Bob Franken

Hearst-New York Times Column

(As usual, the agreement with syndicators means this column appears here a week after its newspaper release. This was written before Mr. Christie decided not to make a run)

^CHRISTIE FINDS FLIRTATION IS FUN@< ^(For use by New York Times News Service clients)@< ^By BOB FRANKEN@= ^C.2011 Hearst Newspapers@= WASHINGTON _ Sometimes we can be really insensitive. How many of us, for instance, have worried about the hurt feelings of all the GOP presidential candidates whenever they see or hear still another Republican bemoan the sorry lineup now challenging incumbent Barack Obama? Even the Obama campaign guru, David Axelrod, acknowledges that his guy faces a ``titanic'' struggle to win re-election. No one needs a reminder about the fate of the Titanic. But Republican Party faithful worry that their present choices will give Obama clear sailing. To be clear, many of them are looking for someone who is not Mitt Romney. This would-be candidate would demonstrate competence and experience _ and also generate heat compared to Mitt's tepid. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is just the latest to be basking in the warmth reserved for those on the pedestal of the unannounced. The clamor had reached such a fever pitch in spite of Christie's repeatedly stated non-interest that he wondered aloud what it would take to be convincing, ``short of suicide.'' Now it's fair to wonder if he convinced himself. His denials have slipped to wily non-answers. To the repeated pleeeeze-will-you-run question after his Reagan Library speech earlier this week, Christie was cagey with his answer. The question, he said, is ``incredibly flattering.'' That's way short of ``short of suicide.'' But it's one thing to enjoy what can be described as a pre-commitment honeymoon and another to take the plunge. Just ask Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who was the last one anointed a savior. Since he jumped into the pool, Perry's been having a harder time staying afloat, weighed down by debate performances. A Fox poll, released Sept. 29, shows he has dipped behind Romney, down 10 points in the last month. By the way, there seems to be a Cain mutiny going on. Herman Cain is now in third place, although Sarah Palin dismisses him as the ``flavor of the week.'' Of course Palin's outsider game is leaving many faithful with a bad taste. It's getting stale.

Christie is the fresh face. He’s celebrated by conservatives not just for his tough talk but for his tough actions slashing spending, capping hated property taxes and forcing cuts in public employee pension and health benefits.

At the same time he’s vulnerable to charges he’s not entirely a true-believer, just like Perry. Illegal immigration? It’s not a crime, he insists, but an “administrative matter.” On gun control, he supports an assault weapons ban. Then there’s climate change, a GOP bugaboo. It’s “for real,” Christie states, and “human activity played a role.” In the Republican temple that is sacrilege.

And don’t forget the Snooki problem. Gov. Christie has eliminated a state subsidy for the MTV program “Jersey Shore.” It’s a $420,000 tax credit, the kind of financial incentive many governments award entertainment producers to shoot in their jurisdictions and bring jobs and other economic benefits.

Snooki, of course, is the most visible member of a cast of characters who are a running lowbrow, ethnic New Jersey joke. But Christie is not amused and decreed that they “perpetuate misconceptions about the state and its citizens.” His action does not affect the subsidies of other shows.

We’ll leave the debate to others over whether these are really misconceptions. The more substantial issue is whether a public official has the right to enforce his opinion on what constitutes appropriate speech. To indulge another Jersey stereotype, he shouldn’t be allowed to try and whack a program just because it displeases him.

But for now, he’s has to be nothing but pleased about all the attention he’s getting. Flirtation is always fun. Just ask Palin. At some point each will have to decide whether to declare. If they do, it’s likely they too will suffer indignity that always happens when someone switches from campaign fantasy to reality. For some of the candidates it’s been short of suicide, but just barely.

^–@< (Email: bob(at); On the Web:

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