Sunday, August 05, 2007

TV Dinner: Chris Matthews Casts Fred Thompson as the New Ben Cartwright

WASHINGTONIn branding Sen. Fred Thompson as the next Ben Cartwright, Chris Matthews raises an interesting question. Is an increasingly sullen Republican Party, and maybe America, in dire need of good, old-fashioned comfort food?

We suggest readers have a look at's description of Cartwright:

Righteous and strong, Ponderosa patriarch Ben Cartwright is a range-riding pillar of justice. Owning the largest ranch in Nevada makes Ben Cartwright a hugely wealthy man. Never forgetting his humble roots Ben Cartwright is often found offering a helping hand to neighbors as well as strangers in times of need.

Looking at Thompson's surging poll numbers – particularly in South Carolina, Florida, and Nevada – we're thinking that Matthews' comparison hits the mark. As the only Reaganesque archetype considering the GOP nod, Sen. Thompson is nearly picture-perfect casting for Bonanza Redux. A top-ten show for 10 of its 14 seasons – and Number One during four of America's most tumultuous years, 1964-1967, Bonanza hearkened Americans back to "simpler times," while simultaneously touching a series of controversial issues ranging from racism to domestic violence. If Ben Cartwright's portrayer, Lorne Greene, had not been a Canadian, he might have well have been 1968's Fred Thompson – in either party.

At the same time, Sen. Thompson's campaign needs to carefully avoid this comparison. If his rivals portray him as a "TV Dinner," Thompson needs to reach beyond the Southern-Fried Reagan card, and emphasize his 14 years of public service – and devotion to replenishing American strength. All told, Sen. Thompson's brand of "Law and Order" might just become "Bonanza" to a Republican Party desperately in need of a fresh "patriarch."

For Democrats, a Republican Party united under Sen. Thompson will present a real challenge. America is a nation addicted to comfort food. If Thompson looks like the Republican nominee, Democrats might have to apply a new test to their candidates and ask which one won't make Middle America feel like they have a choice between a piping hot TV dinner or a dollop of cold, steamed spinach.

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