Fred Thompson is a cocktease.

You know the type: They get a lot of fanfare going, but once the parade rounds the corner, it’s short — not sweet. They drag things out way too long when they’re dragging things out that aren’t so long. Your night is looking to finish up pretty nice, and then suddenly you’ve been asked to put on a Franklin costume and help someone “coax his turtle out of its shell.” I really hope that last one has happened to someone besides me.

Like an embarrassing hookup, only on a national scale, Fred Thompson has asked all of us to coax his turtle out of its shell. Like Reagan in reverse, Thompson went from holding a Tennessee Senate seat to playing a Rear Admiral on “The Hunt for Red October” and flirting with Sam Waterston on “Law & Order.” Now, from all the media noise, you might think he’s running for President — but really he’s just playing with us, testing the waters, trying to decide if we really need another aging male to throw his creepy, white-person hat into the ring.

His ruminations continue despite the swarm of people who proudly pledge “I’m with Fred” ( They can’t say “Fred ’08” or “Fred for Pres” because that’s illegal right now (damn those finicky campaign finance laws!). The slogan “I’m With Fred” is actually one of the biggest reasons I want him to go ahead and declare because I think it sounds disturbingly sexual and cultish. May Fred be with you. We’ve all been with Fred. Some women are with child — others, Fred.

To be honest, if Fred can dingle-dangle the meat in front of our faces for so long and still have us like the way it tastes, I would say more power to him. Good job getting around those campaign finance laws you supported in 1998 because you’re not really a candidate. You don’t have to disclose contributions even though they’re estimated to be more than John McCain’s! It’s a feat to get yourself in second place in a race you’re not even running.

No, I wouldn’t call Fred a cocktease if he were going to pull it off; I would call him savvy. My real problem with Fred — like all cockteases — is that, in the end, he doesn’t have the goods. We can all see the straining outline of his tumescent presidential ambitions, and it really doesn’t measure up. While McCain’s campaign has lately gone limp (he just turned 71, these things happen), Mittens’ and Rudy’s are rock-hard, lubed-up and ready to go. No way they’re going to let a C-list movie star block their quests to attain the Oval O.

Consider Fred’s brief forays into policy. He doesn’t usually talk policy when he makes public appearances because, you know, he’s not really running for President. But he dabbles.

On his Web site, for instance, he muses that perhaps our nation’s low violent crime rates are related to our lax gun control laws. Why, Fred, that makes perfect sense! Thank God I can keep my Beretta on me at all times in case someone tries to do violence against my person. Of course my assailant should be armed as well, and so we’ll both go down in a blaze of glory, my eyes dimming as my soul is fired by that most cherished of American ideals: liberty.

But my favorite piece of Fred quasi-policy is his pissing contest with Michael Moore. Why anyone seriously running for President (this, of course, excuses Fred) would engage Mr. Moore is beyond me. It’s evidence that Moore is still in top form when things devolve to the point of a former Senator making a bizarre and truncated YouTube video as a rebuttal. Please go to YouTube and watch the first video that comes up for “Fred Thompson”. All I can say is that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes it’s the swollen member of special interests you’ve been suckling on for years.

The truth is that Fred is all walk and no talk, all style and no substance. He’s hidden the weakness of his candidacy behind the anticipation of it. Let me tell you what’s going to happen when Fred finally does stop playing with the tip and gives us all the shaft. There will be brief and frenzied speculation about his impact on the race, Tucker Carlson will get all hot and bothered over his Southern-fried conservatism, and then Obama will fart, the cameras will swivel away and the pundits will start talking about a different asshole.

Really the whole situation is too bad for everyone. It bodes ill for Republicans that so many of them are jumping on the Fredwagon; the success of his cockteasing is mainly a result of how anemic the Republican field is right now. And that’s bad for all of us because a decent challenger from the right for Hillarybot-USA2008 would make the race more productive and interesting. God forbid Fred should ever encounter her in direct combat; he’s weak enough to be vulnerable to her instant death move. (Fatality! 9,000 bonus electoral votes!)

There is some silver lining to the cloud that is Fred. Because Fred is now on the not-campaign trail, Sam Waterston gets to be the DA on Law & Order! He’s so dreamy, and he’s a Yalie so maybe I have an in. I’ve been practicing, and I can do a pretty convincing version of that Law & Order “bom-bom” noise that they start each episode with. Sam’ll like that, I’m pretty sure.

Steven Kochevar dresses up in a turtle costume regularly.