WASHINGTON – In 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 TVLand.com'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.Hmmmmmmm.
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.