As I sometimes say, my wife and I live in the DC area. We like it here–it’s a great place to be young professionals, and it’s a great place to be newlyweds. However, it does have its problems, among them way too people toting BlackBerries, working all the time, and thinking they are extremely important. And in my mind, that culture has one key symptom: an inability to admit one is wrong. You can see this all the time, especially in the workings of the executive branch and Congress.
I thought of this when I read a post by Joe Carter over at Blogs for Fred, apparently written just before the new NYT piece:
Almost two weeks ago I wrote a post about the LA Times story which claimed that Thompson once lobbied for a pro-abortion group. It appears that a story will appear that will report that Arent Fox has found billing records about Thompson’s work. Apparently, a billing record has been found that shows Thompson billed 19 hours of work for the Arent Fox client over the course of a year.
My sources tell me that there is some confusion over whether Thompson ever denied working for the group. Thompson specifically denied – and still denies – the allegation he lobbied Sununu for this group. (Sununu has confirmed that this is the case.) Thompson also says that he genuinely didn’t recall whether he’d ever spoken to the abortion rights group about the “gag rule.” Since that was over sixteen years ago, I find it plausible that he would not remember.
Nevertheless, I reported that Thompson’s staff had “categorically denied” that he lobbied for the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association [NFPRHA]. As Mark Corallo, a spokesman for the Senator, said in the LAT article, “Fred Thompson did not lobby for this group, period.”
This appears not to be accurate.
In my post I wrote that, “The second way that [NFPRHA] could confirm their claim is to provide some non-trivial documentary evidence” such as “billing statements, canceled checks, progress reports, etc.” I also added this caveat:
Based on what I know of the man, I believe that Fred is telling the truth. If the “several people familiar with the matter” provide more solid evidence to back their claim I may change my opinion. But if they can’t provide better corroboration, then I’ll have to assume this is just another sloppy LA Times hit piece.
If the billing statement does confirm that Thompson was billed for work he did for them, then they will have indeed provided solid evidence to back their claim. However, I do still “believe that Fred is telling the truth.” But it appears the “truth” has a rather lawyerly nuance.
Admittedly, I’m less troubled by the fact that Thompson once advocated for a pro-abortion group than I am with his failure to acknowledge his own former pro-choice sympathies. Perhaps he wants to avoid the fate of Mitt Romney who was accused of “flip-flopping” on the issue. If so, he need not worry. Unlike the former governor, Thompson developed a solid record of support for the pro-life cause during his time in the Senate. And while he still needs to state more forcefully and clearly that he is a defender of the sanctity of all human life at all stages of development, he has shown that his pro-life principles didn’t suddenly appear in time for the Iowa primary.
But those of us on the front lines of the campaign are putting our integrity on the line whenever we defend our (still unannounced) candidate. When a spokesman for Thompson speaks on his behalf, we need to be able to trust that the message is honest and accurate. It also needs to be conveyed clearly, and not require the nuance of a DC lawyer to differentiate between fact and supposition.
Two things come to mind here.
First, I have to respectfully disagree with Carter on Governor Romney’s record, and point him to the words of social conservative leaders from Massachusetts. His guy compiled a pro-life voting record as a senator from a safe seat in a pro-life state. Ours compiled a record of executive action in the most hostile place imaginable.
Second, I get the same feeling of “lawyerly nuance” from the latest abortion statements from the Senator’s non-campaign. But as Carter mentions, that’s now how this discussion began. It started off with a brusque denial–with the unspoken message being, “How dare you question him!” That is a classic DC move: deny wrongdoing and try to fault the questioner.
Now, after the evidence has come out, we’re seeing–as Carter says–”lawyerly nuance.” Not “I’m sorry, I was wrong.” This approach is typical here in Washington, where Senator Thompson has lived for some time.
It is also the opposite of the statements Governor Romney makes on abortion. He admits that he was wrong to have attempted to keep his pro-life beliefs in his personal life. To some, that’s a flip-flop. To me, it takes integrity to admit having been wrong–if it didn’t, more people here in DC would do it.
What’s more bothersome to me is that this isn’t the first time Senator Thompson has claimed that those who point to his shift on abortion are making something out of nothing. I recall this passage from The Weekly Standard:
In the days since Thompson allowed that he was thinking about running for president, his views on abortion have come under scrutiny. Thompson finds the news reports from his first run for Senate perplexing.
“I have read these accounts and tried to think back 13 years ago as to what may have given rise to them. Although I don’t remember it, I must have said something to someone as I was getting my campaign started that led to a story. Apparently, another story was based upon that story, and then another was based upon that, concluding I was pro-choice.”
Obviously, Senator Thompson strikes a better tone than his surrogate did–he’s “perplexed,” not indignant. But the story here is essentially the same: “No, there’s no problem. I’ve never been wrong. What are these people talking about?” And it’s now been proven–as NRO has noted in an editorial–that, no matter how many times he and his non-campaign deny it, Senator Thompson has shifted on abortion, just like Governor Romney. And both men have backed up those shifts with action, though under dissimilar circumstances, as I discuss above. But there is a difference.
Governor Romney has clearly discussed his shift, said he was wrong, explained how it happened, wishes abortion to be generally illegal, as shown by his support for state-level bans. Senator Thompson has denied the obvious shift he has made, not admitted he was wrong, and made unclear statements, one reasonable reading of which being that he does not support such bans.
I am not calling Senator Thompson dishonest. Some conservatives have, and I don’t think that is helpful. But I do think there is a clear difference between the two approaches we see here. One smacks of humility; the other screams Washington. And if you don’t think humility and Washington are generally incompatible…well, move here.