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Daniel Ruth

With friends like this ...

In 1945, shortly after he had been sworn in as Franklin Roosevelt's vice president, Harry Truman learned that his longtime political mentor Tom Pendergast — the legendarily corrupt political boss of Missouri — had checked out and gone to that greased palm in the sky.

By then, Pendergast was pretty much a political pariah after a stretch in federal prison on corruption charges. Even many of his own family members had disowned him.

However, against the advice his advisers — and at no small amount of risk to his own career — Truman insisted on attending Pendergast's funeral. It was a simple matter of decency for Truman, who reportedly said: "He was always my friend and I have always been his."

To paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen, we all know about Harry Truman, Harry Truman is a much admired former president, and Sen. George LeMeiux? You're no Harry Truman. And you never will be.

There are events that occur in public life, when for one fleeting moment a pol has an opportunity to stand back from all the conniving, all the spin, all the blather and simply to do the right thing.

Instead Florida's junior senator, George LeMeuix, R-Arf, when presented with just such a gift to demonstrate some chutzpah, some spine, some class, opted to revert to his role of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's Pomeranian.

It was certainly to be expected when Gov. Charlie Crist announced his decision to run for the U.S. Senate as a "No Party" candidate that his former fellow Republicans would renounce him with all the fury of Max von Sydow's confrontation with Lucifer in The Exorcist.

But of all the knives plunged into Charlie Crist's back none had to sting more painfully than the dagger wielded by the Quisling of the Potomac, George LeMeiux, who threw his support to the Eddie Haskell of the Apalachee Parkway, Marco Rubio.

If anyone in Florida's version of "Desperate Political Consultants" could have risen above the phony demands for loyalty oaths pledging undying fealty to the GOP, as if being a member of the Republican Party is like joining the Marine Corps, it would have been LeMeiux, R-Snausage.

After all, whatever political career LeMeiux may have he owes it all to Crist, who appointed his former campaign manager, former chief of staff and, as it turned out, his Brutus, to fill the seat vacated by Mel Martinez, who pulled a Palin and resigned after discovering he was supposed to show up for work.

Of all the Republicans attempting to turn the Senate campaign into The Ox-Bow Incident who would have gotten a pass on the growing weeping and gnashing of teeth over the perceived faux Crist apostasy, it would have been LeMeiux, R-The Red Badge of Corn Meal Mush.

Who would have seriously begrudged LeMeiux if he had simply stood up to the blustering GOP bloviators demanding Crist's head on a pike and said something like: "Look, I'm a loyal Republican, but I am an ever more loyal friend and that friendship is more important to me than worrying about how a bunch of political thugs with checkbooks feel about me."

Instead, he wimped out. There's a guy you really want in the trenches with you when times turn tough — Barney Fife in pinstripes.

LeMeiux haplessly defended his decision to throw his friend under the Hummer by noting: "Principles are more important than winning." Good grief, that was more disingenuous than Larry King uttering a marriage vow.

Principles? Really? You'll find more principles at Goldman Sachs.

The temporary senator's decision to betray Crist had everything to do with winning. LeMeiux, R-Brave, Brave Sir Robin, is widely expected to challenge Sen. Bill Nelson in 2012, a campaign highly dependent on the ideological College of Coupon Clippers, who dominate the Republican Party digging deep into their trust funds.

In the real world, calling someone your friend is supposed to mean something. It's supposed to mean you stick with your pal through thick and thin. Charlie Crist didn't seduce LeMeiux's wife, or molest his children, or embezzle money from him, or poison his dog.

He simply engaged in a political maneuver. And for that, LeMeiux was willing to walk away from a longtime personal friendship.

There are two kinds of people in this world. There are the ones who can feel safe leaving your bar change unattended to while you hit the restroom, and those you don't.

If I found myself sitting next to LeMeiux in a saloon, I'm moving down a few barstools.

Reach Daniel Ruth at druth@sptimes.com

With friends like this ... 05/06/10 [Last modified: Thursday, May 6, 2010 8:43pm]

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