Jennifer, I think the Thompson defenders are too flabbergasted to know what to say. Before I get to my main Schiavo point, let me note here that what has clearly been a rocky campaign start for Thompson on a number of fronts should not be seen as a death knell by any means. The man has staying power because he knows how to project an air of being solid and dependable, and because no matter what the complaints about his specifics or lack thereof, he can honestly make the case that on the level of principle he is a committed and consistent conservative. He was an utter disaster at the start of his first Senate campaign (as he has been pretty darn bad on multiple fronts in the past month, including but from limited to the front of common human decency in his treatment of campaign staff and advisors), and managed to win going away. He should not be underestimated, and he still could easily end up as a strong nominee against Hillary.
But enough about Thompson. On Schiavo, there are two issues. One is the legal one I outlined below. I think it is tremendously important for conservatives to fight for Congress’ right to define the courts’ jurisdiction, not just on cases like this but in general. The Constitution gave Congress the power to check against judicial mission creep (or to make clear that the judicial power does extend to certain areas from which the judiciary shrinks for bad political reasons), and one reason the judiciary is out of control is because Congress has abdicated that power.
The second issue, obviously, is the actual moral issue that drew most of the attention to this case. I believe, strongly, that the law ought to err on the side of life. The Florida courts, though, ruled that Florida law does not err on the side of life. Conservatives who want to avoid cases like Terry Schiavo’s in the future ought to elect legislators who will change the laws and then lobby them to so change them. And they should work for the appointment of judges who apply the federal and state constitutions and statutes as written. But they should be wary of turning off the public by agitating for the imposition of a moral judgment that is not supported by the existing laws of the land. That’s what liberals do (although many of us would argue that what liberals consider to be moral is actually, time and again, highly immoral). The reason conservatives suffered so badly in the public mind from the Schiavo case is that too many of them sounded as if they believed all existing laws ought to be ignored if that is what it would take for Ms. Schiavo to be kept alive. Their rhetoric was wrong for the situation. The proper objective is to make the moral argument and the legal argument together in such a way that they are clearly mutually supportive. That’s hard work.
Back to Fred Thompson: It is easy to see why a presidential candidate, aware of the sound-bite-itis of today’s media, would want to punt on such a complicated issue. But the way Thompson attempted to punt was utterly inelegant and ineffective — just as his speech deliveries have sometimes/often been, and just as his announcement video was. Lesson: Sometimes even actors need to learn how to take direction, and they need the right people around them to give direction. Otherwise, they may have a hard time keeping their careers/campaigns alive.