it--and Thompson--will both drop off the radar screen in a heartbeat).

The Post's Richard Cohen isn't someone I go to for glimpses of reality much any more, but if you're looking for someone who can hop on the Beltway conventional wisdom and make it sound like he just invented the light bulb, he's your man.

Here he is a couple of days ago:
Some years ago I ran into Fred Thompson at Washington's Reagan National Airport and had a chat with him as we waited for a (very) delayed flight. I found him to be affable and nice -- good company, if you want to know -- but I cannot remember a single thing he said. Alas, it is about the same with his Senate career.

If Thompson's name came up in some sort of free-association game, he would be a genuine stumper: Thompson and what? There is no Thompson Act, Thompson Compromise, Thompson Hearing, Thompson Speech or Thompson Anything that comes to mind. No living man can call himself a Thompsonite. Instead, Thompson came and went from the Senate as if he were never there, leaving only the faint scent of ennui. "I don't want to spend the rest of my life up here," he once said. "I don't like spending 14- and 16-hour days voting on 'sense of the Senate' resolutions on irrelevant matters." As a call to action, this lacks a certain something.

And here's one of the many self-replications of this meme you're going to see in days to come:
MR. RUSSERT: [Thompson] was asked last night what would he do as president. He said, “Well, I’d do lots of things.” And asked, what if—“Are you prepared to talk about those?” He said, “No.”

The current strains of the meme are that he's just doing it because he enjoys the spotlight, that he doesn't have any serious ideas (and isn't in a hurry to formulate any), and that he doesn't have a fire in his belly for anything in particular.

Note that these things can be said with some degree of plausibility about other candidates (or even current office holders). Memes aren't about truth, they're about truthiness, and their survival factor depends on their ability to perpetuate themselves within the conceptual and communicative ecosystem where they appear. I think this one's got potential.

Meme: Thompson: Too lazy to run for President.

Value: High, especially in the hands of any second-tier GOP presidential wannabe who'd like to keep Thompson from sucking up the limelight.

Recommendation: Buy early, sell quick. You're going to hear a lot of variations on this theme--it doesn't require much thought (making it a big-name pundit favorite) and Thompson himself isn't doing much to prevent its spread. And when Thompson's novelty act is eventually shoved aside by more serious Republican candidates (hard to believe there are candidates less serious than the ones the GOP is currently fielding, but that's the state we've arrived at), expect him to sink back into TV Land.


Torrid said...

I hear Thompson has actually talked about combating the meme, but was quoted as saying "I'll get around to it eventually, I guess. It just seems like a lot of hard work, frankly."

Nothstine said...


Part of what probably makes it an uphill struggle for Thompson to shake this off [even if he wants to], is the whole slow-talkin', slow-movin', folksy, molasses-voiced, sit-in-the-shade-and-sip-his-
julep-while-other-people-do-the-heavy-lifting persona that's his trademark, whether in character or out.

He likes appearing shrewd, he likes working an adoring crowd, and he likes pocketing big checks--but is there anything about his presentation of self that suggests he really wants to spend the next 17 months busting his hump 24-7 to get into the Oval Office?

Maybe he really is that shrewd, but I'm not seeing it yet.