Michael Putney, one of the most veteran political observers working in South Florida, goes off the usual script in his Miami Herald column this week. He drops the professional and oh-so responsible WPLG-Channel 10 commentator mode and writes like a human being about Florida's odd governor, Charlie Crist.
It's a soul-searching column -- and the soul Putney is looking for is the governor's. Trouble is he can't quite seem to find it.
"Is Charlie the genuinely concerned Republican moderate/populist he professes to be (``I work for the people, they're my boss'')? Or is he a slightly ditzy, disconnected lightweight who has succeeded on the strength of great political instincts ...".
Then Putney compares him to that famous nothing man, Chance the gardener.
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He is at once ubiquitous and hard to pin down, simultaneously transparent and opaque. He seems to be exactly what he appears to be, but then will disappear for a moment into an otherness that's hard to pierce. Watching him with NBC's David Gregory on Sunday, I was reminded of the character Chance from the classic movie Being There. Chance, played brilliantly by Peter Sellers, is a mentally challenged gardener with good manners who, on the death of the owner of the estate where he works, inherits the owner's beautiful clothes, circle of friends and speaks to them in Zen-like metaphors that make them think he's an éminence grise. In fact, he's actually a sweet idiot savant.
This reminded me of what former Daily Business Review law editor Harris Meyer dubbed Crist in print early on: An empty suit. A nowhere man in his nowhere land making nowhere plans for ... well, in this case, everybody.
Putney doesn't mention two plans that illustrate how horrific a leader Crist really is: the plan for the state to buy U.S. Sugar at an inflated price taxpayers can't afford and the terrible idea to sell Alligator Alley to foreign companies. The schemes make Crist a hero to environmentalists and provide the state with some quick cash for the governor's time in office. Ultimately, though, they put huge financial burdens on our children and are utterly irresponsible.
But who cares? Good-time Charlie will be long gone by the time the bill comes.