Former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson said Wednesday he was diagnosed with lymphoma more than two years ago, but he is in remission and doesn’t expect the cancer to shorten his life expectancy.
Thompson, 64, lesser known for his politics than as actor with roles in movies and on ABC’s “Law & Order,” said in an interview for “Your World With Neil Cavuto” on FOX News the condition won’t affect his decision about whether to run for president.
“I wouldn’t be doing this if I wasn’t satisfied in my own mind as to the nature of it and the fact that not only will I have an average life span, but in the meantime, I will not be affected in any way by it,” Thompson said. “Now of course nobody knows the future, but that has been in the history for almost three years now in terms of no symptoms and no sickness.”
Thompson said in a statement he was diagnosed about two-and-one-half years ago, after a routine physical, with what doctors call an “indolent lymphoma.”
“I have had no illness from it, or even any symptoms. My life expectancy should not be affected,” he said. “I am in remission, and it is very treatable with drugs if treatment is needed in the future–and with no debilitating side effects.”
Thompson’s doctor, Bruce Cheson, hematology chief at Georgetown University Hospital, said the former senator was treated in the past with a drug but is no longer on medication and is in remission.
“Some lymphomas are very aggressive, but people with slow-growing types, like Senator Thompson’s, often die from natural causes associated with old age, rather than from the disease,” he said.
Thompson has said he would consider running for president in 2008, depending on how the rest of the Republican field shakes out. His conservative credentials contrast with current moderate frontrunners for the GOP nomination like John McCain, Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani.
Thompson’s possible candidacy made headlines two weeks ago, when Focus on the Family founder James Dobson appeared to throw water on it by questioning whether Thompson is a Christian.
“Everyone knows he’s conservative and has come out strongly for the things that the pro-family movement stands for,” Dobson said in a telephone interview with Dan Gilgoff of U.S. News & World Report. “[But] I don’t think he’s a Christian; at least that’s my impression.”
Dobson said such an impression would make it difficult for Thompson to connect with the Republican Party’s conservative Christian base and win the GOP nomination.
A spokesman for Thompson responded by saying he “is indeed a Christian” and “was baptized into the Church of Christ.”
Focus on the Family later issued a statement clarifying Dobson’s remark.
“In his conversation with Mr. Gilgoff, Dr. Dobson was attempting to highlight that to the best of his knowledge, Sen. Thompson hadn’t clearly communicated his religious faith, and many evangelical Christians might find this a barrier to supporting him,” the statement said.
“Dr. Dobson told Mr. Gilgoff he had never met Sen. Thompson and wasn’t certain that his understanding of the former senator’s religious convictions was accurate. Unfortunately, these qualifiers weren’t reported by Mr. Gilgoff. We were, however, pleased to learn from his spokesperson that Sen. Thompson professes to be a believer.”
On March 30 radio program Focus on the Family’s Tom Minnery suggested Dobson’s comment occurred in the context of “a private conversation” between “two friends” and should not have been reported.
Gilgoff said Dobson’s unsolicited phone call to him March 27 was their first discussion in over two years, when the magazine’s political writer began work on a book, The Jesus Machine: How James Dobson, Focus on the Family, and Evangelical America are Winning the Culture War.
While Gilgoff conducted dozens of interviews for the book, he writes in the book’s introduction, Dobson declined to be interviewed and answered questions only by e-mail.
“Dr. Dobson hadn’t talked to Dan for a while, so he called him up a few days ago just to chat and see how he was doing, and Dan immediately pounced on that as an opportunity for an interview,” Minnery said on the radio.
“He asked about presidential candidates, particularly Fred Thompson. Dr. Dobson said, ‘Well, I don’t know, I’m not sure he’s a Christian.’ And so Dan wrote an article saying Dr. Dobson does not believe Fred Thompson is a Christian. I don’t think it was a proper thing for Dan to do, because it was a personal phone call and they were talking offhandedly….”
In his book, Gilgoff, senior editor for U.S. News & World Report who covers national politics, including their intersection with religion and culture, says with the near demise of organizations like the Moral Majority and Christian Coalition, Dobson is today the chief kingpin of the Religious Right.
One key to his success, Gilgoff maintains, is that despite Dobson’s steadily increasing involvement in GOP politics, many of the millions of Americans who listen to him dole out family and child-rearing advice daily on the radio still view him as being non-political.
With Dobson turning 71 in April, Gilgoff speculates about his successor to lead the movement. One possibility, he says, is Rick Warren, a Southern Baptist mega-church pastor and author of The Purpose Driven Life. Gilgoff dubs Warren the highest-profile example of a leader of the “‘new’ New Right,”
“We’re probably entering a transition phase, and it will be interesting to see who fills that gap,” Gilgoff quotes a GOP strategist late in the book. “Rick Warren has that potential. He could be the next generation’s Dobson. Although absolutely orthodox in things like abortion or marriage between a man and a woman, his agenda has expanded to include international justice. His set of concerns will possibly redefine evangelicalism in the public’s eye.”
Gilgoff said he wrote the book because amid a blizzard of polemical books both for and against the Christian Right, no one has written anything to offer a basic understanding of how the movement works. “I hope this book plugs that hole,” he wrote.
Dobson’s questioning of Thompson’s Christianity prompted an article in the Christian Chronicle exploring whether Thompson is a member of the Church of Christ.
The 106th Congressional Record listed Thompson’s religious affiliation as “Church of Christ (Stone Campbell).”
David Pinckley, treasurer of the Pulaski Street Church of Christ in Thompson’s hometown of Lawrenceburg, Tenn., told the international newspaper for members of the Church of Christ the two grew up together.
“I don’t know his religious status right now, but we were both baptized around 1951-1952 maybe,” Pinckley told the Chronicle. “We were either 10 or 11 years old. He was baptized at the First Street church in Lawrenceburg. It’s a non-institutional church now, but it wasn’t then.”
The article said Thompson’s mother lives in Franklin, Tenn., and is a member of the Brentwood Church of Christ. The Chronicle reported receiving several e-mails from persons who attend or have visited the Brentwood church saying Thompson has worshipped there on occasion with his mother.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.