Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Reincarnation of Bobby Kennedy?

Could John Edwards be the reincarnation of Bobby Kennedy?

I don't actually believe in reincarnation (not many Baptists do). Plus the math doesn't work: John Edwards was a few days shy of being 15 years old when Robert Kennedy was assassinated. But Kennedy succeeded in 1968 in convincing America that a man can be rich and still care about the poor. And he did it partly with a campaign trip that took him through the heart of Appalachia.

Edwards will spend three days on a poverty tour not unlike Kennedy's trip. The "Road to One America Tour" will leave New Orleans Monday morning and travel 1800 miles through some of America's poorest cities and rural counties. And Edwards plans to end his journey where Kennedy did 40 years ago, in Prestonsburg, Kentucky.

The Edwards tour starts tomorrow night in New Orleans, in the Lower Ninth Ward. Hurricane Katrina left that area of the city particularly devastated and recovery efforts have not been very successful there.

Edwards will also stop in
  • Marks, Mississippi, where Martin Luther King Jr. began his 1968 Poor People's March to Washington.
  • Helena and West Helena, Arkansas
  • Memphis, Tennessee
  • Cleveland, Ohio
  • Youngstown, Ohio
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Wise, Virginia
  • And Whitesburg, Kentucky
The tour will end Wednesday with a visit a health care clinic in Wise, Va., and meeting in Whitesburg where Edwards will talk with area youth about economic opportunity, and finally a speech at the Floyd County, Kentucky, Courthouse where Robert Kennedy spoke.

"It's time to be patriotic about something
other than the war in Iraq
." - John Edwards

A Safer World: Former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore Drops Out of the Presidential Race

The world is a safer place today: Former Virginia Governor James Stuart "Jim" Gilmore III ended his bid to become the forty-fourth president of the United States.

In a statement, Gilmore blamed his campaign's failure on the move to earlier primaries in some may major states like New York and California. But the Associated Press reported that Gilmore was down to only $90,000 in his campaign war chest. With more than five months before the first primary, Gilmore's campaign was simply unable to raise money.

meGilmore was governor of Virginia from 1998 to 2002. He was elected on a tax relief promise that ultimately amounted to a bait-and-switch ploy. He promised to eliminate the car tax in Virginia, and he succeeded in reducing it drastically before the end of his term. While reducing the car tax was the "bait," the "switch" occurred when his administration failed to replace those funds (as he'd promised) in local government coffers. Almost every penny collected in car tax revenue went to county and city governments, not the Commonwealth's purse in Richmond.

Gilmore's election strategy had been based on the hope that he world be recognized as one of the GOP's true conservatives - and anti-abortion, pro-death penalty, anti-gay, pro-gun lobby, fiscally conservative candidate who wanted to shift more of the cost of public education on to local governments during his term as governor.

"I didn't run some place and pretend I was a liberal and run someplace else as a conservative. I just didn't do that," Gilmore once said. He was fond of comparing his political life to Ronald Reagan.

Jim Gilmore: the first of the major GOP candidates to drop. Good damn riddance!

A Philosophy of Education III (What and How Should We Teach?)

Three basic educational approaches competed in the second half of the 20th century to shape our views on WHAT we should teach and HOW we should teach it...

Those approaches were:
  • Perennialism - a teacher-centered philosophy that focuses on "great books" with the hope of impart the culture's enduring themes to students through literature. The goal is to develop the ability for rational thought in students.

  • Essentialism - a teacher-centered, back-to-basics approach to education that stresses the three R's and emphasizes the remembering of facts.

  • Progressivism - a student-centered philosophy that attempts to interact with the real-world concerns and experiences of students. Classrooms are more democratic and learning is more participatory and experimental than in either Essentialism or Perennialism.
Most teachers tend to be eclectic - they draw from more than one of these approaches. And I fall into that same category; I'm an eclectic, I suppose.

meAdjectives serve as better answers than do nouns in describing what the curriculum of education should be like. The content of the curriculum should be flexible, responsive to the changes of society. The content of the curriculum should be sympathetic to the values and limitations of the students and their families. My own experience leads me to believe that every life is richer if the individual has read Kafka and Steinbeck, Aeschylus and Blake, Camus and Hemmingway. But I view the Great Books approach to education today as more of a misguided effort to preserve a cultural timeframe than anything else - to halt (or at least slow) cultural change.

I believe that reading (and literacy) is essential; it is the medium of later instruction. To the extent that an emphasis on basic skills has become exclusive, to the extent that a concern with math and language skills has crowded out music and the arts, the emphasis on basic skills and standards based curriculums has become a destructive force. But kids who show up at school should learn to read. As much as I hate to agree with George W. Bush about anything, they should learn to read early. They should learn to do math and be exposed to all its various and joyful forms. They should be introduced to the various formal genres of language - to poetry and letter writing, the short story and the novel. When Piaget allows, they should be introduced to epistemology and taught to ask "but how do I know that." Of course, they should be given an understanding in social studies classes of how our society works (civics) and why (history). And there is science. But none of these core classes should be allowed to displace completely the arts. And an understanding of the importance of the role of creativity in fields like math and grammar needs to be maintained...

Friday, July 13, 2007

Our Visit to Lake Witten

On Sunday, July 8, we took Cheryl's Dad, Benny, to Lake Witten to fish.

Benny came down on Friday and went home on Monday morning.

Benny fishing at Lake Witten, July 8, 2007The trip to the lake was pleasant. Lake Witten is a calm, relaxing place and it was late enough in the day that we were able to spend most of our time sitting in the shade while Benny fished. The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries says that Lake Witten has largemouth bass, channel catfish, and a few Walleye. It is stocked with brown trout and rainbow trout from October to May. Bluegill are the dominate species on the 53 acre lake.

That's what we saw, mostly - bluegill. We saw a few smaller bass as well.

I took the opportunity to walk the shoreline of the lake and take some pictures. One or two of the species of flowers were new to me.

However good the fishing there may (or may not) be, the lake is a nice place to walk. The lake is actually part of a larger park - Cavitts Creek Park. The lake is about two miles from out house. And there are pedal boats that can be rented if you want to just splash around on the lake.

We took Benny home about 6:30 and make pasta for dinner with seafood and a white sauce. Then we played Phase 10...

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

An Obit (Kind of): Claudia Alta "Lady Bird" Johnson

I've printed some mean things about Lady Bird Johnson in the past. I meant them, and they're reprinted at the bottom of this eulogy. But today I'll say some nice things about the Great Society's First Lady.

Lady Bird in a field of wild flowers...Lady Bird died today, Wednesday, July 11, 2007. She was 94. She is credited with introducing concern for the environment to the public stage in Washington by working for passage of the 1965 Highway Beautification Bill, which became known as "The Lady Bird Bill." She lived the life of a conservationist long after her husband, President Lyndon B. Johnson, left her a widow in 1973.

Lady Bird worked to get her husband elected as vice president (she once gave 47 speeches in four days on the campaign trail). After he became president she worked for his agenda. Lady Bird served as honorary chairwoman of the national Head Start Program, a program created as part of her husband's Great Society legislative agenda.

Lady Bird at a Head Start programLady Bird spent much of her life in public service even after husband's death. She served as a University of Texas regent from 1971-1977. A Republican, President Gerald Ford, awarded Lady Bird the country's highest civilian award, the Medal of Freedom, in 1977. Lady Bird served both the Ford and Carter administrations in some capacity. In 1982 she founded the National Wildflower Center (now the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center); she was 70 then.

Up until almost her death Lady Bird had been making occasional public appearance to lend the authority of her personality to causes she believed in; this, despite the fact that a stroke left her almost unable to speak for the last five years. She didn't have to speak; the force of her personality was enough.

This article was originally published in January of 1999 at Suite 101.

Roses: if you've got to get rid of them, this is the time of year to do it. In mid-winter the plants are easy to break and there are no leaves to hide the thorns. But why get rid of roses? Before I answer that, a little background...

Last year the National Wildflower Research Center honored Claudia Alta "Lady Bird" Johnson by renaming their center after her.

Lady Bird on the cover of TIME...Personally, I'm no big fan of Widow Johnson. But before I explain why, let me give you a little update on Lady Bird.

I was surprised in the process of preparing this article to discover that Lady Bird Johnson is still alive. The former first lady celebrated her 86th birthday in December. The National Wildflower Research Center was founded by Lady Bird about 16 years ago.

At 86, Lady Bird is legally blind, walks with the help of a cane, and suffers from arthritis. She lives on the family's Hill Country ranch, where her late husband is buried. She has three grandchildren.

Lady Bird Johnson's involvement in environmental issues gained national attention in the mid 1960's. Her work on the issue was the driving force behind the 1965 Highway Beautification Act (the HBA). That act regulated the advertising that could be displayed alone federal highways and promoted the spread of wild flowers as a way of making rural America a prettier place to visit.

In November of 1996, Lady Bird was given the Environmental Law Institute's ELI Award. ELI Board Chairman Don Stever called Johnson "the First Lady of environmental management". Johnson's granddaughter, Lucinda Robb, accepted the award for her.

"Lady Bird Johnson's name is synonymous with the beautification of America," Stever said.

Well, I suppose that depends in part on your idea of beauty...

I have two main bones to pick with the former first lady over the issue of what is and what is not beautiful. The first has to do with the advertising focus of the HBA.

One of the places that suffered the most from The Lady Bird Act, as the HBA became known, was an Appalachian landmark: Rock City. The Lady Bird Act took the 10-acre garden spot on top of Lookout Mountain, Tennessee, and targeted its main form of advertising: barn roofs.

The first lady from Texas didn't like having the See Rock City slogan painted all over the American South - even if it had become a portion of America's heritage. The words covered the sides of little country stores and gas stations in a dozen states. It was a place where advertising met art. And the two usually met on private property.

The barn-painting reached its height in 1956 with over 850 barns bearing the words painted in black and white. But the 1965 Highway Beautification Act singled out barn roof messages along federal funded highways for elimination. Less than 100 of the classics still exist. In Tennessee, some have been made some of them historic landmarks.

Did Lady Bird's efforts to eliminate the offensive barn roofs, etc., fix the "problem" of unwanted advertising alone major highways? The answer is a definite "no".

The Fall 1996 edition of Scenic North Carolina News explains:

The intent of the 1965 Highway Beautification Act (HBA) was to protect the visual environment of rural and scenic areas along federally funded highways. But it hasn't quite worked out that way.

The HBA generally prohibits new billboards, but it makes an exception for areas that are considered to be "industrial" and "commercial." This exception has swallowed the rule and hundreds of thousands of new billboards have been erected since the HBA was passed.

Scenic North Carolina referred to what they called "phony zoning": the city fathers zone a cornfield on the edge of town as commercial/industrial and a few days later it's covered with billboards. On average, the town fathers in question visit the spot twice a year to face Washington and thumb their noses at Lady Bird and the various heads of the U.S. Department of Transportation who have held the position since LBJ left the Whitehouse.

Personally, I'd pay to watch bi-annual ritual.

The N.C. Court of Appeals has upheld the town governments on the issue. The state's Supreme Court has refused to hear the case.

Lady Bird got rid of barns, but not bill boards.

Lady Bird targeted and destroyed what has come to be recognized as folk art. The Lady Bird Act attacked private business on private property for the sake of asthetic concerns that had little to do with real environmental quality: few animals become endangered species because of bill boards or what a farmer paints on his barn. The act was unnecessary government control.

But more than that, the fact that a first lady from Texas did so much to end the advertising of an Appalachian institution, I confess, considerably irritates me.

The second bone I have to pick with Lady Bird has to do with flowers.
I don't mind most wild flowers. I even like some. But I hate wild roses.

Let me rephrase that: I hate roses. I hate roses. I hate roses. I hate roses!

The spread of wild roses was promoted by the Lady Bird Act.

Now I can hear a lot of people out there asking "so what's the big deal?" It's this: roses are the most obstinate and obnoxious forms of unwanted vegetation growing on my land.

Maybe I sound extreme. I know that most people think highly of roses. But their opinion is based on a limited experience with roses: they don't have wild rose bushes growing willy-nilly about their property.

I understand the joy that a woman must feel when she receives a dozen fresh long-stemmed red roses at work for no particular reason. But Southwest Virginia farmland is covered with rose bushes that take over acre after acre of land and are almost impossible to kill. Last year, to have a garden on our new property meant I had to pull up 30 or so square yards of roses by their roots. This year, to add a corn patch to the garden means pulling up another 30 square feet of roses.

Roses also create problems for livestock. One small farmer I know lost three of his 40 or so sheep last year to roses: the sheep get hung up in the thorns of the roses and either shred themselves or thirst to death before they're found...

I was told last year by a county Extension Office agent that wild roses take over 1,700 new acres of Virginia each year. The Extension Office advises and aids county farmers here.

I generally like flowers. But Lady Bird's arrogance in trying to regulate advertising on private property to suit a Texan's taste doesn't endear her to me. And as for wild roses? Well, I personally hope that when the opportunity presents itself, they grow on her grave...

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

My Favorite Things

I enjoyed reading Sherry's bog on favorite things, so I thought I'd post my own list. Obviously I'm not including people with things here. The list is alphabetical because I can't really rank them (although Tennessee Football comes close to the top). Enjoy...

Breakfast. It’s really unspecific. It’s not that I like the first meal of the day. I like bacon and sausage, and salted country ham with red eye gravy. I like grits (but not as much as just plain hominy). I like biscuits, though toast will do. I like eggs: scrambled, fried in an omelet, baked in a quiche, poached on a muffin, but not just fried. Waffles and pancakes don’t really do it for me, though they're okay. It’s more about protein, though dirty rice or hash browns are nice. I like breakfast – sometimes for dinner.

Coffee. I drink it all day long. I take it with me to work in a thermos (two, actually). I drink French Roast most mornings. I like it strong but not overpowering. In a perfect world I’d drink Sumatran most of the time. If I win the Powerball I’ll probably stop buying the French Roast. With Splenda.

Drambuie. In a brandy snifter. With two (maybe three) cubes of ice. the price means it’s not something I taste often....

Good Literature. Steinbeck and Hemingway, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, Camus and Proust, Pramoedya and Rushdie, Homer and Aeschylus and Sophocles and Euripides, Joyce and Yeats – I could go on. I like novels and poetry (Blake and Burns, Dickenson and Frost, and others) and short stories. I like good literature.

History. Not so much U.S. history (since I usually know how the story ends), but a good article about the Taiping Rebellion or the rise and fall of Srivijaya; or a good biography of Akbar or maybe something on the Punic Wars.

Kindergarten. Last year I got to spend a small portion of my work day involved in reading instruction in a kindergarten classroom. It was the best part of my day at work.

meLanguages. I’ve studied Latin and German, Malay and Chinese. I’ve done linguistic field work with native Finns and speakers of Luganda. Ands I've been fortunate enough to live in places that exposed me to languages like Thai, Tagalog, Chamorro, Hawaian, Tamil, Pohnpeian, and a few other tongues. Studying a foreign language often makes you think about the way you think. There’s nothing like a good discussion of ergativity to make you question the grammatical categories in your head.

Loud Music with the Windows Rolled Down on a Cool Morning. I’m eclectic. The music isn’t really the issue so much as the volume. Sometimes it’s Hank or Waylon, sometimes it’s Van Morrison, sometimes it’s Skynyrd or the Allman Brothers, sometimes it’s Kenny Chesney. There’s something about driving through the fog at 7:30 AM on a work day, scaring the deer with Stevie Ray Vaughn or Johnny Cash.

News. I love current affairs and politics. But I also like following world events. NPR is a good source. But I enjoy reading news more…

Scenery. I enjoy driving through rural Appalachia. Other places will do…

Steak. Ribeye or porterhouse, t-bone or a good sirloin. I like a nice thick steak, seared on each side but still cool in the middle…

University of Tennessee Football. What can I say? I bleed orange and white.

Understanding the Blogosphere

“Blogosphere” is a term used to describe a subsection of the Internet where individual authors publish their thoughts, views, opinions, etc.

In a sense the blogosphere is a social network because blogging is social. I read blogs. I comment on blogs, use the little “comment” widget at their site to respond to what they said. The blogger often responds to my comment. Sometimes other readers respond to my comment. I may even respond to their responses. In addition to the comment process, I may come back to my blog and write about what they said on their blog. I may even create a link to their blog so that you can look at what they said yourself, in its entirety. If I like what a blogger says about something, chances are good that I’ll look at his site again in a week to see what he’s talking about now (and whether I like it). I don’t even have to like it; I may read and comment on his blog because I hate it. And, of course, he may delete my comments…

Why don’t we just call it the Internet and leave it at that? Blogging has developed into a genre of sorts. So there are a couple of reasons.

First is that the blogosphere has a different level of reliability than the Internet in general. If, for example, you want to know about Quiznos (my favorite place to get sandwiches on the run), you can Google them and you’ll find a link to their company website. It’s informational – an online copy of their menu, a company history, job opportunities, etc. You’ll also find Wikipedia’s page on them (Wikipedia has a page on everything), and it contains similar types of information. You’ll find a nutrition page from Calorie Count (that shows things like that their large Philly cheese steak sub has 721 calories and 16 grams of fat) and a similar page from Dottie’s Weight Loss Zone. And you’ll find a link to an article in the Denver Business Journal about how Quiznos get high marks in customer service. You get the idea…

Time to make another pot...If, on the other hand, you use the Google Blog Search function and search just blogs for Quiznos, you get a link to the Break Dot Com where they have a video of a Quiznos manager punching out “a bum,” according to that website. You also get a blog about food in Oregon that has a story about the problem Quiznos was having in New Jersey (why, I don't know); in New Jersey (if you believe this blog) Quiznos will evidently sell someone a franchise license and then the license holder can’t find a spot to open the restaurant. Antidotes: fun stories, probably true and maybe useful to you (or not). My favorite is the blog by a vegetarian marketing law person about how Subway is suing Quiznos over its commercials...

The second difference is tone. Blogs are generally much more personal in tone than most websites. And, hand in hand with that, blogs generally represent the voice of one individual person while most websites represent the voice of an organization or some sort.

A final difference is that bloggers (the people who write blogs) tend to develop relationships with each other. Web pages may link to other web pages, but those links tend to be more static and the process is informational, not personal. Reading a blog (and the associated comments on a busy blog) can be like listening in on a conversation. Looking at non-blog web pages is more impersonal and detached – like reading books or magazines on a computer screen.

The blogosphere really is a place unto itself, its own little corner of the Internet...

Monday, July 9, 2007

Rudy Giuliani Gets Booed on Taxes

On Saturday, GOP Presidential hopefully Rudy Giuliani was in Florida where we served as Grand Marshall for NASCAR's Pepsi 400 in Daytona. Before the race he attended a town hall meeting in Jacksonville, Florida, where about 500 people listened to him answer questions for half and hour or so. One of his answers brought jeers and boos from some people in the crowd. Giuliani was asked if he would support a flat tax proposal (proponents are using the euphemism "fair tax").

Giuliani said "no." People in the crowd (a couple of dozen or so of them, at least) made those same nasty noises in response to Giuliani's answer that many race fans make during driver introductions when Jeff Gordon gets introduced.

GOP hopeful Rudy GiulianiI found it interesting that, in a crowd of 500 people, only 25 to 50 of them vocalized negative feelings about his answer. That means that only five or ten percent of the people there felt strongly about the "flat tax" question. I also found it interesting that the Associated Press headlined a story based on the incident; but they did. Go figure...

If you're looking for something to think about that will make your head hurt, try taxes. The issue is complicated beyond words. There's no sense discussing it much with someone unless you have at least a vague level of agreement with them about what governments should do -- by which I mean the sorts of things a governments should dabble in more than exactly which course of action governments should take on something. After all, taxation is how government pays for what it does.

Most people don't have a firm grip on the number of different governments and taxes there are that have some effect on their daily lives. If you live in a town in Virginia you almost definitely pay taxes to the town (even if you don't own property), taxes to the county the town is in, taxes to the Commonwealth of Virginia, and taxes to the Federal government. Among my favorites is the prepared food tax that most Virginia local governments charge when you buy cooked food; that tax adds an additional five or six percent to the price of your hamburger at a Wendy's or Shoney's and that money stays with the locality where the restaurant is located.

If you live in some other state, there's a good chance your county taxes you twice - once through your county commission and once through your school board. In Virginia school boards don't have that power.

I looked up the term "flat tax" online and found that not everyone agrees what a flat tax even is. On the one hand, a flat tax is technically a tax where everyone pays the same amount - like the $10 tax I pay to put a county sticker on the windshield of my car. Poor or rich, whether it's for your 30 year old Pinto or your Dodge Viper, ten bucks is what it costs. But most people mean a flat rate or percentage when they talk about a flat tax - everyone would pay something different because they earned (or spent) a different amount.

Of course, we haven't talked about what to tax yet. Some flat taxers want to tax income, some want to tax only earned income, and some what to tax spending (instead of income). That last proposal is what people mean most of the time what they talk about the so-called "fair tax." They want a national sales tax of some sort to replace income tax in America.

I've always struggled with the definition of the word "fair." I can't give you a definition of that term that satisfies me. Most people think of everyone being treated the same.

We don't treat all kids the same at the school where I work:

  • Some of them we make pay for their lunch; others we give lunch to for free.
  • Most have to take their math tests in silence and have half an hour; a few, though, get 45 minutes and some help reading the test.
  • Some students at my school we make read their books without any sort of devices to help them; others we let wear glasses.
What's "fair" mean?

The "fair tax" proposal is attributed in large part to radio personality Neal Boortz, promoted by the organization Americans for Fair Taxation, and embodied in a bill in committee in the U.S. House of Representatives called H.R. 25.

Common question number one is how a flat tax is fair to the poor (since they have less of an ability to pay)? Not to worry; the poor will go into the grocery store and pay the new 23% sales tax on milk and bread (just like everyone else), but then they'll get a check from the government called a "prebate" to compensate them for money they spend on basic necessities (just like everyone else).

Like the old (current) tax system, there's no effort to allow for the fact that the cost of basic necessities is different in Los Angeles than it is in, say, Newberry, South Carolina. Still, proponents say the "fair tax" is "progressive." I don't know how that's "fair," but I'm not sure what they mean by the word.

One minor detail that bothers me some about the proposal that Americans for Fair Taxation has online is simple. Right now poor people don't have to do any paperwork to escape income tax. If their income is less than the amount of their deduction and exemptions, they don't have to file. Under the proposal I looked at online, poor people would have to file paperwork to get their tax rebate - they'd have to fill out a new form to get back money the government shouldn't have taken. The amount of paperwork rich people have to do would decline sharply and the amount of paperwork poor people (who generally have less education) have to do would go up. That strikes me as being less than progressive; my experience with poor people leads me to suspect that many would miss out because they wouldn’t do the paperwork.

I do know this: poor people (and many in the lower half of the middle class) generally spend every penny they get just to make it from month to month. Rich people don't have that problem. So under the new "fair tax," a couple in their thirties raising two point four children in the burbs will pay taxes on almost every penny they make just because they spend it while the doctors and lawyers in more affluent neighborhoods, even if they pay more in actually taxes, could get by with paying tax on half or less of their income. Then when you look at the government's money and you talk about what portion of it came from the wealthy and what part of it came from the average American who's just try to make ends meet while they raise their kids, you'd find that the "fair tax" reduced the percentage of the Federal budget that was paid for by the more well to do. Rich people will be happy about that.

I'll ask rhetorically, "how is that fair?" And I expect that someone will explain it to me whether the question is intended to be rhetorical or not...

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Fred Thompson: Hero to Rodent at the Speed of Sound

"Dumb as Hell." That was former President Nixon's description of Fred Thompson in February of 1973 when Thompson became one of the two co-chief counsels to the Senate Watergate Committee. By June 6 (15 weeks later), Nixon's opinion hadn't changed; according to a recent Associated Press story, Nixon's attorney, J. Fred Buzhardt, can be heard on one White House tape explaining to then President Nixon that Thompson was "friendly," even if he wasn't very smart.

The truth about Fred Thompson surfaced recently as the Associated Press was reviewing Nixon Era White House tapes.

Sarah Baxter, a columnist for the Times of London, is blunt: Thompson was Nixon's "mole" in the Senate Watergate Committee. Imagine... One century he was a hero, the guy that asked the BIG question ("Mr. Butterfield, are you aware of the installation of any listening devices in the Oval Office of the president?"). And Fred Thompson was credited with writing the question that summed up Watergate, that meanest of questions that Thompson's mentor, Senate Howard Baker (R-TN) asked former White House counsel John Dean ("What did the president know and when did he know it?"). Then the next century rolls around and everyone figures out that when Thompson asked White House aide Alexander Butterfield about tapes and listening devices, Thompson already knew the answer and asked the questions mostly so that his friends in the White House would know that the Senate knew about the tapes. Democrats on the committee when incensed that Thompson let the cat out of the bag on that issue.

Oh, and the Baker question? Some historians now thinks that it was originally intended to show that whether the president was involved in the Watergate scandal came down to the word of one witness (John Dean) against the word of a sitting President. Which was true until the tapes came to light.

Rarely do people get such a glimpse into how history will remember them. When the tapes were reviewed, Thompson went from being the tough hero who asked the hard questions to a rodent (a mole) at the speed of sound (the sound of those tapes).

Does Thompson play up his Watergate hero credentials? Sarabeth at 1115 Dot Org points out that:

To hear Freddie tell it, he was singlehandedly responsible for bringing down Richard Nixon’s house of cards. He was the “hard-charging counsel on the Watergate committee” who took the lead in revealing “the audio-taping system in the White House Oval Office”.
And now we find out that Nixon's attorney, Buzhardt, spent days coaching Thompson on how to question John Dean because the Nixon White House wasn't sure Thompson was smart enough to carry that much water for them...

But in Fred Thompson's case the irony is that after decades of pretending to be the hero, Conservatives in America may actually like him more because they now know he "Carried water for the (Republican) White House," as one historian puts it. And the rest of America? Unfortunately they may well view the issue as being long ago in a far away place and not take into account what living the charade for so long says about Thompson's character.

I suspect that other character issues and conflicts will surface for Thompson as his years as a Washington lobbyist come under scrutiny. As one blog I read today has already pointed out, when it's all said and done, Thompson may go the way of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The LA Times recently reported that Thompson took money from a pro-choice group for his services as a lobbyist and then told them he spoke to John Sununu several times on their behalf when Sununu was White House Chief of Staff for the first President Bush. If he lied to them, he committed criminal fraud, the same kind of fraud that Abramoff is now in jail for. If, on the other hand, he really did lobby the White House for a pro-choice group, his status as the Right-to-Life candidate is in the crapper.

Thompson needs those conservative credentials; charm (and good acting) will only take him so far...