Campaign Crawlers

Joe Wilson, Call Your Office

Charlie Crist is telling major whoppers.

By 11.6.09

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TAMPA-- Bill Buckley used to tell a funny story about a heroic attempt to survive a faux pas. A young lieutenant is obliged to attend a social event in a prominent hotel with a general. In the lobby, in an attempt to make conversation, the lieutenant says, "Look there, that's the ugliest woman I've ever seen," nodding toward two women in conversation on the other side of the lobby.

"That's my wife," the general said. In an attempt to recover, the lieutenant says, "Oh, I meant the young woman with her." The general says, "That's my daughter."

The lieutenant, who knows he's in deep yogurt now, thinks desperately for a second, finally smiles, looks directly at the general and says, "I never said it."

Charlie Crist, Florida's RINO governor who badly wants to be a RINO U.S. Senator from Florida, is trying to run this same revisionist scam. He claimed on CNN Wednesday that he never supported President Obama's $787 billion "stimulus" slush fund, which he clearly did, on tape, over and over. He's caught so much flak from conservatives for this, and for other un-conservatives acts, that in sheer desperation he's trying to get Florida voters to believe he "never said it."

On February 10, when it appeared the Democrats would be able to push through a $787 billion federal spending bill in the name of stimulating the economy, but before it was finally adopted, Crist traveled to Ft. Myers to appear on the same stage with President Obama who was in Florida to whoop up his budget-busting slush fund. On that day and that stage, Crist not only embraced Obama, but he enthusiastically embraced the idea of the federal government spending nearly a trillion dollars the government doesn't have on the general notion that somehow this would put the ailing economy right.

Here's what he said, while the crowd, enchanted by Obama's presence, repeated fortissimo, "Yes we can! Yes we can! Yes we can!"

Crist: "We've had to cut about $7 billion the past two years and we haven't raised taxes and we're still in balance. But to be candid, it's getting harder every day. It's getting harder every day and we know that it's important that we pass this stimulus package. It is important that we do so to help education, to help our infrastructure, and to help health care for those who need it the most -- the most vulnerable among us. And let me finish by saying, Mr. President, we need to do it in a bipartisan way. This issue is about helping our country. This is not about partisan politics. This is about rising above that, helping America and reigniting our economy."

A few days later Crist appeared on Chris Matthews' Hardball, and in answer to Mathews' question, "Why are you aboard the Obama bailout bandwagon?" Crist said: " Well, I call it a stimulus for the economy to try to help the people in my state. It's really that simple,  Chris." Asked by Matthews why he was supporting the stimulus when so many in his party weren't, Crist said: "Because Florida needs it, frankly. This would mean about $12.2 billion for Florida. It would help us in the areas of education, health care, infrastructure, and that's where we need the help."

Over the next short while, Crist made similar comments, available on the Internet for anyone who wants to see and hear them, on CBS, NBC, and Bloomberg. These statements are as clear as spring water. Please adopt President Obama's "stimulus" plan because it's good policy and will be good for the country, Crist is saying. 

Even the White House thinks Crist was on the stimulus team last February. Asked at Thursday's White House press briefing whether Crist endorsed the stimulus plan in his joint appearance with Obama, White House spokesman  Robert Gibbs said, "I would say yes yes." He said Crist's unambiguous words speak for themselves.

"I think he was very supportive of the legislation and supportive of the benefits that it would have and has had for the state of Florida in seeing positive economic growth," Gibbs said.

Well, that was then, when Obama's approval ratings were at about 110 percent. This is now, when Obama and his policies are less popular. And Crist has been chastened by conservatives -- a major part of the Republican base he needs if he is to have any hope of defeating conservative former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio in next August's Republican Senate primary -- for supporting a bill which clearly is stimulating the living hell out of the national debt but little else.

Now here's an exchange between Crist and Wolf Blitzer on CNN Wednesday:

Blitzer: Let me interrupt for a second, governor. Do you have any regrets about endorsing the economic stimulus package?

Crist: Well, I didn't endorse it. I -- you know, I didn't even have a vote on the darned thing. But I understood that it was going to pass and I wanted to be able to utilize it for the benefit of my fellow Floridians.

Even for Charlie Crist, who on the campaign trail maintains only the most informal relationship with truth, this in an audacious switcheroo. This is beyond a John Kerry moment. This isn't just, "I was for it until I was against it." This is, "I never said it."

Any reasonable person reading and hearing Crist's remarks in February would not conclude that Crist just wanted to assure that his state got as much as possible from a program that was already a fact, a reasonable position, but that he thought it was a good idea to put almost a trillion dollars we don't have into a slush fund and spend it haphazardly on things Obama and his administration fancied. Crist did endorse the stimulus, and his claim that he didn't requires a Joe Wilson, or others of his directness, to parse.

Crist's desperation is understandable. In the spring Crist was more than 30 points ahead of Rubio in the polls and was the prohibitive favorite to win the primary next August. Since then the conservative Rubio has cut Crist's lead in half, has closed the gap a bit in fund-raising, and is making a race out of what was once thought to be a Crist cake-walk. Rubio has the mo.

This reversal of fortune has caused Crist to say some peculiar things, including trying to claim he's a fiscal conservative on the basis that he had cut $7 billion out of the Florida budget over the past two years. The truth is the Florida Legislature was obliged to cut the money because the Florida constitution mandates a balanced budget and the bad economy has severely reduced Florida's incoming revenue. Crist had little or nothing to do with the cuts; in fact he vetoed millions of dollars of them. Much of the Florida media called him on this one.

Crist hasn't just shaded the truth as in his budget-cutting claims, but he's backing off of previous liberal positions he's taken, including such as his call for carbon cap and trade. In fact, Crist is backing off of so many of his previous dodgy positions that he's had to have one of those back-up beeper signals installed on his campaign car.

We don't know if the socially maladroit lieutenant above ever made captain. But we can conclude that Crist's chances of becoming a U.S. Senator will diminish if he makes many more of these fanciful attempts to redefine himself. If he keeps coming up with these laughers, at some point not only will Crist's lack of a core philosophy be a campaign issue, but also his apparent lack of character.

So here's some free advice for Crist from a sage old political consultant whose name I've forgotten: "Tell the truth -- voters like it, and it's easier to remember."

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About the Author

Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.