Tammy v Tommy exposes the hypocrisy of ‘family values’

Louis Weisberg, Staff writer

The agenda of so-called “family values” candidates has nothing to do with supporting families. In fact, those candidates oppose measures that would help families, particularly families who are economically disadvantaged, non-white and lesbian or gay. They’re seldom concerned about such family issues as affordable health care, a strong public education system and ensuring working people earn a livable wage. 

The actual “family values” agenda is narrowly focused on policies involving sexual behavior. They want to ban contraception and abortion in order to discourage women from having sex for pleasure rather than for procreation. They don’t want young people to have access to information about sex, because they fear it fosters temptation.

Most so-called family values supporters want same-sex relations to be criminalized and LGBT people back in the closet. They’d like to make pornography illegal. They disapprove of drinking and partying, because they fear it leads to licentiousness.

As scandal after scandal on the religious right has proven, however, embracing this philosophy publicly is no guarantee that it’s practiced. Republican U.S. Senate candidate Tommy Thompson appears to be a prime example.

Aging party boy

When one of Thompson’s top campaign staffers disseminated a tweet and an email this summer calling into question the “heartland values” of Democratic opponent Tammy Baldwin, the implication was that her sexual orientation removed her from the moral mainstream.

Following a Thompson speech at the Milwaukee Rotary Club, I asked the former governor if raising the issue of Baldwin’s private life had opened up his private life for public scrutiny.

“I don’t have to answer that,” he spluttered angrily, waving me away in dismissal. 

Sexual morality is a dicey issue for Thompson, if you believe those who claim to have observed the governor’s personal behavior up close. Although no one would speak to me on the record about Thompson’s fabled drinking and womanizing, everyone had a story or two to share. Throughout his political career, rumors of Thompson’s sexual promiscuity have been pervasive.

Whether there’s fire behind this smoke is something that voters concerned about sexual morality might consider.

The stories of Thompson’s drinking don’t need to be substantiated. They can be confirmed with a visit to YouTube – just search “Tommy Thompson drunk.” Many watchers, I included, thought he was half-tanked during his second debate with Baldwin, where he was not only unnecessarily bellicose and rambling but stumbled over words such as “Libya.”

A motorcycle enthusiast, Thompson, now 70, apparently joined in many group rides during his heyday. One colleague who recalls him from those times said he always traveled with one or more buxom young women, who became known as “Tommy’s girls.” The exact nature of Thompson’s relationship with his “girls” is unknown, although it was clear they weren’t relatives.

One Madison journalist wrote that Thompson added to suspicions about his private life shortly after being elected governor, when he ended the practice of logging in the names of guests. But it’s also rumored that Thompson conducted many of his alleged trysts at Madison’s Concourse Hotel.

Although four particular women are most frequently mentioned in connection with Thompson, I was able to find published reports concerning only Janice Barr. 

In 1997, the Republican-leaning Milwaukee Journal Sentinel filed an open records request for the governor’s phone records. The records spanned more than a year and a half and included at least five land lines and cell phones.

According to the records, Barr was one of the people Thompson called most frequently – 24 times. That was more than the 19 calls he placed to his wife. Barr was Thompson’s secretary for a number of years. MJS reported: 

“Thompson shows signs of being a night owl. His phone lines show 103 calls placed after 10 p.m. and before 6 a.m. Most of the night calls were placed from his car phone.”

Readers were left to draw their own conclusions.

Sly in the Morning, a Madison radio personality on WTDY, has had a field day ridiculing the blustery former governor’s love life. In a 2011 spiel, he ridiculed Thompson for saying his wife and family kept him from running for Senate in 2010.

“We have these marriages of convenience – look at Sue Ann Thompson!” he said. “She put up with that bum for years. Tommy has been hopping from bed to bed to bed and everyone knows it! And we still put this charade on that Sue Ann Thompson had objections to him running. Sue Ann Thompson plays no role in his life whatsoever. The last time she saw his penis, TV was black-and-white. I am sick of these women vouching for their bum husbands.”

A study in contrasts

During debates with Baldwin and at public appearances, Thompson inevitably brings up his family as the bedrock of his life. He paints a portrait of himself suggesting he’s spent the last decade of his life as a farmer, dandling grandchildren on his knees when he’s not milking the cows.

The manner in which Thompson has overhauled his narrative airbrushes reality. He has so many expensive homes that he recently forgot about one of them during an interview – a mere $1.3-million luxury lakefront condominium. He spent a decade living in the Washington, D.C., area, where he bought and sold numerous other homes while earning an estimated $13 million peddling the influence he’d gained as a member of George W. Bush’s administration.

Still, he’s managed to reinvent himself as a Washington outsider, a good ole Wisconsin boy – and an irrepressibly folksy one at that.

“You can call me Tommy, everybody always has,” he announced to the Rotarians in one of his characteristic verbal slaps on the back.

During debates, Thompson repeatedly assailed Baldwin for allegedly sitting in a seat of power and doing nothing for 14 years. In fact, she was a diligent member of Congress – only one of 535 – who served mostly under Republican control, having few opportunities for legislative success. Meanwhile, Thompson used his considerable power and influence to get rich.

He accused Baldwin of supporting the repressive, misogynistic regime in Iran, despite the fact that she’s worked for social justice and gender equality throughout her political career. In fact, it is Thompson who has supported Iran. He owned stock in companies that do business with the country. Some of them support its nuclear programs.

During a debate, Thompson asserted that he hadn’t known about the stocks and assured the audience he’d sold them that morning after learning about them. The audience groaned.

In fact, it was later reported that Thompson owned about 800 shares in several companies at a value of up to $50,000.

Thompson, like other GOP candidates in the 2012 cycle, has taken the cynical approach not only of denying his own unpopular positions but also trying to pin them on his opponent. I recently received a mailer from the Thompson campaign assailing Baldwin for seeking to destroy Medicare. In fact, Baldwin has always been a champion of Medicare while Thompson has vowed to turn it over to private insurance companies via a voucher system.

Similarly, Thompson has called Baldwin’s stand on the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, into question because of a vote she took against a Republican resolution that amounted to pro-Bush propaganda during a political year. She was one of only 22 U.S. representatives brave enough to oppose the cynical measure, which she felt was an insult to the families of 9/11 victims.

Baldwin has fought hard for 9/11 victims, and survivors have condemned Thompson’s shameless attempts to exploit their tragedy politically. At their final debate, Thompson laughably claimed to have been among the first responders to the attack, cradling dying victims in his arms as they thanked him, calling him “Tommy.”

The truth is somewhat different. Thompson made what Baldwin estimates to be about $3 million from Logistics Health, a Wisconsin company that won a contract to provide care to 9/11 responders. According to multiple reports, that company denied them adequate care.

Although the two camps have repeatedly sparred over the facts, there are clues that signal who’s telling the truth: Baldwin has released all of her tax records, while Thompson has refused to release even one of them since 1997. A tally of PolitiFact ratings on statements by Baldwin and Thompson as of Oct. 8 showed that Baldwin had received only one “false” rating, compared with Thompson’s six. Three of his outrageous statements were rated “pants on fire.”

Thompson’s transparent dishonesty puts to shame even Paul Ryan’s staged appearance at a soup kitchen in Ohio, where he scrubbed already-washed dishes for the camera.

Tammy versus Tommy exposes the hypocrisy of traditional values candidates. Dishonesty, infidelity and political corruption are traditional Machiavellian values, perhaps, but not mainstream American ones.