This month's two marquee prospects for the Republican presidential nomination, Rudy Giuliani and Fred D. Thompson, have wandered into the political sinkhole of the Iraq War.
Following a disastrous pattern set by Bob Dole, Giuliani and Thompson have essentially left their decisions on Iraq up to the military.
Dole, the GOP's nominee in 1996, said Republican candidates should run sharply to the right during the primary season, and when nominated slide to the center. The trouble was that people were watching then, as they are watching now.
Dole's fidelity to the hard right killed his general election campaign before it started.
Unwisely, Giuliani in an interview said that he would consider adding even more troops to the Iraq disaster if the generals asked for them.
Some of the generals do want more soldiers there, and are seeking a major U.S. presence in that destroyed country for five years or more.
Thompson, a 6-foot-5-inch television character actor who manages 'gravitas' but offers little else, gave his views on Iraq in a staged interview shopped around the Internet by the conservative Hoover Institution.
Former Sen. Thompson of Tennessee, trying to look like Ronald Reagan but sounding like Lyndon Johnson, pledged himself to endless war.
We have to worry about American prestige "in that part of the world," and how it would be damaged by a pullout, Thompson said, echoing Johnson's worries about dominoes in Southeast Asia.
Thompson airily claimed that two friends have sons in Iraq and that they are sending home e-mails filled with optimism about conditions there. If they're happy, "I've got optimism and hope," he said last week.
Acts of terrorism there have risen to 1,000 a week.
"We must take every opportunity and exhaust every reasonable hope that we have to not lose there," said Thompson, an undeclared candidate nudging Giuliani as a GOP favorite in some polls.
In another age, one preceding television, Republicans would realize that in Fred, they are thinking about the wrong Thompson. Fred Thompson had a brief and undistinguished record in the Senate but bears himself as one burdened with deep thoughts.
No sharper contrast exists than between Fred and the other Thompson, a declared candidate that none of the media barons pays any attention to. Tommy Thompson, a frumpy 64-year-old, was four times elected governor of Wisconsin.
As governor, Tommy Thompson was a creative national leader in welfare reform, and in his state broadening health insurance coverage. Thompson was President Bush's first secretary of health and human services, where he continued to work on welfare reform and helped draft the 2003 MedicaRX prescription drug benefit code.
He looks and behaves a lot like President Truman. Like Truman he blurts out things he shouldn't. But he took care to write down exactly what he would do with Iraq.
This Thompson would petition the Iraqi Parliament on whether it wants U.S. forces there. "If not," he says, "that sends a strong message to the U.S. on what it should do next in Iraq."
He also wants "every Iraqi [given] . . . a stake in the nation's rich oil reserves," something that can't make campaign donors in Big Oil or the Bush White House very happy.
The powerful House Transportation Committee has passed a bill on railroad safety that contains features requested by Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, in testimony on May 8 -- greater federal oversight on safety, more inspectors, more money, regular progress reports to Congress, higher fines for safety violations and steps to reduce worker fatigue.