After months of buildup, Fred's entrance into the race was mixed. Judging by how slowly his Website was loading, traffic was probably through the roof, so that could be seen as a vindication of the Leno strategy. On the other hand, the appearance on Leno and the announcement video were rather underwhelming. I thought he was perfectly likeable, but not necessarily presidential. He didn't do anything to live up to the enormous expectations by emitting the star power, charisma, or communication skills that have been the basis for much of the enthusiasm about his candidacy. His defense of skipping the debates, by shifting to making fun of the 30-second answer format and giving a nod to Newt Gingrich for his ideas about returning to a Lincoln-Douglas type format, resonated with me as a general comment. However, such high-mindedness seemed silly coming from somebody who chose to launch his candidacy on a Hollywood comedy show. Also, I'm not sure how well this comment is going to be viewed by New Hampshire voters: "For those who talk about that New Hampshire situation, I'm certainly not disrespecting them, but it's a lot more difficult to get on the 'Tonight Show' than it is to get into a presidential debate."
As for the video, a few things struck me. No doubt an attempt to stave off laziness charges, he said early in the announcement that he's going to "give this campaign all I've got to give." There was a lot of talk about national security and economic issues in the announcement, but not social issues. I found that rather odd, because one of the primary rationales for his candidacy is that social conservatives don't have a viable candidate among the current field. This is reinforced by his campaign slogan: "Security-Unity-Prosperity," which could have just as easily been adopted by Rudy Giuliani. Don't get me wrong, I agree with just about everything Thompson said in his video--but from a political perspective it's odd that he wouldn't want to stress social issues more. Stylistically, I found it jarring when the camera would cut back and forth at different camera angles, because it gave the video a staged, over-produced quality that reinforces the style over substance criticism of Thompson. I was happy to hear him discuss Social Security and entitlements, and it looks like that's one issue he'll introduce to the debate, which I think is long overdue.
But overall, I'm just thrilled that he's finally in the race so we can have actual campaign appearances and policy positions to discuss rather than this will-he-or-won't-he and how-will-he parlor game we've been playing for months.
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