Fred Thompson looked much too relaxed on Sunday's "Meet the Press" interview with Tim Russert. He was nonchalant to the point of apathy about one of his key supporters being a convicted drug trafficker and his positions on rights for the unborn and the disabled were embarrassing in their lack of intellectual depth.
Thompson has to know his days are numbered as a presidential candidate. Indeed, he is now in hot water for joking to Carl Cameron of Fox News that he has doubts about his own candidacy.
The "Meet the Press" appearance, however, was more of a disaster than most people realize because the major media still distort the facts surrounding the controversial Terri Schiavo right-to-life case. Russert had asked Thompson questions about the case. Thompson, in his answers, sounded as if he believed that her family had been united in favor of starving her to death when in fact her parents had wanted to keep her alive and care for her. It's a crime that she was killed. It is so twisted and cruel in America today that, during the two weeks that Terri was being starved to death, her mother could have been arrested and charged with a crime for giving her a drop of water.
Under these circumstances, political leaders should be rallying to the cause of the human rights of the disabled. Instead, as the Boston Globe noted, even Republican presidential candidates are running away from the issue.
In this case, however, Thompson won't be able to blame the media for getting his facts wrong. Terri's brother, Bobby Schindler, tells me that the foundation his family has established in Terri's name has never been contacted about the case by Thompson or his campaign.
Thompson also told Russert that he was in the dark about one of his closest friends and advisers being a convicted drug trafficker until the Washington Post told him about it. Is that possible?
Matthew Mosk of the Washington Post deserves credit for bringing this incriminating information to the attention of the public.Brian Ross of ABC News ran a story the same day, complete with a mug shot of the Thompson friend and adviser, Philip J. Martin. It turns out that he has a criminal record that includes trafficking marijuana and cocaine and has been the target of lawsuits alleging financial fraud.
Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post had written on a blog in June that Martin was a member of Thompson's inner circle. "Here's what we know about Martin: he is a longtime friend of Thompson, is leading the candidate's early fundraising drive and is a successful businessman," reported Cillizza. "Other than that, he's a mystery man."
Now the mystery has been solved. And after Thompson's "Meet the Press" appearance, Martin resigned from the campaign.
But Thompson's answers about the right to life were equally perplexing. He said that he agreed that human life begins at conception and that abortion involves the taking of a human life. He said he realized this when he saw a sonogram of his unborn child. It "changed my heart" and "changed the way I look at things," he told Russert. "I was looking at my child..." Yet he doesn't believe that the federal government should protect that innocent unborn life. He opposes a human life amendment to the Constitution. Instead, he said he favors an approach whereby some states could protect human life and other states may not. How, then, can Thompson describe himself as pro-life?
Thompson claims to be the "consistent conservative" in the race and his comments about the Schiavo case sound conservative, except for the fact that conservatism favors the proposition that the purpose of government is to protect the right to life of innocent human beings. Without this fundamental human right, nothing else matters.
In the case of Terri Schiavo, a severely disabled person, there was a family dispute. Her estranged husband wanted her to die and he eventually succeeded in starving her to death. Her parents had wanted her to live.
"Meet the Press" host Tim Russert brought up the death of Thompson's daughter, who reportedly suffered a brain injury and a heart attack after an accidental overdose of prescription drugs. Apparently Thompson and members of his family made some decisions affecting her life and death. Thompson described it as an "end-of-life" issue.
Bobby Schindler says he doesn't know what the circumstances precisely were in that case and that he sympathizes with what Thompson went through. However, he says that it is not comparable at all to his sister's case.
"What no one is recognizing," he told me, "is that my sister's case was not an end-of-life issue. She was simply and merely disabled. Terri wasn't dying. She was only being sustained by food and water. She had no terminal illness. She wasn't on any machines. All she needed was a wheelchair and she could have been taken anywhere. She didn't even need to be confined to a bed."
Schindler suggests that Thompson may be suffering from media misinformation about the case. "The media have oversimplified the situation to 'Should the government have gotten involved in a private family matter?' Well, if you ask me that question I would say 'no' as well. But the fact of the matter is that there are some circumstances where government has every right to get involved, and I think this was one of them. Terri obviously didn't have her due process. All the Congress did was grant her the same rights that every convicted murderer gets before he's going to be executed," he explained. "And my family asked them to get involved."
Schindler said his family had always wanted the case to be a private family matter but that Terri's estranged husband had taken it to the courts in the first place.
Schindler said that he has sent letters to the presidential candidates that go beyond his sister's case to the matter of "what happens for those who are disabled like her in the future."
Recognizing the link between the availability of abortion and Terri Schiavo's fate, the Schindler family plans on being in Washington, D.C. next January 22 for the annual anti-abortion March for Life.
But it doesn't look like they will see Fred Thompson there. The official platform of the March for Life includes adoption of a human life amendment.