Cheering Charlie

14 06 2013

Barack Obama delivered the speech he needed to, energizing his base and sending the faithful out of North Carolina fired up and ready to go. The convention gave the President a much needed boost in the polls and set the stage for the campaign’s final stretch run.

The convention’s final night had a rock concert like feel. In between the parade of speeches were performances from musicians the likes of James Taylor, Mary J. Blige and the Foo Fighters. There were also moving videos from Democrats across the country and tributes to US troops stationed abroad. Surprisingly, Democrats had outflanked Republicans on issues of defense and national security. While Mitt Romney failed to even mention the troops during his acceptance speech at the GOP convention in Tampa, President Obama’s decision to go after, and subsequently kill, Osama bin Laden was duly noted in nearly every speech in Charlotte.

“Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive,” declared Vice President Joe Biden.

The Foo Fighters rocking out at the DNC 2012.

The Foo Fighters rocking out at the DNC 2012.

I had arrived at the convention early, prepared for an eight-hour day. Pat and Brenda were waiting, having already claimed our seats in the Florida delegation. Man did Florida have great seats, thanks in part to the state’s all important battleground status, its coveted 29 electoral college votes and being the home of DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Debbie even paid a visit to the delegation before her speech and we gleefully snapped a few pictures with the distinguished congresswoman. But it was another Floridan who would grab even more attention that night for completely different reasons.

His name was Charlie Crist.

Yes, the former Republican governor of Florida was granted speaking time at the Democratic National Convention much to the surprise of many a political observer. Crist had been basically run out of the Republican party for his “moderate” views and an infamous hug of President Obama that did not sit well with the GOP’s base. Seeing the handwriting on the wall, Crist left the GOP and ran for US Senate as an Independent, losing to Tea Party darling Marco Rubio in a three-way race which included a scandal saddled Democrat, Kendrick Meek.

But here in Charlotte was the beginning of Crist’s comeback — an opportunity to curry favor with party bosses for a future run of some kind. I saw it as a payback from Obama, acknowledging Crist had suffered from his embrace and rewarding him with a primetime spot, on the convention’s final night, to state his case for redemption. When Crist was announced over the PA system about half of the Florida delegation rose to its feet, myself included.

“Why are we applauding him?,” asked the wise cracking geezer from Fort Lauderdale sitting next to me.

“Because he is from Florida,” I replied.

“So what?!” the geezer shot back. “Do you not remember the Jeb years?!”

I didn’t because I wasn’t politically engaged during that time, but like Crist, I had been a Republican so I could identify with his plight. And soon, people were identifying me — from all across the country. Unbeknownst to me, television cameras had been quick to capture the reaction from the Florida delegation to Crist. There I was, front and center, clapping away.

Once I had left Time Warner Arena and my i-phone service had been restored (communications were jammed throughout the day) messages began to pour in from friends who had seen me on television. Some of the messages were from people I had not talked with in years. People who were no where to be found when I crashed out of the Panama City News Herald four years ago. Funny how fame works.

David and I left Charlotte the next morning bound for my brother’s house in Alabama before reaching the Florida Gulf Coast. The trip felt like Sherman doing a reverse burn through the Deep South. I had been away for six months, but little had changed. Romney had the region locked up with the exception of Florida. I eagerly looked forward to the campaigns in my home state, knowing 2012 would be much different than 2010. I was healthy again, had money in my pocket and, best of all, my name was not on the ballot.

I have a feeling Charlie felt the same way.


Dear Diary, The Republican Years

15 11 2009

When I was in college I was a Republican.

I reveal this now as some may wonder why I am about to embark on a cross-country road trip with the second coming of Barry Goldwater.

Yes, I know what it is like to be a Republican because, you see, I was a Republican.

As soon as I reached my 18th birthday, I went down to the Supervisor of Elections office and registered as a Republican. In those days, this was considered a stupid thing to do in Gulf County.

“You’ll never be able to vote,” my father fumed.

Gulf County was solidly Democratic at the time. Only a handful of Republicans existed and they were mainly transplants from the North.

All of the local elected officials were Democrats, but this didn’t bother me. The 80s were coming to a close. Reagan’s Revolution was progressing full steam ahead and I was a believer.

At Troy, I joined the College Republicans and worked on Fob James’ winning campaign for Governor of Alabama.

The ideals of limited government, family values and fiscal conservatism appealed to me then, although as a frat boy, I did little to advance them.

I was so vocal in right-wing ideology that fellow poly-sci students once waited outside of our government class just to greet me with a “Heil, mein Führer!” salute.

The first presidential election that I was eligible to vote in, I cast my ballot for George H.W. Bush. He lost, of course, to Bill Clinton, but that didn’t stop me from voting for Bob Dole the next time around.

Dole lost too, but by that time, I was beginning my career as a journalist. Soon, I would began to consider other thoughts, other ways of life and other people.

When I returned to Florida, years later, I would again visit the Supervisor of Elections office and register to vote. This time as a Democrat.

I am grateful that as a U.S. citizen, my government provides me with a food allowance during these difficult times. It took me 37 years to swallow my pride and apply for food stamps.

I don’t like being on food stamps, but I suppose, one must eat.

“It’s hard out there isn’t John?,” the lady asked as she reviewed my application for the government’s EBT program.

She knew the answer, but her tone was more along the lines of, “see I told you so.”

In these tough times, I am reminded that God has a plan for all of us. It’s called the circle of life.

Still, the question is, “When does one come full circle?” …. Am I close?

This trip out West with Mr. Smith will likely provide an answer, or at the very least, a conservative guess.