The EFM Feature

In a great post in the Corner, Ramesh Ponnuru deals with the American Spectator‘s puzzling insistence that Fred Thompson did not begin his political career as a pro-choicer. Here’s Ramesh:

So some unnamed “Tennessee state Republican Party official” says that Bill Frist and Fred Thompson were always pro-life, and anyone who says otherwise is ignorant or indifferent to the truth. Right. So everyone knew they were pro-life, except the reporters who covered their early races, and somehow nobody from the campaigns ever managed to write a letter to the editor. Oh, and someone forced Frist to say, perhaps at gunpoint, that he didn’t support overturning Roe, but everyone just knew that he was pro-life. And someone forged a letter from Thompson in 1997 saying that he didn’t support governmental action against abortion.
Look: The evidence that these guys were once pro-choice is pretty substantial. Why not just admit that they’ve changed their minds?

Here’s my answer to Ramesh’s closing question: To blunt the Romney boomlet in 2006, multiple conservative activists adopted the tactic of labeling his political changes “flip flopping” and decrying those change as dispositive evidence that he isn’t truly conservative. Of course changes in position can and should lead to additional questions and sometimes even skepticism, but the mere existence of change itself does not prove insincerity.
The problem with any political tactic, of course, is that it is double-edged. So when Fred Thompson makes noises about entering the race, the conservatives on Messiah Watch got instantly excited. Thompson’s undoubtedly conservative, he has a great presence, and he’s not “Rudy McRomney.” But–being a flesh and blood person–his own career is marked by some changes and inconsistencies. There’s at least two ways to deal with this: either (1) debate the merits of the various candidates based on the entirety of their records; or (2) spin hard to continue to maintain the viability of a political tactic. It looks like the Spectator has chosen option 2.
As the title of the post indicates, Ramesh has gotten it right twice. In addition to his Corner post, Ramesh emailed us to object to Nancy’s characterization of Fred Thompson as against a federal marriage amendment. After looking at the evidence, I think Ramesh is right, and the linked story doesn’t support Nancy’s conclusion. The Tennessean item Nancy relied upon has this to say about same-sex marriage:

Thompson says he personally opposes gay marriage, but would let states decide whether to allow civil unions: “Marriage is between a man and a woman, and I don’t believe judges ought to come along and change that.”

So it’s unclear where Thompson stands on a federal marriage amendment. He would leave it for states to decide on “civil unions,” but that is not the same thing as opposing a marriage amendment. Good call, Ramesh.

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