Fred Thompson: Senator vs. Actor

We compare the words of former Sen. Fred Thompson, (R-TN) with those of the actor Fred Dalton Thompson, star of TV's Law and Order.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Back now with DAY TO DAY.

Another possible Republican candidate for president: Fred Thompson. A lot of Republicans say he's a dream candidate, someone perhaps like - Ronald Reagan?

ALEX COHEN, host:

Also an actor, Thompson quit his gig playing D.A. Arthur Branch on the TV show "Law and Order", a job he's held ever since he left the Senate in 2003.

BRAND: Okay, Fred Thompson's not exactly blazing a trail here. Here in California, in fact, there's a former actor in the governor's mansion, and of course there's Ronald Reagan, also from California.

COHEN: Ronald Reagan played a wide range of characters on the silver screen - ballplayers, ranch hands, a college professor with a chimp for a companion.

(Soundbite of movie, "Bedtime for Bonzo")

Mr. RONALD REAGAN (Actor): (As Professor Boyd) Bonzo, you get down before I tan your hide.

BRAND: Yeah. "Bedtime for Bonzo". But there are some things unique about Thompson's case. He often plays fictional versions of what he is or at least what he aspires to be - presidents, senators, district attorneys.

COHEN: Fred Thompson is the reliable actor Hollywood calls when they need someone to play a reliable guy. So when Fred Thompson hits the campaign trail, Americans may have a harder time separating the actor from the candidate.

BRAND: Here is actor Fred Thompson.

(Soundbite of show)

Senator FRED THOMPSON (Former Republican Senator, Tennessee; Actor): (As character) Is it possible that this guy has pushed some buttons on you, and I may be overreacting just a little?

COHEN: And here's Fred Thompson, real-life Tennessee senator.

Sen. THOMPSON: You're all trying to avoid the clear truth that you were told that anybody outside that cabin with a weapon was fair game, and then you were encouraged to shoot him.

BRAND: Fred Thompson playing a district attorney.

(Soundbite of TV Show "Law and Order")

Sen. THOMPSON: (As D.A. Arthur Branch) The last thing I want is for this to turn into another Scopes trial.

COHEN: And Fred Thompson, actual former co-chief counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee.

(Soundbite of Watergate hearing)

Sen. THOMPSON: Mr. Butterfield, are you aware of the installation of any listening devices in the Oval Office of the president?

BRAND: And in a weird Mobius strip, he even played himself, Senator Fred D. Thompson, in a comedy that came out last year.

(Soundbite of show)

Sen. THOMPSON: We'd like for you to head up a project. Take a month, go to India and Pakistan, write a 500-page report, and tell us what makes the Muslims laugh.

COHEN: Okay, so maybe your keen ear is still pick up on the difference between real-life Thompson and thespian Thompson. But listen to what happens when we mix in a little background music.

Sen. THOMPSON: We've just seen the beginnings of the problem. If we don't do something about it, what we've seen this last time is going to look minuscule in comparison.

At every step of the way, I've been met with resistance - resistance on big things, resistance on little things. The only constant thing is resistance.

BRAND: Okay, I can't even tell the difference now. While Ronald Reagan was often a leading man with his handsome face and playful charm, Fred Thompson, well, he's never the star. His name is never above the title on the poster.

COHEN: His face is never even on the poster.

BRAND: Right. So maybe it's not a surprise that a leading man won two presidential elections, but is America ready for...

(Soundbite of "Law and Order" music)

BRAND: ...the character-actor presidency?

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