Sunday, July 15, 2007

Tennessean Story on Lack of Public Water References Fred's Home County

In 1994 Jim Cooper was running for Senate against Fred Thompson. Thompson, who’d never sought elected office at, had come out of right field to mount a powerful campaign against the four term Congressman. Thompson ran a campaign based largely on his down home demeanor. That irked Cooper who at one point lashed out at Thompson and called him a “Gucci-wearing, Lincoln-driving, Perrier-drinking, Grey Poupon-spreading millionaire Washington special-interest lobbyist.”

The charge never stuck, largely because anyone who’s ever been in the presence of Fred Thompson and witnessed the man’s powerful, folksy personality knows that the last thing you could accuse him of being is an elitist. A good ol' country boy who’s managed to enjoy some of the finer things in life? Sure. But not an elitist.

Of course Fred Thompson came by his folksiness honestly. Lawrence County, Tennessee, where Thompson was raised and initially practiced law, is about as country as you can get. Lawrence County is the sort of place where you’re as likely to find a trailer as a house. It’s the kind of community where front yards serve as good parking places any old day of the week. And a drive through the county on Highway 43 will reveal place names that sound like were plucked from a Jesse Stuart novel; names like Bigby, Stillhouse Hollow and Sandy Hook.

You can’t possibly travel through the charming, rural county without thinking of Abraham Lincoln’s reply when asked to describe his upbringing: Lincoln answered, simply, that it could be described in one sentence "the short and simple annals of the poor," a reference to a verse in a poem by english poet Thomas Gray entitled Elegy Written in a Country Courtyard.

I thought of the rural themes Thompson will be able to play in a Presidential campaign when I read this story in today’s Tennessean (the state’s Nashville paper). The story-- Lack of public water plagues rural Tennessee, Cost to connect all is $1.7B; some use risky sources—illustrates the fact that rural America still faces many challenges in terms of its infrastructure and economic development needs.

That Fred Thompson spent many of the most formative years of his life in communities such as these—Lawrence County counted among those communities with the most residents not on public water—can be used not only as a foil against those who would try to tag him as an elitist, it can also be used by Fred to make the case that he is the candidate best suited to address rural issues. And not only did Fred come from such a rural place, counties such as Lawrence constituted his base while he was in the Senate.

These are important themes that Fred should play on in the heartland. I believe they’ll have resonance. Who knows, the next time someone asks him about being a “Gucchi-wearing, Perrier-drinking…”, Fred will cut them off and remind them that there might be a pretty darned good reason to drink bottled water where he’s from.

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