Tommy Thompson is an unfortunate relic

WiG editorial

Tommy Thompson’s U.S. Senate campaign recently reminded us how far behind the curve he really is.

Senior political adviser Brian Nemoir disseminated a tweet from the Thompson campaign linking to a video showing Democratic rival Tammy Baldwin dancing at a 2010 Pride event. “Clearly, there’s no one better positioned to talk ‘heartland values’ than Tammy,” Nemoir wrote in an email, implying that being gay is inconsistent with having values.

Thompson refused to address the incident for six days, until pressed by reporters. Then he said Nemoir had been shifted to another position, saying it was a less public role. But that same night, Nemoir sent out emails from Thompson’s campaign account under his original title.

During Thompson’s heyday, the press would have ignored such an incident, just as the press looked the other way for years at his personal indiscretions. He looked like a deer in the headlights when confronted about it.

The episode was reminiscent of Thompson’s appearance before a conference of Reform Jews a few years ago, when he congratulated the audience on their success at making money. He was astounded later to learn the listeners were not flattered at being stereotyped in a way that’s been used to persecute them.

The only area where Thompson’s sensibilities intersect with today’s politics is in the Republicans’ worship of mega wealth. After leaving George W. Bush’s administration, where he served as Secretary of Health and Human Services, he cashed in shamelessly on his political connections and is $13 million richer as a  result. Among other things, he lobbied for changes in Medicare to benefit companies in which he had a financial stake – to the detriment of seniors.

For most of Thompson’s gubernatorial tenure, the nation enjoyed a prolonged period of economic growth. He took credit for job creation that he had little or nothing to do with, but he never explained the huge budget deficit he left behind.

Blustery and gaffe-prone, Thompson demonstrates a troubling lack of vision or purpose. His idea of leadership is strictly partisan – grandstanding rather than moving the nation forward. “The truth of the matter is I’m not going to compromise,” he said at a June Tea Party event in Oconomowoc.

At a recent appearance before the Rotary Club of Milwaukee, he described himself as a moderate at some times, a conservative at others. He bragged at length about being the first Bush cabinet member to visit Ground Zero after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, as if it was a reason to vote for him. In answering questions from the audience, he expressed agreement with key provisions of the Affordable Care Act, which he opposes.

Thompson’s plan to reduce the U.S. budget deficit would increase it over the next decade by providing big tax cuts for the wealthy. He believes that allowing the uber rich to bring money they’ve sheltered overseas back home tax-free would stimulate job growth. That’s just another trickle-down fairy tale that would benefit only him and his friends. It was discredited long ago as an effective economic stimulator.

Thompson is a relic from a bygone era of politics. If elected, his style would be a distraction and an embarrassment that would harm the state. He has nothing to offer a nation that has real problems except for a pat on the back and a few empty boasts.