Politics & Policy

Deep Thoughts, by Charlie Crist

In his memoir, the former governor attests, poetically, to his own bravery.

Fun Quiz: From which piece of literature is the following sentence? “‘I know how hard this is for you,’ the new president of the United States said to me.”

A) American Assassin, by Vince Flynn

B) Debt of Honor, by Tom Clancy

C) A Murder of Quality, by John le Carré

D) The Day of the Jackal, by Frederick Forsyth

Trick question! Ha! The heartfelt show of trust by the president in that sentence isn’t meant to instill confidence in, say, a noble but conflicted spy; it’s Barack Obama talking to Charlie Crist right before the then–Florida governor boldly, heroically, nobly, flint-facedly appeared with the president at a rally for the president’s stimulus plan. Brave Charlie Crist! Stoic Charlie Crist! Virtuous Charlie Crist! That’s the gist of the new memwah (I assume he pronounces it that way) by the Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat: The Party’s Over: How the Extreme Right Hijacked the GOP and I Became a Democrat, written with Ellis Henican.  

This book has everything: platitudes, befuddlement about what terms mean (such as “pro-life,” which I guess is a real toughie), brow-furrowed criticism of other people’s use of platitudes, and fun little attempts at slam poetry. Could you possibly expect more from a book whose sole discernible raison d’être is to give a former governor a chance to remind people who he is so he can become governor again?

The cover says it all. His sleeves are rolled up. His top button is unbuttoned. His tie is loose. His jacket is completely abscondida. His arms are akimbo. His glowing tan puts John Boehner’s to shame, to so much shame. The same picture is even on the part of the jacket that covers the binding; one imagines Crist’s burnished face smiling, confidently, capably, from a thousand bookshelves.

Shirt-sleeve-sporting Charlie Crist doesn’t just inspire confidence in the president of the United States; he also makes women cry. A great anecdote in the middle of the book recounts his attendance at a Q&A session between governors and the president. After watching Obama get grilled by other Republican governors, Crist comes to the president’s defense:

“I’ve listened to my colleagues give you a bunch of garbage” — I kind of spat that word out — “about the stimulus. . . . It is not the way we ought to be treating you. We ought to be treating each other as we’re told in the Bible — ‘do unto others.’”

The scene in its entirety is much lengthier, but you get the idea. Charlie Crist is the guy at the panel who raises his hand to ask a question and then blabs into the mic for five minutes instead. And Valerie Jarrett, who listens to the exchange, is deeply moved:

“That’s exactly what he needed to hear,” she said. “That’s exactly what we all need to hear.” As Valerie spoke, I could see tears were running down her cheeks. “Thank you for saying that,” she said.

So there’s a lot to love. When he’s not recalling how he reduced one of the most powerful women in the world to a sobbing mess, Crist peppers the pages of his book with a plethora of sage sayings. Here are some of those:

Football teaches important lessons for life.

Forgive and accept forgiveness.

At some point, shouldn’t the good of the people come before partisan politics?

I’ve always believed that laughter can be the best medicine.

Deep stuff. Anyway, another great feature of this book is that it does this weird thing where it strings together a series of very short or incomplete sentences, with a line break at the end of each. That’s great for two reasons: First, it makes reading the book go a lot faster — lots of white space! — and second, it’s like a fun little inadvertent attempt at spoken-word poetry, which is awesome. One example:

Nobody’s perfect.

Everyone makes mistakes.

Pencils have erasers.

People deserve a second chance.

“Nobody’s perfect” — I love that. Here’s another, on responses to his non-involvement in the Terry Schiavo case:

I detected something else this time: the approval of Democrats and independents.

Those who thought I’d been respectful.

Those who appreciated my refusal to jump in.

Those who thought the case was too much of a mob scene.

And there’s his lengthy, vivid description of that fateful hug with Obama:

He walked out toward me.

Both of us smiled.

The applause was just about frantic. We shook hands. The new president leaned forward and gave me a hug.



Release. . . . 

It changed the rest of my life.

Reach, pull, release — just like that.

SO GOOD. If flannel-sporting English majors aren’t doing read-alouds of this stuff in dank bar basements at two o’clock in the morning, Charlie Crist should sue. (It would be easy, because he’s working for a huge trial-lawyer firm right now.)

But it’s not all slam poetry and commentary on the merits of youth sports; he also takes a few fun pokes at discussing concepts that he doesn’t seem to completely understand. For instance, on the Affordable Care Act, Crist writes: “It was modeled after Mitt Romney’s program in Massachusetts. How Republican can you get?” “What could possibly be more Republican than a policy from Massachusetts,” said nobody ever except Charlie Crist. He also has a wondrous defense of his use of the term “pro-life.” Though Crist’s voting record is decidedly pro-choice (which he touts in the book), he thinks the term “pro-life” describes him perfectly because, well, I’ll let him explain:

“Personally, I have always been pro-life,” he writes. “I believe life is precious and should be treasured. I like being alive.”

Historical context, shmontext! Have you killed yourself? No? Then congratulations! You get to be pro-life, too!

Charlie Crist is not necessarily the most self-aware person of all time. My favorite instance of this comes when he makes a comment on a Mark Leibovich piece that quoted Marco Rubio (who was then running against him in the 2010 Republican Senate primary). Rubio, Leibovich wrote, described the Tea Party as “an important part of a bigger movement in America united behind the idea that you don’t have to get rid of everything that’s right about America to fix what is wrong about our country.”

His take on this? “What empty platitudes! I remember thinking when I read that.” I believe it. Nobody knows empty platitudes like Charlie “People Deserve a Second Chance” Crist.

— Betsy Woodruff is a William F. Buckley fellow at the National Review Institute.


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