Image: Fred Thompson
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Actor and former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson speaks on day two of the Republican National Convention at the Xcel Energy Center on Sept. 2, 2008 in St. Paul, Minn.
updated 9/3/2008 12:09:44 AM ET 2008-09-03T04:09:44

Fred Thompson, the actor turned politician, recounted the harrowing story of John McCain's captivity as a Vietnam prisoner of war to tout the presidential candidate at the Republican National Convention and criticized Democrat Barack Obama's support for abortion rights.

"Now, being a POW certainly doesn't qualify anyone to be president," Thompson said Tuesday as images of McCain flashed behind him on a giant screen. "But it does reveal character."

Thompson went into detail describing McCain's 5 1/2 years in captivity in a Hanoi prison, describing how the Arizona senator's captors cracked his ribs and broke his teeth off at the gums. He also described how McCain refused to go home when his captors offered to release him for propaganda purposes.

"We hear a lot of talk about hope these days," Thompson said, a clear reference to one of Obama's campaign themes. "John McCain knows about hope. That's all he had."

Raps Obama on abortion issue
Thompson also used his speech to denounce Obama for declining to say when human life begins, although Thompson's own record on abortion is mixed.

"We need a president who doesn't think that the protection of the unborn or a newly born baby is above his pay grade," Thompson said.

The comment was a clear reference to an answer that Obama gave at a forum at California's Saddleback Church sponsored by the popular evangelical pastor Rick Warren. On a question referring to the number of abortions in the country, Warren asked Obama at what point he believed babies had human rights.

"Well, you know, I think that whether you're looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity, you know, is above my pay grade," the Illinois senator replied.

Obama supports abortion rights, while GOP nominee-in-waiting John McCain is opposed. Thompson also is opposed, though he faced criticism during his presidential campaign because he lobbied in 1991 for an abortion rights group. He also answered a 1994 newspaper survey by saying, "The ultimate decision on abortion should be left with the woman and not the government."

After Monday's opening session of the convention was abbreviated and toned down in deference to Hurricane Gustav, Thompson signaled that political rhetoric was back.

He called Obama the "most liberal, most inexperienced nominee to ever run for president."

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Best known recently as the gruff district attorney on NBC's "Law & Order," Thompson once was a rival of McCain. But the Tennessean dropped out of the presidential race in January after his much-anticipated campaign failed to gain strong support among conservatives.

Thompson's address included a defense of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, whose announcement as McCain's running mate has been overshadowed by disclosures that an attorney has been hired to represent Palin in an investigation into an Alaska controversy and that her unmarried daughter is pregnant.

"Give me a tough Alaskan governor who has taken on the political establishment in the largest state in the Union — and won — over the Beltway business-as-usual crowd any day of the week," Thompson said.

Shake up the bureaucracy
Thompson said he believes McCain and Palin will "take the federal bureaucracy by the scruff of the neck and give it a good shaking."

He also said that McCain, a Vietnam veteran and former prisoner of war, has traveled to Iraq eight times since 2003 "seeking truth, not publicity.

"This man, John McCain, is not intimidated by what the polls say or what is politically safe or popular," Thompson said.

Thompson managed to slip in some of the more colorful aspects of McCain's biography — the high number of demerits he received at the Naval Academy and the fact he dated an exotic dancer nicknamed the Flame of Florida when he was in flight school.

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