Last Build Date: Sat, 10 Feb 2007 00:44:49 -0600Copyright: Copyright 2007
Sat, 10 Feb 2007 00:44:49 -0600
Even Giuliani's highly successful mayoral years owe a bit of something to luck. As awful a city as New York had become after decades of liberal dominance, we should remember there wasn't a great deal of difference between the New York of 1989, when Giuliani lost his bid for mayor to David Dinkins, and the New York of 1993, when he won. Things were worse, to be sure, but it took a gruesome incident like the slaughter of Idaho teenager in front of his parents to make New Yorkers accept a Republican. And even though Giuliani's conservative prescription for New York would exceed nearly everyone's expectations, could we say that he would be a presidential candidate today had September 11 never happened?
Of course to be a "great man" in the historical sense, there has to be more than an event and a man. Not just any mayor would have responded like Giuliani did on September 11, when, let's remember, he nearly lost his life. Recall the July 1977 New York blackout, when riots spread throughout the city, or the looting in New Orleans following Katrina, and ask why nothing remotely similar occurred in New York on 9/11. There has to be an intrinsic, intuitive, instinctual ability of the "great man" to cultivate trust, to communicate effectively, so that the public and even his opponents willingly defer to his judgment. On September 11, was there any politician who would have dared question Giuliani?
But while questioning Giuliani's leadership in a crisis won't likely be a line of attack from his GOP colleagues, his personal life is another matter. I think the Washington conventional wisdom is wrong here. Just take his two divorces, which Washington pundits are quite convinced will be a handicap for Giuliani. But here again is part of Giuliani's charm: He's a normal guy who's made mistakes. As long as Giuliani doesn't dismiss the criticism of his personal life, there's a strong chance that he could turn it on his opponents like President Bush managed to turn his younger days as a hard-partying frat boy into a story of personal redemption. It might ring hallow, especially if Giuliani isn't prepared to admit mistakes, but all he has to do is not allow his personal failings to dominate the discussion. Let's remember that most, if not all, of Giuliani's mistakes have been well-known for some time and yet his favorable/unfavorable ratings continue to remain very high (+30% in the latest FOX News/Opinion Dynamics Poll).
More importantly, I think, is that Americans prefer real people to politicians. Yes, often this is a ruse used by the best politicians. That's not to say it won't continue to work. Americans didn't like John Kerry's patrician demeanor nor his patronizing rhetoric when compared to the ordinary-guy image Bush cultivated. Giuliani routinely comes across as a very ordinary guy with very extraordinary skills. When he's watching a Yankees game, Americans suspect Giuliani could probably rattle off the pitching stats of the opposing team. Kerry, infamously during a Red Sox game, couldn't even get a player's name right. For the "great man" theory, Giuliani has the aura of Cincinnatus about him -- the farmer called by his country to save the state.
Last November, the American people punished Republicans not because of latent defeatism, but because of disappointment in Congress' and the administration's ability to get things done. Despite what they think about Iraq, most Americans still very much want to defeat the terrorists; they still very much want, as any one from Brooklyn might say, our boys to beat the living crap out of those bloodthirsty bastards. And so here comes Giuliani -- a guy from the streets who cleaned up a city; who always seems to be at the public's call when catastrophe strikes; and who very much has the grits and determination to be a winner. Because there are few things Americans like more than a winner. Is he one of history's "great men"? I have the suspicion we'll find out.