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Postmodern Village
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Fred Thompstone and the Modern Stone Age Candidacy
By Special Correspondent T.S. DeHaviland

It all begins in an Iowa snowstorm, the sort that makes the whole world appear tinted with a dark blue as it rolls in from the west and begins to fill the valleys between Iowa’s hills with a sticky, thick layer of snow the consistency of cake batter. Thomas Hart Benton got it right, of course, and the open-faced men and the broad-shouldered women are still here, but now they’re busting sod with $200,000 monsters replete with GPS and articulated abdomens, neo-sauruses in aluminum and cast iron. The days of the quaint, green John-Deere have gone the way of Moxie and Beeman’s gum.

Inside a stifling community center in the tidy village of Bedrock, Iowa, Fred Thompstone was not exactly rallying the crowd. Their interest seemed tentative, their enthusiasm default. “I’m still not sure about the leopard skin toga,” a pert, 30ish blond with frosted bangs admitted to a reporter. “But at least he’s pro-life.” She paused to adjust a cuff. “I think.”

At that moment, Fred Thompstone appeared on the stage, all 6’3” of him, dressed in his signature skins but donning a more formal look with a new tie around his neck. A 5 o’clock shadow crept on toward dark, giving his jutting jaw and heavy brow a prehistoric caste. His stump speech ran the course of the standard Rockpublican talking points: anti-abortion, pro-war, anti gun-control, pro-execution (though Thompstone’s favored “activist judge-proof” method, stoning, did strike many in the crowd as a bit odd). The candidate elaborated on the expected in all else but one at this stop: anti-immigrant, pro-free market, anti-gay marriage, pro-expanded drilling for fossil fuels. This last point seemed to be an important one for Thompstone, as if he had a personal investment in dead dinos. He took pains to wax sentimental about brontosauruses wandering about in a “simpler, warmer, happier clime,” and to note the glory of a pterodactyl “graceful on its bat-like wing.” Thompstone extolled the “friendliness of a stegosaurus,” as if he had known a few himself.

Later, the smatterings of applause capping the evening with respectable anticlimax, a reporter relaxing in his motel room and perusing over Thompstone’s campaign literature found the true reason for the Rockpublican hopeful’s embrace of the fossil-fuel programme. He packages it to the masses in typical homespun fashion: tradition, history, greatness, pride. But details of his plan involve an actual goal of “1-12 degree increase in global climate by 2100” in an attempt to “right a climatological wrong” begun by the last ice age. Backed up by “facts” from energy-sector-funded scientists, Thompstone’s position asserts that the extinctions of the dinosaurs “sequestered great quantities of carbon underground” where their “proper place keeping the atmosphere warm enough to sustain substantial populations of industrial-strength mega-fauna” could not be maintained. If released, their argument goes, “whole lost worlds of reptile/human collaboration” could be restored, “returning this great nation to the Gondwana it used to be.” Accompanying this is an artist’s rendering of a primitive phonograph-like device, a prehistoric bird, beak-to-disk, projecting out the sound.

No such quasi-eschatological/utopian language was present during his speech, but that is no surprise: Thompstone’s true position would be palatable only to his core constituency, so-called “Mundi-mentalists” who contend that our biggest mistake was coming down out of the trees to begin with, and they have the biblical passages to tell you why. Theirs is no end-world prophecy, but an attempt to “take humanity back to its womb,” using Genesis’ story of the Fall of Man as proof that our antediluvian garden was a warmer, wetter, more hospitable place to live. One would think such a message would poll well with Iowans in the throes of winter, but as one Thompstone handler put it on condition of anonymity: “We have to careful because it’s also a bit of an insult, since they chose to live here.”

Whatever Thompstone’s strategy is for avoiding the more controversial aspects of his candidacy, they seem not to have excited the Rockpublican rank-and-file. This surprises most analysts, as Thompstone was seen, previous to his entering the race, as a highly-anticipated savior-figure, able to overcome the obvious shortcomings of the other contenders in the general election. The mainstream media touted his conservative credentials: one time prosecutor in the Nixstone administration; five-term congressman from Flint, Michigan; recent TV personality playing the traditional patriarch of a sitcom cave man family—it all seemed to state, boldly and calmly, “I stand for traditional values.” But that last role, as an actor, is both Thompstone’s Ace in the Hole and his Ace of Spades: his creation as a household name banks on that role, a role he is suited for in terms of attitude, physiognomy, and personal style. But it has also typecast Thompstone as, perhaps, less than presidential. “We like our presidents to be leaders and not just lawyers,” asserts Loyola poli-sci professor Leila Lenovitch. “Thompstone may be the world’s greatest caveman-prosecutor, the ur-patriarch, but because of that he’s not yet seen as a potent presidential possibility.”

Thompstone’s personal past may also be part of what’s hampering his progress with religious conservatives in particular. His first wife, Wilma, disappeared under mysterious circumstances on a trip to the famed La Brea tar pits; neither her body nor any signs of how or why she disappeared have since surfaced. Thompstone’s second wife, Betty, was once married to his former best friend, and the Hollywood rumor-mill has it that the former prosecutor and his best friend’s wife were involved long before Wilma’s disappearance or his best friend’s estrangement.

But beyond that, the failure of Thompstone’s campaign to really take off appears surprising. Despite the misgivings of the woman at the Iowa rally, most Rockpublicans embrace Thompstone’s cave man image as a “no-nonsense, back-to-basics” approach, the outward manifestation of what was so appealing about George W. Bush intellectually.

Perhaps a better explanation of the ho-hum response to Thompstone’s bid for the White House is the relative glut of Rockpublican candidates, from Silt Romney’s clean-cut run to Rock Paul’s dark horse internet campaign, Rockpublican voters already had a bewildering array of options before Thompstone stepped in. Or it may simply be that likely voters just don’t know quite what to do with the gravelly voice and faux-blue-collar demeanor of Thompstone. His constant references to terrorists as “sabre-toothed tigers,” and to the slow pace of government as “like a frozen mammoth in a Siberian glacier,” fail to resonate with voters whose most likely points of comparison run on electricity. “Still,” writes conservative columnist Saul Underall, “There’s a Ralph Kramden aspect to him that traditional women seem to love.” One wonders, though, how many Phyllis Schlaflys there really are out there anymore, even in darkest Iowa or swing states like Florida or Ohio.

Meeting Thompstone’s plane at the tarmac in the Granite State, supporters were greeted by still more cold. The primeval wind blew now, a Nor’easter, upwind of where the chartered Beechjet waggled on final approach, as if against the inexorable stream of time itself. The smattering of supporters here, unlike in Iowa, took on a cultlike quality rare in the more reserved Midwest. A few had taken up Thompstone’s leopard skin sartorial theme, with one man shivering in his off-the-shoulder one-piece and no coat. A perhaps more sensible female supporter, just breaking into her obvious middle-age, dressed in a Lycra leopard-print jumpsuit with a matching fur hat and muff. Perhaps in keeping with Thompstone’s platform of a “Neanderthal-style aristocracy of believers” the woman felt the need to emphasize to a reporter that the hat and muff were “totally real,” and that America’s entrance into international treaties to curtail the trade in endangered species was “a crock,” and “an affront to our most basic liberties.” She elaborated: “I mean they’re predators, the leopards—it’s not like they’re fuzzy-wuzzy widdle puddy-tats. They’d kill us if they had the chance. This isn’t endangerment; it’s self-preservation!”

True to form, Thompstone addressed this issue as well as “the steady encroachment of modern advancements such as the ‘wheel’ and the ‘bow and arrow’” which “threaten the sanctity of the tribe.” His rhetoric became here more basic, more raw, appealing to the very heart of the heart of his base. He appealed to the crowd to demand the “banning of graphic depictions in ochre or blood or any other medium” of sexuality, fearing they may besmirch “the very hearth of the family cave.” The applause by the ardent few was enthusiastic if not a bit muffled by the sheer size of the airport concourse.

None of this should suggest that Thompstone’s message isn’t getting out to the Rockpublican party more broadly. The president himself said this recently in a speech about Iran, echoing a Thompstonian ethos: "Our nation cannot remain sedimentary while Iran arms itself." And while it’s to be expected that during the Rockpublican primaries the major candidates would push each other steadily rightward, a trend steadily backward through time is a bit less expected, at least not in such an overt form. Not since Wagner attempted to reclaim Germany’s pagan past has the move toward out-and-out barbarism been so prominent a part of politics. Even such consummate campaign operators as John McClams have “heard loud and clear” that their conservative constituents believe securing our borders against the “homo-erectus hordes” should be the “nation’s #1 concern.”

It wasn’t until after his fourth place finish in the Granite State primary that Thompstone really began to polish his Rockpiblican street cred. The former congressman has always been against what he calls “willy-nilly progress,” but by now it was time to go negative, always a good move in a party that traditionally rewards strength and punishes weakness. Sometime front runner Mica Huckleberry was “endorsed by the NEA” during his campaign to reform the schools in Stonybrook, where he was mayor, contended

Thompstone during a recent debate. In contrast, Thompstone was “endorsed by the National Rock to Life Committee,” a Neolithic advocacy group. This comment garnered Thompstone a near-immediate ten point jump in the polls, reflecting a hostility among Rockpublicans toward the “dangerous innovation” represented by education.

But this still had Thompstone running third, although perhaps a less distant one. The election of 2008, no matter what the base says, still seems to be about change, with reform-minded candidates on both sides taking consistent leads. A week after New Hampshire, at a gathering of his faithful in Cenoza, Florida, Thompstone finally had his chance to transform his message from the past to a change to the past. Local conservative luminaries, business types, even the occasional activist hob-nobbed their way through tables laden with $500 a plate lobster. Thompstone again took the stage, in a more formal lion skin this time, a black tie bobbing up and down on his Adam’s apple as he spoke. Now, and perhaps for the first time, a crowd would feel the full force of a modern stone-age man.

“I believe in this country,” he thundered, his jowls shaking, the huge, prognathic jaw projecting the grating power of his voice all the way through the room’s back wall. “I believe in our ability to defend ourselves from terroristic sabre-toothed tigers! I believe that the Wooly Mammoth will come back to clothe and feed us and give us its rich fat for to render into our light and our heat!”

He was positively bellowing now, the great promontory of a forehead glistening with sweat.

“I will not let the forces of defeat and iron-age skepticism derail our march steadily into the past! I will not allow our simple faith in burning the blood of animal sacrifice to be shaken by such sophistications and abstractions as an ethereal and transcendent god! Oh no!”

And then the props came out. First the dead goat that Thompstone raised above his head as he spoke: “I need—we need—this country needs a God we can touch! A Big Man in the Sky whose lightning will fire forth to vanquish our enemies in our struggle with the dark forces of civilization, against their effete ineffectuality and Volvo-driving snobbery!”

Down went the goat, and up came the club, as did the zenith of Thompstone’s exhibition, of his exposition as well. He sat down, and, for the first time, I saw a Thompstone gathering go wild with enthusiasm, despite the rare Florida chill, despite the seeming decorum implied by the black ties and the designer gowns. You can take a Rockpublican out of his cave and put him in a suit and tie in a high-rise apartment, they seemed to be saying, but you can’t take the flint-knapping, spear-chucking, wife-clubbing pre-humanoid out of the Rockpublican, no matter how many lattes he’s forced to drink.

That it was not enough is instructive. For just a week after the rally in the Everglades, Thompstone was forced, by lack of money and lack of momentum, to bow out. This leaves the path open to the more modern morphologies of Silt Romney and John McClams, indicating that the Rockpublicans are willing to package their retrograde politics in the new-fashioned skins of change. If the last eight years of Rockpublican rule are any indication, that change will be only fur deep. But re-imaging could mean revitalization in the minds of voters, and that may mean a brontosaurus burger on every griddle, the vision of a party that sees the future only in tenses past.