The Charlie Watch

It Wasn’t ‘The Hug’


Charlie’s number one distortion deconstructed.

By 2.21.14

UPI
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How does Charlie Crist seek to mislead us? Let me count the ways. OK, not enough time to count them all, let alone parse them. So let’s just examine the most audacious one.

Crist is attempting to mislead Florida voters because now he wants the job — being Florida’s governor — which he gave up in 2010 to run for a U.S. Senate seat. The attempted job-change was a misadventure for Crist when he lost that race to a previously little known former state representative, Marco Rubio, by 19 points. Crist’s recently published campaign book, The Party’s Over: How the Extreme Right Hijacked the GOP and I Became a Democrat, seeks to finesse why he stopped being a Republican and, in due course after a spell of being an independent, became a Democrat, and deserves to be governor again in his new political incarnation.

The book is a cornucopia of historical revision, misdirections, head fakes, shuffle-steps, knee-slappers, stretchers, whoppers, lame excuses, lily-gilding, and, claims that only the politically untutored or yellow-dog Democrats could entertain for a second. It’s the ultimate lipstick on a pig job.

Perhaps the most audacious distortion Crist retails, both in his book and on the campaign trail, is the idea that Crist lost his standing with Republicans and his credibility with conservatives because in February of 2009, when rookie President Barack Obama visited Florida, Crist briefly embraced Obama on stage in Fort Myers. You know, the quick man-hug thing that politicians and athletes are prone to. From the book:

“As hugs go it wasn’t anything special. It was over in a second, less than that… I didn’t think anything about it as it was happening. But that simple gesture ended my career as a viable Republican candidate. It changed the rest of my life.”

This explanation of how Charlie Crist rose without a trace and then sank in Florida Republican politics has gained a certain amount of unmerited currency. It’s repeated uncritically by the mainstream media all the time. It’s the founding myth of Charlie’s aspirations to a political future as a Democrat (the only party that will currently have him). But it’s nonsense.

I hang around with a lot of conservatives, including some from Crist’s home town of St. Petersburg, and I’ve never heard a single one of them complain about Crist welcoming the President of the United States to his state and giving him the de rigueur, quickie man-hug. Not one. Ever. Nobody cares about the hug. NOBODY.

Crist didn’t lose his credibility with Florida conservatives because he hugged Obama. He was rejected by conservatives because he supported Obama’s policies, including Obama’s wasteful and ineffective $787 billion “economic stimulus,” which didn’t stimulate a thing except the national debt.

Here’s how Crist gushed about the stimulus package to the Miami Herald in 2009: “I think it’s fantastic. Are you kidding me? We don’t have to raise taxes.… We might be able to cut property taxes some more. We have more money for education, so we can increase per-capita spending. We can spend more money on our roads and infrastructure. We can provide health care for our people. I mean it’s remarkable.”

What’s remarkable is this little flute solo by an obvious economic illiterate. And this fantastical little speech came when Crist was still describing himself as a “Reagan Republican.” It would take a truly exhaustive and exhausting search to turn up another Reagan Republican with such a naïve faith in the healing power of “free” money from Washington. Later, when it became obvious what a bust the stimulus had been, Crist denied that he had supported it. This whopper belongs in a class with other well-know clarifications such as, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky.” If Crist were Pinocchio, his nose would stretch all the way to China, the source of much of Crist’s magical money.

A corollary to Crist’s the-hug-ate-my-homework dodge is the notion that Crist was criticized by conservatives for taking stimulus money for Florida after the stimulus was law. He was not. He was rightly criticized by conservatives for supporting Obama’s stimulus hustle before it was passed by Congress and when his own party was supporting more sensible alternatives to this monumental waste.

Adding insult to injury, Crist is now charging that many Republicans rejected Crist for hugging Obama because they are racist. (Racism is one of Charlie’s current charges and specifications against his former party of a lifetime, the others being sexism, homophobia, intolerance, rigidity, and just plain low-down meanness.) This is outrageous slander. The charge is baseless. Charlie knows it, and he’s a scoundrel for making it. He should not be allowed to get away with it.

Here’s Charlie last week on “The Colbert Report,” spinning away on his fictitious hug phantasm: “I think another part of it was that he was a Democrat, but not just a Democrat, an African-American.”

This is a lot of deliberate misdirection, with some racial demagoguery thrown in. Charlie should be ashamed of himself, but surely isn’t. The truth is that Charlie Crist as Florida’s governor from 2006 through 2010 drifted more and more to the left, while first trying to maintain the fiction that he was a conservative, then giving up the pretense and adopting first one set of policies then another, hoping ultimately to find one that resonated with Florida voters. The last time Crist tried to run for office as a Republican he got his political butt handed to him by a state-wide newcomer who ran a conservative campaign. This, and not a one-second hug, is why Charlie Crist left the Republican Party, in which he had no future.

By 2010 conservative Florida voters had Charlie pegged as a feckless, economic illiterate with no firm principles of any sort and no idea how to help Florida and the nation return to prosperity. Republicans who had supported Crist in his 2006 governor’s race — now watching Crist whoop up things like a state cap-and-trade program, “renewable” fuels for Florida utilities (fuels those that exist in trifling amounts and cost a packet), and watching him appoint liberal judges to state courts — were feeling victims of a political bait-and-switch scam. But then I don’t guess these are the kinds of things one can expect to read in a campaign book.

Charlie is now the Democrats’ problem, and it says a lot about the weakness of the Democrats’ bench in Florida that he is that party’s likely candidate for governor. Florida Republicans are saying to their Democrat friends — you’re welcome to him. And whatever you do, don’t send him back.

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About the Author

Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.