In “The ‘I’ of the Storm” MoDo says here’s the thick and thin of it: A Republican governor and a Democratic president united by Sandy. The Moustache of Wisdom, in “Minnesota Mirror,” says a hometown visit to St. Louis Park, a Minneapolis suburb, is seeing a microcosm of America. Here’s MoDo:
The dramatic homestretch ad for President Obama, running on every network and in all media markets, is a home run, devastating for Mitt Romney.
And, best of all, the president didn’t have to pay for it, or even say, “I approve this message.” It was a total gift — and from a Republican and top Romney surrogate.
Gov. Chris Christie, the fleece-wearing, order-barking Neptune of the Jersey Shore, was all over TV Tuesday, effusively praising the president for his luminous leadership on Hurricane Sandy, the same president he mocked last week at a Romney rally in Virginia as a naif groping to find “the light switch of leadership.”
As Romney roams the Midwest and Florida struggling to stay relevant, miming coordinating storm response with G.O.P. governors and collecting canned goods to send East, his fair-weather pal Christie failed to give Mittens any disaster relief.
On ABC, CBS and NBC, Christie hailed Obama as “outstanding.” On MSNBC, he said the president “has been all over this,” and on CNN, he called Obama “incredibly supportive.” The big guy even tweeted his thanks to the slender one.
Most astonishing of all, the New Jersey governor went on Fox News and spoke words rarely heard on that network: “I have to give the president great credit.”
“I spoke to the president three times yesterday,” Christie gushed. “He called me for the last time at midnight last night, asking what he could do.”
Christie also extolled FEMA, even though Romney has said it is “immoral” to spend money on federal disaster relief when the deficit is so big.
“Fox & Friends” co-host Steve Doocy must have forgotten Christie’s self-regarding keynote speech at Romney’s convention, which had more “I” than “he” in it. Doocy asked Christie if there was “any possibility that Governor Romney may go to New Jersey to tour some of the damage with you?” The governor replied dismissively: “I have no idea, nor am I the least bit concerned or interested,” adding: “If you think right now I give a damn about presidential politics, then you don’t know me.”
White House officials seemed a bit flummoxed by Christie’s bearhug. “It’s unnerving,” one laughed, noting how odd it is that a Romney big gun might help break the stubborn tie in the electorate in Obama’s favor.
They speculate that Christie, who always puts Christie first, has decided that it’s better for his presidential ambitions to be a maverick blue-state governor with a Democratic chief executive exiting in 2016 than to have President Romney and Tea-Party Republicans in Congress pulling him over to the extreme right for the next eight years. He also knows he’ll need a boatload of federal cash to make his state whole again.
Christie was in full “Sopranos”-at-the-shore mode in his blue fleece pullover. When Irene hit last year, he yelled at lingering frolickers, “Get the hell off the beach!” This time, the governor blistered the Atlantic City mayor for sending what he called “mixed messages” on evacuation orders and warned stranded residents: “We will not be able to come and help you until daylight tomorrow.”
The president is still overcompensating for his first-debate pout, determined not to be a loser. He made a false start and erred on the side of politics, wasting a round-trip to Florida. He wanted to squeeze in one more rally before the storm, so he risked flying to Orlando Sunday night for a campaign event Monday morning with Bill Clinton. Told that Air Force One pilots said he needed to leave before the rally or he might get stuck outside Washington — where sun and palms would be an unfortunate backdrop — he went back to the White House.
Just about the only criticism the president got on his storm stewardship was, amazingly enough, from “Heck of a Job, Brownie” Michael Brown, the FEMA chief during Katrina, who naturally thought Obama acted too quickly and efficiently.
With Obama forced off the trail, Clinton and Joe Biden could fulfill their shared fantasy: to be the presidential candidate. In Youngstown, Ohio, the two “Last Hurrah” pols plunged into a thrilled throng to shake hands, pose for pictures, bounce babies and sign books. Biden employed his classic move of holding the cheeks of a delighted older woman, then reaching around her in a full body hug to grab the hands of a woman behind. As “Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher” blared, the prolix, snowy-haired pair scanned for anyone to schmooze or squeeze as the arena emptied out. The Big Dog lingered even longer than C-Span cameras.
Rather than campaigning, which he finds draining, the president was in the Oval calling a Republican to work things out. But this time, unlike with John Boehner at a fateful moment, a flattered Christie took Obama’s calls. While Romney campaigns in Florida Wednesday, Christie and Obama plan to tour storm damage in New Jersey, a picture of bipartisanship, putting distressed people above dirt-slinging politics.
And that’s a grand bargain for both of them.
Here’s The Moustache of Wisdom:
I was debating whether to go to the Turkish-Syrian border this week or to visit my old high school in Minnesota. I decided to make the exotic foreign trip and go to Minnesota. I thought it might be useful to look at this election through the window of my hometown of St. Louis Park. I have not been disappointed. I found in this little suburb of 45,250 people outside of Minneapolis — which was memorialized in the movie, “A Serious Man,” directed by the Coen brothers, who also hail from here — all the key trends impacting America.
For starters, there is the changing face of the town. We had two African-Americans among the 2,500 students at St. Louis Park High when I graduated in 1971, and everyone there was either Christian or Jewish. When I walked through the high school cafeteria on Monday, there were six teenage girls covered in colorful Muslim hijabs and the principal, Robert Metz, explained to me that “today we have more Muslim students than Jewish students.” This is the byproduct of the huge influx of Somali refugees to Minnesota. Metz said my old high school, which now has open enrollment and competes for students from around Minneapolis, attracts young people both for its academic rigor and because they want to go to a richly diverse school that mirrors the world in which they’ll be working. There are more than 30 languages spoken in the elementary school near my old house — exactly 29 more than when I lived here.
Mayor Jeffrey Jacobs of St. Louis Park notes that 85 percent of residents here today don’t have kids in local public schools, yet they regularly vote to increase real estate taxes to improve these schools, because they understand that “you cannot cheapskate yourself to greatness” and “they see value for their money.” But that attitude is no longer held statewide.
When I was growing up, my congressmen were liberal Republicans (there was no other kind in Minnesota back then) in a Democratic district. No one thought anything of it. Today my congressman here would be Keith Ellison, an African-American Muslim and one of the most liberal Democrats in the House, while liberal Republicans in Minnesota today are as rare as a two-headed moose. The State House and Senate Republican caucuses today are dominated by the Tea Party and libertarian followers of Ron Paul.
But here’s what’s telling. These G.O.P. hard-liners, while able to win their more conservative “exurbia” and rural districts, are not doing well when it comes to overall state politics. Minnesotans have not wanted to entrust them with the governorship or national Senate seats, which is another way of explaining why Mitt Romney only gained ground on Barack Obama when he started to market himself as a moderate ready to work with Democrats. Note to Mitt: Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, is up for re-election here and leading her libertarian G.O.P. opponent by 43 percentage points in the latest Star Tribune/Mason-Dixon poll (65 to 22) and in one report this summer was found to have $5.4 million in campaign cash on hand while her opponent had $5,800. That is not a typo.
Note to President Obama: Klobuchar built that lead by combining a moderate liberalism with a pro-business, pro-jobs agenda and a pragmatic problem-solving approach. All of Klobuchar’s campaign ads are positive, and many feature Republican business leaders explaining why they are voting for her. Most Minnesota voters “want their politicians to be problem-solvers, not ideologues,” Klobuchar said to me. Senator Al Franken, who’s also laser-focused on jobs, boasted to me that Minnesota is now “The Silicon Valley of windows,” because of all the high-tech window manufacturers here. Franken, who’s also a St. Louis Park native, added, “Minnesota wants its politicians to operate on principles, but if one of your principles is to never compromise, they don’t want that.”
Many business-oriented Republicans here are not only voting for Klobuchar but are giving her money, because they’ve become frustrated by the far-right lurch of the state G.O.P., explained Lawrence Jacobs, a politics expert at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. The state is home to many global companies that would accept some tax increases to build better infrastructure and schools in order to have better-educated workers. And the Republican-dominated Chamber of Commerce here is leading the charge for open immigration, so Minnesota can bring in more knowledge workers from India to enrich its work force.
“In Minnesota, for many years, we had a party structure that was dominated by leaders who wanted to win and problem-solve,” said Jacobs. Now, he added, the State Republican Party is dominated by Tea Party and libertarian insurgents, not the business community, and their attitude is “we play for principles and if we lose so be it.” So there is a fight here for the soul of the Republican Party. In the 1990s, centrist Democrats, led by Bill Clinton, brought their party back from a similar ideological ledge; they and the country and my home state are better for it. The Republicans have not had their “reformation,” but it’s brewing here in Minnesota, and I hope it goes national if Romney loses — and even more so if he wins.