Ever since he started running to succeed Jeb Bush as Florida governor in 2006, I knew instantly there was something insincere and too slick by half about then state attorney general Charlie Crist. Rightwinger Bush left office still a fairly popular pol, but after some butching up, the moderate image offered by the preternaturally tanned Crist played well enough with Florida voters to sink the hapless Democratic opposition yet again. After years of developers raping their way through the state all but unchecked (Bush was one himself, in fact), part of what appealed to many was his stance on the environment, in an increasingly despoiled state that desperately needs to do what it can to preserve its dwindling resources -- both to support an expanding population and a vital tourism industry. And while in office, Crist's ratings have remained enviable (at least until recently).
Then along came Johnny McCain. Sure, he was long in the tooth and not in great health, but otherwise, what a dreamboat -- so strong and manly and mavericklike and all. And what's more, he was actually flirting with Charlie! So, heart a-flutter, Charlie decided to give Johnny a biiig present -- a win in the Florida GOP primary. Now, for national Republicans, winning Florida is like an industrial-strength dose of Viagra (especially when you've been around as long as Johnny has), so the love boat was definitely launched with a bang. Not that Johnny wasn't still playing the field, of course, but golly, he was smitten enough with Charlie to put him on the short list for vice president and come a-courtin' regularly. Their last date, several days ago, was a romantic airboat ride through the Everglades, a place Charlie thought was kinda neat and wanted to clean up and save.
Oops. Turns out Johnny wasn't too keen on spending money on a big smelly swamp when it could be sent to Iraq or the oil companies or any number of other deserving big businesses his campaign's been staffed with lobbyists for (in the Senate he backed Dubya yet again and voted against a clean-up in 2007). Oh, and now it turns out Johnny also wants to drill off Florida's coast, even thought Charlie promised his voters it wasn't gonna happen. Oh, well, what's a little difference of opinion on Mother Earth between beaux? If James Carville and Mary Matalin can make personal love and political war at the same time, for a pair of Repubs this shouldn't be a romance-killer, right?
Oops again. Now that Johnny's suddenly decided he doesn't like the drilling ban, it looks like Charlie's finally getting nervous, because yesterday in Tallahassee he decided to stand by his man by touching the "third rail" of Florida politics and flip-flopping big-time on one of his signature issues for the last decade, pointing to the need to do something about record gas prices. Whew! Relationship saved. So now will Charlie and Johnny find happiness on this November's ticket, or at least in the Cabinet come January (maybe some broom closet at the EPA)? Stay tuned...
Meanwhile, for the rest of us, beyond the political soap opera what should be especially worrying is the threat of the erosion of progress in building a consensus that getting serious about protecting the environment is good for everyone, business included. Republican "moderates" like Charlie Crist have been a key part of that emerging consensus, which recognizes that drilling willy-nilly will not only pollute, destroy habitats, and contribute to global warming, but also shave a mere few pennies off gas prices a decade or more down the road -- and in any case that we need to be focusing on alternatives rather than yet more junkie-fixes for America's fossil-fuel addiction. But if all it takes is a little pain at the pump for Crist to throw in the eco-towel and sign on to a stupid gimmick -- "Florida families are suffering," he mourned yesterday, actually adding the cynical kicker, "and my heart bleeds for them" -- then it's obvious that what passes for his, McCain's, and plenty of other Republicans' "environmentalism" is a quarter-inch deep and of the distinctly fair-weather variety. I know they say love is blind, but sometimes you need at least to be able to see beyond short-term political point-scoring to avoid sauntering off the cliff.