The EFM Feature

Following up on Charles’s post below, I too am struck by the “evidence” (or lack thereof) that Nancy “lied” when she passed on reports that Fred Thompson ran as a pro-choice candidate in 1994.

There’s no doubt that Fred Thompson was less pro-choice than his Democratic opponent in 1994, but there is also little doubt that he was less pro-life than Bill Frist (the other Republican running for Senate at the time). I was practicing law in Nashville, and I have distinct memories of the race because Fred Thompson was the first pro-choice politician I ever voted for. In fact, I can remember having guilty pangs as I pulled the lever–breaking a vow I made in college to never vote for a pro-choice candidate.

I effectively rationalized my decision, reasoning that Thompson would vote with his party on the key issues when in the Senate (which he did), but there was no question that in 1994 Fred Thompson was not a pro-life purist. As this (archived) 1994 Washington Post article notes: “On the issues, both candidates [Thompson and his Democratic opponent] say they are fiscal conservatives and anti-gun-control, and both believe in legal abortion.” And here’s NRO’s Ramesh Ponnuru on the same question (writing in 2000):

Thompson has certainly voted with pro-lifers almost all the time. The National Right to Life Committee counts votes for John McCain-style campaign-finance reform, which Thompson supports, as anti-pro-life votes, but otherwise he’s been solid. The senator voted against the Harkin amendment, which put the Senate on record favoring Roe v. Wade. But when Thompson ran for Senate in 1994, he did so as a supporter of legal abortion, as several press clips from the time pointed out. NR has also obtained a copy of a letter Thompson sent to a constituent in 1997, which notes that Thompson supports various restrictions on abortion but also includes the line, “I believe that government should not interfere with individual convictions and actions in this area.”

The upshot: Thompson is an ally of pro-lifers in all the actual fights that come up, but he’s not one of them on the core issue. Unless, that is, he has changed his mind, as suggested by his current self-description as a pro-lifer. In that case, NR would be more than happy to print a correction — and welcome him aboard.

Look, here’s the fundamental problem: In the late fall of last year, the rules apparently changed. For many activists, it wasn’t enough for a candidate to actually govern as a pro-life governor or to declare loudly and publicly that he was pro-life and that previous pro-choice positions were “wrong”–you actually had to be always and forever pro-life to be a “true conservative.”

So when some of these same activists jump on the Fred Thompson bandwagon, they face a bit of a problem: Fred was pro-choice too. His record in the Senate was good, but so was Governor Romney’s record in Boston. So between Fred Thompson and Mitt Romney we have two pro-life converts seeking the White House. Good. I’m glad for Thompson’s current stance just as I am for Romney’s, but please spare me the unbelievably wearisome sanctimony that one candidate is the “conservative alternative” while the other candidate is not.

ONE FINAL NOTE. In the Corner, Ramesh says that EFM “wongly implies” that being pro-life was the “default position” of Tennessee Republicans at the time. This is what Nancy said in her post: “And frankly, [Governor Romney's] advocacy in hostile territory for conservative ideals impress me a little more than a Tennesseean running as a pro-choicer in the middle of the Bible Belt.” I don’t get the same implication from Nancy’s post. I think she’s simply stating the rather obvious point that the Massachusetts electorate is well to the left of Tennessee’s, and that she’s more impressed by the Governor’s pro-life actions in a leftist environment than by Thompson’s pro-choice runs in ’94 and ’96. A fair point, I think.

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