- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 5, 2007

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — Former Sen. Fred Thompson, in his first major speech since he said he is considering a presidential campaign, argued that the federal government is broken and it’s time to cut it back down to size.

The lawyer and actor, who served eight years in the U.S. Senate from Tennessee, told the Lincoln Club of Orange County, Calif., late Friday that America must lead the civilized nations of the world in “fighting against the forces of nihilism and destruction and darkness” abroad, and at home the government must return to its constitutional role.

“I think our attitude ought to be to the federal government, ‘Do what you’re supposed to do and do it competently, and then we might give you something else to do,’ ” he said.

For someone who hasn’t decided on his presidential plans, Mr. Thompson drew candidate-worthy coverage for his 35-minute speech at a resort hotel on the Pacific Ocean: 10 television cameras and about 20 reporters were on hand.

“Ever wonder why when our problems seem to be getting larger, so many of our politicians seem to be getting smaller?” he asked, to the delight of the 350 club members and guests.

Many Republicans are eagerly awaiting Mr. Thompson’s decision on whether to enter the nomination fight, thinking he can unite the party and give conservatives the champion some say is lacking in the current field. In the weeks since his name surfaced as a potential candidate, he has climbed in opinion polls, even overtaking former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for third place in some surveys.

With the exception of immigration, Mr. Thompson did not hit any of the major social issues such as abortion, instead choosing to spend his time talking about government waste, tax cuts and defense.

He seemed to side with those who favor some sort of legalization of illegal aliens, saying he thinks the real problem in immigration is preventing future illegal crossings.

“I don’t think the 12 million illegal aliens that are here, that are a concern, are as much of a concern to most people as the next 12 million and the next 12 million after that,” Mr. Thompson said.

But he also said the first step should be to establish secure borders, and then “people of good will can sit down and work out the rest of this together.”

Mr. Thompson said the United States must remain committed to fighting in Iraq or else “this world is going to be a more dangerous place.”

“As long as we have any chance there, as long as those brave people on the front lines who are making our sacrifices for us and doing so much, as long as they have a chance and they say they have a chance, we need to give them that opportunity to make that work,” he said.

The speech will be dissected by pundits and the other Republican campaigns, since it marks Mr. Thompson’s first complete statement of principles during the campaign season.

Mr. Thompson often sounded similar to Sen. Barack Obama, the Illinois Democrat whose presidential campaign theme is trying to surmount partisan politics.

The former senator said leaders need to challenge Americans to come together on the major problems, and he expects Americans to live up to the challenge.

“If we get the response that I think we’ll get from the American people … it will shake the Capitol, and you’ll have your bipartisanship,” he said.

At times, Mr. Thompson — who last ran for office in 1996 — was uncomfortable reading from a prepared speech and seemed to be more in his element speaking extemporaneously. In fact, he did not deliver some of the more strident lines that appeared in the excerpts he posted to his Web page on ABC Radio’s site, for which he does regular commentary.

In those prepared remarks, he challenged unnamed politicians who say “we should talk more to our nation’s enemies” and “speak ‘truth to power.’ ”

“The speakers are usually turned in the wrong direction. Instead of talking to each other, leaders need to be speaking more to the American people,” Mr. Thompson’s prepared remarks read.

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