The new Mike
By: JOHN MULLANE
Last week, I wondered which Mike Fitzpatrick would show up on the campaign trail for Congress. Would it be "Moderate Mike," circa 2006, proud of his Sierra Club endorsement? Or would it be a persona to fit the times, say "Tea Party Mike," who recites the 10th Amendment from memory and embraces "Drill, baby, drill."
After announcing his candidacy for the 8th District seat in a rematch with incumbent Democrat Pat Murphy, I realized we have "Mystery Mike." It is a mystery to me what he or his Republican Party will do to end the Great Recession. How would they restore economic vitality and make it so one need not choose between making the mortgage and buying health insurance?
His remarks before hundreds of well-wishers on the lawn of the Neshaminy Middle School Saturday were brief and bland.
Jobs, runaway federal spending and health care are the themes of his campaign. Naturally, he will hammer Murphy's claim that Murf is a [cough, hack, wheeze] "fiscally conservative" Blue Dog Democrat.
But what are Mike's ideas to resolve the present crisis? He didn't say. Maybe we should go to his Web site and click on the policy tabs.
Tough times call for clear solutions boldly stated. Unemployment in Bucks County is 9 percent. From the number of middle-aged men and women I see clerking at convenience stores and stocking retail shelves, underemployment is as bad.
But what does a vote for the county GOP's favorite son mean for these people - and for the ticked-off independent voters who will decide this race? Nothing was offered.
Mike told the crowd that trillions of dollars of government debt is a "national emergency." Of course. What will he do about it? He didn't say. How about channeling the economist Grover Norquist: "My friends, I am committed to reducing the size of the federal government until it is small enough to drag into the bathroom and drown in the tub."
Fighting words like that would be worth tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Bensalem to Springtown.
The lesson of the recent upset in the U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts is that good ideas succinctly hand victory to an underdog. That quick-on-your-feet answers to belligerent questioners can turn the tide of a campaign - and history. ("It's not the Kennedy seat and it's not the Democrats' seat, it's the people's seat," Sen.-elect Brown said, and electrified the nation.)
Fitzpatrick fell flat when a belligerent questioner showed up to heckle him. The heckler marred the day by shouting obnoxiously, "How we gonna fix health care?"
In the crowd, pushing and shoving nearly turned into a brawl. The cops arrived. Fitzpatrick might have said: "Look - I will not support the health care status quo that just bankrupted Lower Bucks Hospital - or any government system that bankrupts the country."
But as shouting and confusion engulfed the event, Fitzpatrick continued reading prepared remarks: "I think that we need someone in Congress who's more concerned with the citizens of Bucks County than with extraneous photo opportunities. We don't need someone in Congress who's a rubber stamp for bad national policy or misplaced priorities."
He actually said "extraneous." At a rally. Egad.
Fitzpatrick runs in a Republican primary. There are at least eight other contenders aligned, more or less, with the Tea Party Movement. But on Saturday, the event felt uncomfortably like a back-door Republican coronation. The crowd was larded with Bucks County's GOP establishment, anathema to independents and tea partiers alike.
After Fitzpatrick finished, two candidates told me they will run as "outsiders." I asked Mike if his Republican establishment pedigree hurts him in the Tea Party era.
"I gotta tell ya - I'm an outsider," he said, and as the words sped from his lips, shrieking birds scattered from surrounding trees.
My jaw dropped like Obama approval ratings.
Mike is a good man who is blessed with a beautiful family. He is blessed with a miraculous recovery from cancer, which gives him moral credibility on health care. But it is the Democrats who are blessed with a (likely) Republican candidate whose positions on urgent issues are pastel and pending.