Crist’s cross to bear

CRIST’S CROSS TO BEAR…. Earlier this year, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R), like other governors from both parties from coast to coast, accepted federal stimulus funds to shore up a budget in crisis. Unlike most Republican governors, however, Crist endorsed the effort to rescue the economy, which was headed for a depression. It’s now putting his political future at risk.

To be sure, Crist hasn’t helped himself with blatant inconsistencies about his position. For that matter, right-wing Republicans are nearly as upset about Crist’s public appearance with President Obama in February as the policy position.

Former Bush speechwriter David Frum has an interesting piece on the political dynamic in Florida between Crist and former state House Speaker Marco Rubio, who’s challenging Crist in a GOP Senate primary next year.

[I]f every governor accepted stimulus dollars, few states were as hard hit by the 2008 economic crisis as Florida. State revenues collapsed by 11.5 percent between 2008 and 2009. Constitutionally obliged to balance the budget, Crist raised fees and cigarette taxes — and still faced a huge budget gap. […]

Constitutionally obliged to balance his budget, Crist welcomed President Obama’s offer of federal stimulus dollars, and campaigned hard for passage of the emergency measure.

The final Obama plan granted Florida more than $15 billion over three years. That money averted radical cuts to schools and Medicaid. It saved the state from furloughing employees and raising taxes even higher. It has paid for emergency employment on roads and water projects. It has extended unemployment benefits for 700,000 Floridians and put an extra $25 per week in their relief packets.

Rubio, true to form, has trashed the recovery effort that saved the economy from collapse, and blasted his Republican governor for endorsing it. Asked what he would have done if governor, Rubio said he would have refused federal aid for his struggling state, and would have preferred to cut $6 billion out of the $65 billion state budget.

Asked where this $6 billion in savings would have come from, Rubio said, “I don’t have the budget in front of me.”

It’s the kind of seriousness of thought and analytical depth we’ve come to expect from all of the right’s leading darlings.

The point of the piece by Frum — who is a conservative, by the way — is that Rubio’s shallow, reflexive response too often represents the norm on the right. Conservatives find it easy to take cheap shots at ideas that work, but struggle to craft actual solutions or solve actual problems.

“Are vague bromides about big government anything like an adequate response to the worst economic crisis experienced by any American under age 80?” Frum asked, adding, “If all we conservatives have to offer is oppositionism, then opposition is the job we’ll be assigned to fill.”

I like to think that last point is true, though I’m far from sure — there’s a sizable group of voters who may simply not care if Republicans have nothing to offer but knee-jerk opposition to sound policies. If they expect to maintain their role as the governing party, Dems are going to have to deliver, not count on the GOP’s pathetic approach to public policy pushing voters away.