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Thursday, Dec. 9, 2004 06:03 pm

Fallen foot soldiers

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Tommy Thompson: "Mission Accomplished"
PHOTO BY CHUCK KENNEDY/KRT

On Friday, Dec. 3, another of President George W. Bush's foot soldiers for faux freedom announced his departure: Tommy Thompson was quitting.

The secretary of health and human services, who'd called himself the director of "America's Department of Compassion," had waged the good fight for four years.

Thompson was tapped by Bush four years ago with the expectation that he'd do for our national social-service network what he did for Wisconsin's -- namely, wreck it.

The former cheesehead governor may not have fit into a flight suit, but by the time he announced he was leaving the cabinet, he could also have waved a banner proclaiming "Mission Accomplished."

Good ol' Tommy Thompson.

As the man who claimed to have coined the phrase "compassionate conservative," Thompson had hoped to prove that the right could care. If he meant care about the rich, the energy and arms industries, and waging holy war against gays and Muslims, then Thompson's four years as a foot soldier in the Bush administration were not in vain.

Amazingly, Thompson's last act as HHS director was to raise the terror alert to salmonella pink by all but encouraging terrorists to tamper with our food supply.

This is what he said: "For the life of me, I cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply, because it is so easy to do."

Ah, that's the kind of protection you want from the guy in charge of safeguarding our nation's health!

After all, he was the kind of guy who wanted to install Newt Gingrich as his replacement because Gingrich had done such a fine job safeguarding the health of his first wife when she had cancer (he divorced her to continue enjoying his six-year affair with a congressional aide 20 years his junior).

Bush instead is nominating Mark McClellan, brother of White House press secretary Scott McClellan -- thereby providing himself with stereo mouthpieces.

Whether Thompson will be remembered as the humanist who saved frozen embryos from the horrors of stem-cell research (so that they could be thrown away instead), the craftsman who chopped up departments in his own agency so that the government could give funding to religious social services instead, or the architect of the multibillion-dollar "Big Pharma" boondoggle known as the impending Social Security prescription-drug benefit, there is little doubt Thompson will be remembered, bitterly by most.

Tommy Thompson may have wanted to give the Bush administration the appearance of conservatives who were compassionate, but on reviewing his record we instead see that they really just wanted to be conservative about their compassion -- conservatively compassionate.

With Thompson down, Bush has said goodbye to more than half of his cabinet in just the first month after the election. Sure, Bill Clinton also replaced half of his cabinet in his second term -- but that took four years, not four weeks.

Gone are Colin Powell (State), John Ashcroft (Justice), Don Evans (Commerce), Rod Paige (Education), Tom Ridge (Homeland Security), Ann Veneman (Agriculture), Spencer Abraham (Energy), and now Thompson, gone, gone, gone -- falling faster than the value of the dollar.

Add to that the departures of CIA director George Tenet, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, and United Nations Ambassador John Danforth, plus the pending resignations of Treasury Secretary John Snow and transportation czar Norman Mineta, and you have a classic case of ships fleeing a sinking rat.

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