Fred Thompson of Tennessee has the bearing of a good old boy. So let's be direct.

Fish or cut bait.

Thompson has been flirting around the edges of the presidential campaign for months. His fund-raising hasn't been what he hoped. His numbers are not knocking anyone's socks off. And people question if he has the fire in the belly to battle for the nomination. Performer that he is, he has opted instead to do the "old soft shoe."

Like Ronald Reagan, Thompson benefits from a profession that teaches people to be masters of tone, style and projection. He always seems at home in a crowd. He actually feeds off attention and bright lights. And he delivers his lines superbly. That's why Republicans often used him to deliver the GOP rebuttal to speeches by President Bill Clinton.

That said, however, Americans also recall a version of the line Robert Young used in television commercials: Thompson is not a New York City district attorney, he just plays one on TV. And his dithering and dawdling has hurt his carefully constructed image of competence and coolness.

Americans don't feel deceived. They just feel Thompson is a better actor than critics give him credit for being.

Could he still enter the race and win? Perhaps. But even if he leaps into the fray with both feet tomorrow, many insiders feel he has squandered his chance by looking like a man who doesn't want to be president. If he's trying to play "coy" it has backfired. Americans don't mind ego in their presidents. What they can't abide is wimpishness. And the fact Thompson has earned fame and fortune by playing hard-nosed generals and unblinking police officers makes his Nervous Nelly routine all the more disappointing. He can play "decisive." He just can't make a decision.

A darling of the religious right, Thompson's star is fading because he didn't take the advice of the Good Book: He who hesitates is lost.

In short, the time has likely passed for Fred Thompson to thrust in his sickle. The grain is already on its way to barn.