Cheat-Seeking Missles

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Thompson's Brilliant Response To Abortion Story

Saturday, five days ago, is an eon ago in the world of presidential campaigning, where positions must be formed now and responses can't wait.

So when Saturday's charges in the LA Times against Fred Thompson, accusing him of representing abortion hawks a couple decades back surfaced, there was an initial staff comment. Then Sunday and Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday passed.

And finally, today, Fred Thompson responded ... without mentioning the LAT or abortion at all. And without going to the dinosaur media.

Instead of splitting hairs and falling into the he said/she said trap, Thompson picked the most respected lawyers on the Web, the boys at Power Line, and wrote not about whether he represented abortionists, but instead about being a lawyer candidate for president ...
A lawyer who is a candidate or a prospective candidate for office finds himself in an interesting position because of the nature of the legal profession and the practice of law. This is true when the practice was as varied as mine, and it’s especially true when the office being considered is the Presidency of the United States.

The easiest and most generally used tactic when running against a lawyer is to trade off a general perception that most people dislike lawyers. Goodness knows that a lot of lawyers have earned disfavor but, as it turns out, folks understand our system better than a lot of politicians think they do. In my first run for the Senate, my opponent tried the old demagoguery route – “He has even represented criminals!” – to no avail.

A first cousin of this ploy is to associate the lawyer with the views of his client. Now-United States Chief Justice John Roberts addressed this notion during his confirmation hearings. “… [I]t’s a tradition of the American Bar that goes back before the founding of the country that lawyers are not identified with the positions of their clients. The most famous example probably was John Adams, who represented the British soldiers charged in the Boston Massacre.”

... and then about representing murderers, crooks and other nefarious sorts, just as Adams and Lincoln before him had:

As an idealistic teen-ager I could think of nothing more inspiring than the notion of representing a just cause against the most powerful forces in the country, including the government. I’ve had a chance to do some of that. It’s fair to say that not all of my clients have been so praiseworthy. Some were, in deed, accused of crimes. Some were convicted against my best efforts.

The practice of law is a business as well as a profession. It’s the way you support your family. And if a client has a legal and ethical right to take a position, then you may appropriately represent him as long as he does not lie or otherwise conduct himself improperly while you are representing him.
As an issues management expert, I'd say Thompson managed this issue expertly. He fell into no traps, managed to cloak himself in Lincoln, Adams and Roberts, explained whatever may or may not have happened fully, and didn't even bother to mention the name of the scurrilous abortion maven who started the affair.

Did he drive a stake through the heart of the issue? No. It's still there and people might use it against him. But the people who will use it, and the people who will be influenced by it, will not be voting for Thompson anyway.

Those of us who are seriously kicking his tires and checking under his hood will most likely come away impressed, as I did. This is a man of subtlety, strategy and grace, someone who appears capable of approaching the job of president with a Reaganesque calm.

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