By Ruth Conniff on October 15, 2012

For weeks, the Thompson campaign has fended off accusations that it is keeping Tommy Thompson, candidate for U.S. Senate in Wisconsin, away from the press.

So reporters were extra hungry when Congressman Paul Ryan and Governor Scott Walker hosted a fundraiser for Tommy yesterday at the Harley-Davidson museum in Milwaukee.

They were not disappointed.

Today, video of Thompson's son, Jason, making comments about sending President Obama "back to Kenya" is going viral.

"We have the opportunity to send President Obama back to Chicago . . . or Kenya," Jason Thompson says in a speech, to applause. A woman's voice chimes in: "We're taking donations for that Kenya trip."

Daniel Bice, columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, reports that Thompson denied knowing about the remark when he met with reporters after the event. An hour later, his campaign sent out a statement correcting the record: "The Governor has addressed this with his son, just like any father would do," said the campaign statement. "Jason Thompson said something he should not have, and he apologizes."

The incident is just the latest in a series of gaffes that have plagued the Thompson campaign.

A video of Thompson telling a group “Who better than me . . . to do away with Medicaid and Medicare?” became campaign fodder last month.

Afterwards, the National Review reported that Tommy made disgruntled remarks about how his campaign staff were trying to "put me in a silo."

Another youtube video seemed to confirm this--showing the governor being hustled into his car after a press club speech in Milwaukee, as reporters try to ask him questions. Daniel Bice is shown in the video, wedging himself in the passenger door of Thompson's car to ask questions as campaign staff repeatedly try to interrupt the conversation:

Tommy has a long history of making the kind of impolitic, off-the-cuff remarks that make reporters and opponents pounce, and campaign staff cringe.

But the fact is, for much of his career, Thompson's un-P.C. style has endeared him to Wisconsin voters, making him seem genuine in an era of heavily managed campaigns.

"I've got the minorities on my side!" Thompson crowed, by way of introducing members of the Ho Chunk tribe at a campaign fundraiser during the Republican convention.

When he was running for President, Tommy told the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, admiringly, that making money is "part of the Jewish tradition." He had to apologize for appearing anti-Semitic. But actually, it seemed pretty clear from the context that Thompson had the best of intentions--"I'm in the private sector and for the first time in my life I'm earning money," he had told the group, happily.

Indians, Jews--everyone is invited to Tommy Thompson's big, happy, money-making Republican party. Unfortunately, that's not the tenor of the current Republican campaign.

"I want everyone to drink a beer tonight!" Tommy declared after winning the Senate primary.

That's the Tommy Wisconsinites know and love.

Past friends and supporters, dismayed by the way the campaign is now presenting Thompson as a hard-right tea partier, have argued that the campaign might do better if it would let Tommy be Tommy.

"They won't let him be Tommy anymore," laments former Republican staffer Bill Kraus.

To the Tommy gaffe connoisseur, son Jason's "back to Kenya" remark is of a different variety from vintage Thompson. It appeals to racists and conspiracy nuts--the angry element of the Republican base.

Vintage Tommy is not P.C--but he is always sunny.

The Kenya gaffe doesn't fit the profile. And, in fact, it may contribute to the problem Tommy is having lately.

"It could be Tommy is looking old and mean," says Kraus.

That image--bolstered by the same political consultants who are trying to keep Tommy "in the silo"--is a bigger problem than any single gaffe.

If you liked this article by Ruth Conniff, the political editor of The Progressive, check out her story "Joe Biden's Class Act."

Follow Ruth Conniff @rconniff on Twitter

Add new comment

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.

More

Subscribe to The Progressive and Get A Free 2015 Calendar

President Obama's executive order protects people like my grandmother.

How do progressives regroup after the Republican victories of 2014? It starts at the very local level, says Scott...

Dubbed “Ferguson to Madison,” the rally drew striking social parallels between the two cities.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

Public School Shakedown

Progressive Media Project

Newsletter