Monday, November 8, 2010

The Unbearable Lightness of Charlie Crist

If anyone’s taking nominations, I'll put Charlie Crist forward as the most unattractive political figure in this election cycle. You’ll all be relieved to hear that the rough treatment he just received at the hands of Florida voters hasn’t embittered him:
“In a phone interview with The Hill, Crist said he is proud of his Senate campaign and doesn’t regret his decision to challenge former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio (R) as an independent candidate.

“The decision to bolt the GOP initially moved Crist past Rubio in the polls. That lead quickly eroded, however, and on Tuesday, Rubio crushed Crist and Rep. Kendrick Meek (D) with 49 percent of the vote, compared with 30 percent for Crist and 20 percent for Meek.

“‘I’m very proud of the campaign we ran, even if I’m disappointed at the outcome,’ Crist said. ‘The last thing I am ever is bitter. I’m just not made that way or wired like that. I’m grateful to the people of my state for the honor of serving them. … I’m the opposite of bitter.’”
As political lies goes, Crist’s is a little white one. But I wonder if a politician has ever said anything quite this improbable. If Crist really doesn’t have regrets he probably doesn’t have a pulse either.

We’re used to national politicians putting career above principle and party. I’ve written before about the spectacular example that Arlen Specter presents in this respect. But it took him thirty years in the Senate to reveal the extent of his ideological and partisan flexibility.  Thirty years ago, Specter was elected to the Senate as a moderate Republican.  He affected a new-found conservatism to regain the Republican nomination, and secure reelection as a Republican in 2004.  This year he bolted from the Republican Party professing support for the Obama agenda in a futile effort to keep his Senate seat. If you were determined to think well Specter, you could excuse his opportunism on that the ground that his party had been taken over by movement conservatives who wouldn't tolerate the moderate Republicanism that he'd brought with him to Washington in the 80s.

The measure of Crist's opportunism is that he managed to reveal its Specter-sized dimensions in the space of a single year. At this time last year he was presenting himself as a Reagan Republican anxious to defend the country against the depredations of the Obama administration.  By the spring he was the moderate Republican antidote to Marco Rubio’s Tea Party extremism.  By late summer he was Barack Obama’s best friend in the sunshine state.  By mid-October he was a steadfast liberal anxious to caucus with Senate Democrats if only the national party would knife Kendrick Meek in the back.

It’s not easy to turn yourself, in the space of a year, from a popular sitting governor of a major state with a bright future in national politics to a recognized political shape-shifter that anyone across the political spectrum would be crazy to vote for.  But Charlie was up to the task.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I guess the voters of Florida agreed. But I think it was the comically bad ceremonial first pitch at the Tampa Bay Rays game that killed him.