In 1979, when Ted Kennedy was challenging then-President Jimmy Carter for the Democratic nomination, he was asked a simple question by reporter Roger Mudd: "Senator, why do you want to be president?" Stumbling around for a reason, Kennedy scuttled his chances for the White House.
(So famous was the disastrous event that The West Wing did an episode clearly inspired by it, concerning a contender for President Bartlett's job.)
Since Kennedy's gaff, candidates have been careful to have their answer nailed to the wall, and such was the case recently when Fred Thompson himself got The Question and was asked what he would do as president.
Thompson didn't shirk. He took the bull by the horns, stared straight ahead and with presidential gravitas forthrightly answered, "Lots of things."
A serious answer deserves equal thought, and so I've taken some time to give it due consideration. And despite others' wariness to the contrary, I have concluded that it's a wonderful answer.
Consider: compared with the present occupant of the Oval Office, "lots of things" is a vast step up. Okay, in fairness, "something" would be a step up. But when you're talking about president of the United States, you want to the very best, and "lots of things" is a whole lot better than "something." How much better? Lots better.
And lest anyone think that "Lots of things" isn't a good answer for one's goals as President of the United States, for how one wants to lead the nation and address the world on the international stage, think for a moment how truly grand the answer is.
For instance, getting personal for a moment, in the weeks ahead I will be writing about lots of things. If you knew now the details of specifics, then there would be no need to write them, and no need for you to read them. Yet that's how we grow, by learning. Let your imagination soar.
And look to yourselves. What are your hopes for the future? Are there lots of things you want to do? It need not be big deeds -- lunch, for example, would be terrific, and that's just as a starter. Understand, even if your dreams are small, there are still lots of things ahead for you, and "lots of things" doesn't allow you to sell yourself short.
My beloved Chicago Cubs are playing below .500 baseball right now. ("Right now" is generally defined as the last 98 years.) However, there are lots of things they can do to improve. Without lots of things, we'd have to start preparing for the next century.
There are lots of things that lots of things can be. It expresses our highest aspirations. Think how much more glorious John F. Kennedy's inauguration speech would have been had he said instead, "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask about the lots of things you can do for your country."
Or if Winston Churchill had told his countrymen during World War II, "I have nothing to offer but lots of things." England would not have been constrained by his offer of only "blood, toil, tears, and sweat."
What's impressive about Fred Thompson is that after a career of having other people write the words on TV and in movies that come out of his mouth which have crafted his homespun image, he came up with "lots of things" all by himself.
For a man who has not campaigned for the presidency, nor made any effort or shown any interest or ability in being president of the United States, to be able to come up with "lots of things" at the spur of the moment for his Presidential Goals is terribly remarkable. While his fellow Republican candidates have slogged the campaign trail and battled, Fred Thompson stayed in his dressing room and carefully forged his game plan. A rich, vibrant plan that comprised lots of things. A plan which demonstrated clearly why he was the Great Right Hope of the Republican Party. Ted Kennedy must be wincing in jealousy. It shows a combination of careful thought for the monumental job ahead and quick-thinking. Most Hollywood actors don't have that ability. But Fred Thompson is no mere Hollywood actor.
He's done lots of things.