The British refer to a sudden change in a candidate’s political disposition as a “u-turn,” after Margaret Thatcher famously said: “You turn if you want to; the Lady’s not for turning.” Italians call the maneuver a voltafaccia, and demonstrated it most effectively in 1943, when the Italian military hoisted a tattered white flag and joined the Allied Forces.
In America, we call such fingering of the political winds “flip-flopping.” But should we now call it “Cristing,” in honor of the second most confused man — after Alvin Greene, natch — running for U.S. Senate?
In the two months since leaving the GOP, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist has performed more graceless pirouettes than a bow-legged ballerina. The latest? An about-face on Cuba.
Once upon a time, Crist opposed allowing Floridians to do business with Cuba, much to the molotovish irritation of South Floridians who left loved ones behind in Castro’s blue-collar paradise. Crist voiced full-throated support of the Bush-era policy limiting travel to the island, and at the behest of conservatives in Little Havana, signed a state law in 2008 levying additional taxes and fees for companies that arranged travels to and from the real Havana.
But as with so many of his Republican-born positions, Crist pulled a 180 on Monday. “I think that what the [Obama] administration has done by allowing families to visit [Cuba] is compassionate,” the Miami Herald reports Crist as telling a South Florida crowd. And not only is he willing “to listen to what [travel proponents] have to say,” but he’s also willing to take their campaign donations, like a drifter at an unwatched ropa vieja stand.
Does this mean Crist has gone soft on communism? Proponents of GOP Senate candidate Marco Rubio sure think so. “He is now on the record as cavorting with collaborators of a communist dictatorship,” state Rep. David Rivera, who helped draft the anti-travel legislation that Crist signed, told the Herald.
But a look at Crist’s other flip-flops suggests the governor is simply repositioning himself into a Kama Sutra-like pose designed to offer disparate voting groups as much pleasure as possible. The pose seems to be working, too. Crist scored a second photo op with President Obama on Tuesday — reinforcing the impression that the president doesn’t think too much of Kendrick Meek — and a June 9 Quinnipiac poll has him leading Rubio by four percentage points.
Take his pretzeling on abortion, for instance. Once a proponent of choosing life, Crist purged his Senate campaign site of all pro-life references the same week that he vetoed a bill that would have required abortion clinics to make ultrasound images available to patients. The move made Crist the target of attack ads from pro-life groups in Florida, but earned him the approval of moderates who thought the legislation was, well, kind of unpleasant.
Other examples of Crist-flopping include Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (Crist was against gays in the military before he was for gays in the military); profligate state spending (Crist claimed to hate it before he decided that teachers’ unions were more likely to support his indie bid if he burned proponents of merit-based pay by striking down a bill that would have tied teachers’ salaries to performance), and offshore drilling, a subject which has every Gulf Coast politician but Charlie Crist howling at Obama to lift a hastily imposed six-month moratorium.
Lest critics charge Crist with having no political will of his own, it’s worth noting that the deeply tanned governor did a fair amount of flip-flopping just to get into the governor’s mansion. Perhaps due to nasty rumors swirling around the Tampa bar scene, Crist did his best to avoid giving straight answers on gay marriage or gay adoption, neither of which he opposed until his ordination as the Florida GOP’s pearly-whited front man required him to come out against both.
Can you really call him a flip-flopper if he never believed any of it in the first place?