Tuesday, December 6th, 2016

Tommy the innovator

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In her weekly column for the Saturday Waukesha Freeman (just 75 cents!), our friend Jessica McBride suggests the name calling directed at former Governor Tommy Thompson by some on the right is a bit too much.

Somewhere Tommy Thompson is shaking his head and muttering, “I was a Bush Cabinet secretary and they are going after MY conservatism? Huh?”

He’s thinking: “The Democrats in the state Legislature used to call me ‘Dr. No,’ but I’m now suddenly as liberal as Russ Feingold?” (or something like that).

Thompson has run into the “new Republican party,” inspired by a tea party hold-theline ethos, a zero-tax-levy governor, and a talkradio machine that demands absolute fealty to a message. Or else.

He’s just off on the talking points. He’s a guy that Amtrak named a locomotive after, in a party that is obsessed with its hatred for “ choo-choo trains.”

He’s been known, at times, to reach across the aisle to Democrats. And there were those spending and some tax increases when he was governor in, admittedly, a very different time.

So should Republicans toss Tommy out with the bath water and wake up one day to U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin? They do have another choice in the fiscally conservative Mark Neumann. He doesn’t have Tommy’s spending increases. He also doesn’t have Tommy’s record for, as the Cato Institute once put it, policy innovation.

There are flaws with Tommy. Always were. He is a consummate political maneuverer, whose financial dealings after leaving Bush’s Cabinet will be scrutinized. He’s about to experience the fact, perhaps, that we live in another era in a different way: different media.

But I think this notion that Tommy is somehow not a “true conservative” is just silly. Within the tent of conservatism and Republicanism, shouldn’t there be some room for different ideas? Say what you want about Thompson, but he had a record as a visionary. I respect governors who actually try to be reformers. It’s not easy to shake up the status quo. And I suggest we consider Tommy’s record for its totality.

As Nicolo Machiavelli once said, “Reforming an existing order is one of the most dangerous and difficult things a prince can do. Part of the reason this is so is that people are naturally resistant to change and reform. Those who benefited under the old regime will resist him fervently, whilst those who stand to benefit from his new order will help him only halfheartedly. This is mainly because the reformers lack legitimacy, and because it is hard for people to believe in a proposed system that they haven’t experienced for themselves.”

McBride has probably hit on the key theme of a Thompson candidacy, a reformer with results: education reform, welfare reform, even lower tax rates.

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