Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Oh Rudy, Rudy, Rudy: Giuliani and LaGuardia

Giuliani's no Cary Grant (who, by the way, did not actually say "Judy, Judy, Judy"in any movie). But nevertheless, to an electorate starved for somebody to love, he's got a certain rough charm.

John Podhoretz thinks (hat tip: Pajamas Media) that Rudy might just be able to capture the Republican nomination for President in 2008 (although that headline, John, seems to be a case of bad timing: surely "right stuff" can't be the best phrase to use at the moment, in light of recent events).

How long has it been since a New Yorker--a real New Yorker, not a fake one--has had a chance to be President? New Yorkers tend to be out of the running. Too northeastern, too ethnic, too many names that are too hard to spell--whatever. And Giuliani shares those characteristics, including the Republican-primary-unfriendly trait of being a social liberal, at least relatively speaking.

Podhoretz doesn't think this will hamper Giuliani unduly in gaining the nomination, as he explains in the column. I'd like to think he's right, although I'm not at all sure. But after all, I'm a social liberal myself.

I must confess that, prior to 9/11, I thought that Giuliani had long since peaked. His personal life was nothing if not messy, and he was somewhat full of himself (in that respect, probably not too different from most politicians). But he had certainly done yeoman's duty in making New York a far more liveable city than it had been for decades, no small task.

Rudy was a true hero during and immediately after 9/11. He almost lost his life himself that day, but that's not the heroic part I'm talking about. He struck precisely the right emotional tone for the city and the nation in that time of extreme tension and sorrow; the perfect combination of grit, determination, and heart.

And it all seemed sincere, not some phony act from a politician looking for votes. No crocodile tears; Rudy was the real thing. The fact that he wasn't running for anything anymore was part of it, but not a big part. His sincerity was clear from his demeanor and his words--and from his behavior, which included an almost ceaseless attendance at the many funerals of those he had loved, respected, and lost. He didn't have Churchillian eloquence (who does?) but he demonstrated Churchillian courage.

That's not altogether what a Presidency is about, of course; other factors are certainly required. But it's a vitally important trait, especially in these times. And Giuliani, perhaps more than any of the other candidates on either side, has shown us true grit in his public life. His ability to handle difficult and messy executive decisions was demonstrated even before 9/11, in his policies as mayor. But 9/11 cemented the deal, in real time. It also made him famous nationally.

It's early yet, and Giuliani will have many opportunities to put his foot in his mouth and alienate any number of people. But for now, I'm very interested in his candidacy. Full disclosure: I come from a part of New York that was so heavily Italian that names such as "Smith" and "Jones" were exotic and rare. So, Giuliani reminds me of home, as well.

His psychological profile is a fascinating one. Did you know his father was a convicted armed robber? Giuliani's early reputation was cemented by being tough on crime. Hmmm. The stuff with the divorce from his second wife was very messy, however, as well as needlessly cruel to her.

Giuliani reminds me a bit of Fiorello La Guardia, whose acquaintance I first made on those "I Can Hear It Now" records. He was another Italian Republican New York Mayor who was very tough on crime (although his marital history was decidedly better). Not exactly a typical guy, however; in addition to being five feet tall (no, that's not a typo: 5 feet tall), and having that extremely odd name meaning "Little Flower," Fiorello (born in the Bronx):

...was the city's first Italian-American mayor, but LaGuardia was far from being a typical Italian New Yorker. After all, he was a Republican Episcopalian who had grown up in Arizona, and had an Istrian Jewish mother and a Roman Catholic-turned-atheist Italian father. He reportedly spoke seven languages, including Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, and Yiddish.

Fiorello shared another trait with Giuliani: he recognized a Fascist when he saw one, knew what they were up to, and wasn't afraid to say so. In fact, he recognized certain things about Fascism long before others did:

[La Guardia] was also a very outspoken and early critic of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime. In a public address as early as 1934, LaGuardia warned, "Part of Hitler’s program is the complete annihilation of the Jews in Germany."

Apparently, Fiorello believed that someone like Hitler tends to mean what he says, and that we ought to pay attention. Too bad all that most people know of Fiorello these days is getting stuck in traffic trying to get to that airport named after him.

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