Sunday, October 28, 2007

Rudy to Yankees: Drop dead

Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York City and the putative frontrunner for the Republican nomination for the presidency, has committed an unpardonable sin of betrayal as a consequence of his zeal for the job. He has not betrayed his party – at least not beyond his progressive positions on abortion, gay rights and gun control, positions that have made many in the GOP uncomfortable.

Giuliani, a longtime fan of the New York Yankees, has truly gone over to the dark side. On Oct. 23, after the Colorado Rockies-Boston Red Sox matchup for the World Series had been decided, the one-time Yankee loyalist announced that “I’m rooting for the Red Sox” to win the best–of-seven contest.

You could hear Yankee fans screaming: “Turncoat! Blasphemer! Quisling! Mofo! What fresh hell is this?” For years now – decades really, since his time as a prosecutor in New York, or even earlier, during his childhood in Brooklyn – Giuliani has tirelessly identified himself as a diehard Yankees fan, Unto Death. Now, in his first bid for national office, the candidate who still hangs his high-priced hat in Manhattan has voiced his support for the team that is, now and forever, nothing less than anathema to a vast majority of New Yorkers, residents and expats alike.

We’ve always known (and more or less accepted) that Rudy Giuliani has a boundless political ambition, a ruthless pragmatism straight outta Machiavelli and grounded in a willingness to do whatever it takes to prevail. But this! From the savior of the City? Mr. 9/11? The day after Rudy’s defection to the boys of Fenway Park, some New Yorkers may have trekked out to Montauk, Long Island, to watch for the sunset.

The reasons for Giuliani’s flirtation with the Beantown Boys may be utterly, geographically parochial. Maybe Rudy just couldn’t stomach the notion of siding with an expansion team younger than his youngest son to win the Fall Classic. Maybe his deeper loyalties lie with the American League, which the Red Sox will represent in the Series, or to Joe Torre, the Yankee manager, a friend of Giuliani and recently fired by Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.

There could be a political calculus as well. Giuliani is facing what’s thought to be a major challenge in the New Hampshire primary, occurring in a state where he’s spent very little time campaigning (by some pundits’ estimates looking beyond the primaries to the general election). Perhaps, the thinking goes, Giuliani hoped to gain the political affections of the New England states by siding with their favorite baseball sons this year.



Who knows? Despite his alleged loyalty to the conservative cause, Giuliani has adopted maverick stances that point to a certain iconoclastic streak; maybe he figured a contrary position on a baseball team wouldn’t be any different.

For many Americans, however, it is different. For them, allegiance to one’s baseball team carries a greater weight than fidelity to a political party, even if the potential for disappointment is about the same, one to another.

For New Yorkers, Rudy’s switch rankles because of its apparent convenience; it seems to confirm suspicions that Rudy Giuliani’s convictions are elastic, expedient things ready to be thrown over at a moment’s notice.

Consider what he said to the Providence Journal in July. "I'm a Yankee fan," Giuliani said. "I always believe it's a sign of my being straight with people, about not wanting to fool them, that I was one of the first mayors to be willing to say I was a Yankee fan."

But now he’s done a 180. New Yorkers don’t understand. They hold it against him. And no one holds a civic grudge like a New Yorker.

So Rudy’s cast his lot with “the other,” apparently making an early bet that he’ll win not just the nomination but the presidency as well. The jury’s still out on whether he’s right. But if he fails and limps back to New York, tail between his legs, it’s safe to say he won’t be graciously received. The New York Daily News published a deadline that famously distilled President Gerald Ford’s attitude toward a bailout of New York during the city’s period of deep fiscal woes.

“FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD,” screamed that legendary headline on Oct. 30, 1975.

If candidate Giuliani doesn’t become President Giuliani – and maybe even if he does – the city that has defined him for decades may well tell him the same thing.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Law & Order: Missing Candidate

It could be an episode of one of the “Law & Order” shows, part of the franchise that’s become the 31 flavors of TV law-enforcement drama: A capable, popular politician with a national reputation, a man seeking the presidency of the United States, suddenly goes missing on the campaign trail. His supporters are stumped, his Web site is largely noncommittal about his whereabouts, and even the press (which prides itself on knowing about such things) has no idea where he is. (Cue that signature two-note “chung-chung” sound between scenes.)

That’s the scenario taking shape around the conspicuous absence of Fred Thompson, the former GOP senator from Tennessee and latecomer to the 2008 presidential campaign. Slow off the mark to begin with, the Thompson campaign was trying to gain some momentum, with the candidate dutifully stumping for votes and campaign donations with a folksy demeanor that couldn’t conceal certain … shortcomings about Thompson’s ability to think fast on his feet.

Many in the Republican camp saw Thompson as the heir apparent to the Reagan mystique. With his six-foot-six frame and his long standing in popular culture as a high-profile actor (most recently as New York District Attorney Arthur Branch on “Law & Order”), Big Fred was seen as the one who would rescue the GOP from a relatively uninspiring field of hopefuls. Then came Thompson’s first debate, on Oct. 9.

Call it the debacle in Dearborn: Thompson was, to quote The New York Observer’s Steve Kornacki’s charitable assessment, “rhetorically overmatched” against his challengers for the nomination. Even knucklehead nonentities like Duncan Hunter piled on, fulminating at will. Hunter weighed in against Thompson, slapping him with various haymakers.

“Senator Thompson and some of the other senators here: You all voted for Most Favored Nation trading status for China,” Hunter said. “That set the groundwork for 1.8 million high-paying manufacturing jobs going off-shore, some of them never to return.”

When Thompson had the chance to respond to Hunter’s blistering ad hominem broadside, he was bereft of emotion, offering only a lame retort. “Free and fair trade has been good for America,” he said, saying little more than suggested any passion, any reasoning, any command of the facts.

The response from the crowd, then and later, was predictable: a silence you could almost imagine punctuated by the sound of crickets chirping at night.

It didn’t get any better that evening. Several of the other nonfactor candidates – including Sam Brownback, getting his last licks in before formally pulling the plug on his own campaign’s respirator this week – made telling points at the Dearborn debate. Even Ron Paul kicked ass!

The candidate is no doubt coming to grips with the biggest challenge of his young campaign: less concerned with how to take on his rivals, more worried about how to climb the mountain of expectations his stature and presence in the public eye have created among grassroots supporters in the GOP.

“One of Mr. Thompson’s biggest obstacles is supposedly the high expectations that initially greeted his candidacy,” Kornacki smartly noted in his Oct. 9 column. “That he failed to meet them in several appearances over the summer and in the month after he officially entered the race produced wide – and corrosive – skepticism among the opinion-shaping class.

“The bigger problem is that the fervor that essentially drafted him into the G.O.P. race had to do with style, not substance. That Mr. Thompson seemed to hold positions in-line with the party base and its interest group establishment didn’t hurt, but it was the notion that he could communicate those positions in a powerful and compelling way that led Republicans to demand his candidacy. Like Ronald Reagan, another actor who didn’t always exhibit a command of policy details, Mr. Thompson would win over the masses with a public style that would warm up and win over any audience.

"But faced with an auditorium full of Republicans in Dearborn, he managed to put them to sleep.”

Since then, Thompson’s gone missing from a fundraising breakfast for a New Hampshire mayor. He’s only been in that pivotal state once since he declared in September.

Thompson’s shown signs of getting up off the mat. Earlier today he offered an immigration plan that would cut federal grants for cities and states that fail to report illegal immigrants, or which offer them public benefits.

“It's not only necessary for any meaningful immigration reform, but border security plays a key role in both the interdiction of illegal drugs and in defending America against terrorist threats," he said stumping in Florida.

It’s a start, but only a start. Invariably, Thompson’s handlers and mouthpieces will refer to Thompson's relative absence as part of the process of “retooling the campaign,” a phrase that presumes there were tools at the ready to begin with.

If there are any tools at Thompson’s disposal, he better find them and use them fast. A campaign that started late amid chin-pulling and long deliberation has stumbled badly with months to go before it’s over. It’s something of a given that the wheels have come off the Thompson campaign bus; these next few weeks may show us if the candidate himself is under it.

Chung-chung!
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Image: Photo by Alexander Muse 7/25/07 > Flickr > Uploaded to Wikipedia under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license; Thompson logo from Thompson ’08 campaign

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Everything gone green

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome if you will, the new King of All Media and co-winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize – Al Gore! Yes, you heard right, the man who once would have been president has bagged the Big One, bigger than the presidency, in many ways. With the announcement from the Nobel committee in Stockholm, the former vice president has completed the latest phase of a recycling process started years earlier, elevating the issues of environmental protection and global warming to a truly global stage.

Speaking in Palo Alto on Friday, Gore, who shares the prize with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said he will donate all of his portion of the cash prize – about $1.5 million -- to the Alliance for Climate Protection, which he established in California. Taking the high road, Gore said “alarm bells are going off in the scientific community” over the issue of global warming, characterizing it as “a planetary emergency we have to respond to quickly.”

“It is the most dangerous challenge we have ever faced, but it is also the greatest opportunity we have ever had to make changes that we should be making,” he said.

“The climate crisis is not a political issue, it is a moral and spiritual challenge to all of humanity. It is also our greatest opportunity to lift global consciousness to a higher level.”

The press gathered to hear Gore make his first comments wanted none of it. The moment he stopped speaking and strode out of the room without answering question one, the reporters went into full Pavlovian mode, shouting the obvious (and obviously ridiculous) question: ”Are you gonna run for president?”

Notwithstanding their obligation to ask that question, the answer should have been fairly obvious. Gore’s ascension to the world stage underscores just how unnecessary the presidency is for his résumé.

If there was ever a time Gore didn’t need to be president, this is it. As the author of several best-selling books, founder of a social-responsibility investment fund, the prime mover behind the Current viewer-participatory cable television channel (which got him an Emmy award), on-screen narrator of the film “An Inconvenient Truth” (which won an Oscar for best documentary feature this year), infrequent guest on “Saturday Night Live” and a pivotal figure in mainstreaming the Internet, Gore handily displaces Howard Stern as King of All Media (something Stern never really was in the first place).

But the Democrats’ political reflexes kicked in anyway. Draft Gore, one of at least two ad hoc organizations bent on enlisting Gore to be a candidate, posted an ad in The New York Times all but begging him to throw his hat in the ring. Its companion Web site claimed to have amassed 190,000 signatures seeking his candidacy (as if the field weren’t crowded enough already).

The commentariat weighed in too. On MSNBC cable on Friday, Tim Russert had reasons why Gore wouldn’t seek the presidency. “We’re only 12 weeks away from the Iowa caucuses. Caucusgoers put a premium on someone who’s spent a lot of time and invested a lot of energy in getting to know them in their state.”

Bob Schieffer of CBS News broke down the political logic for staying out of the 2008 presidential campaign. “The core of his support would have to come from that side of the Democratic Party that Hillary Clinton seems to have sewed up,” Schieffer told CBS anchor Katie Couric. “The other part of his support would have to come from kind of the idealistic wing – that would be those voters who are for Barack Obama. I simply don’t see him peeling off very much support from either of those two candidates.”

As a purely political calculus, Schieffer’s is no doubt correct. But it ignores a more basic reason to avoid the presidential race. Gore’s status today – as a public figure who’s shown an ability to reach across the generational aisle, to tap into popular culture at every meaningful level in the service of a cause most people still haven’t fully factored into their daily lives – is bigger, wider than the presidency of the United States.

Al Gore matters on a global level right now, considerably more than he would as a politician. He’s the beneficiary of the public perception of his being part of the solution, rather than just another part of the problem. He’s not about to trade that in to spend a year eating rubber chicken at every Holiday Inn on the campaign trail.

Russert spoke of another practical reason for Gore staying out of the race: Frankly, he’s doing too well where it counts.

“He was at Google at the very beginning, and Google is now $600 a share,” Russert said. “Even I can figure out that math.” (Actually, the day Russert spoke Google closed at $637.39 a share. But when you’re in on the ground floor on the day of the IPO at $85 a share, as Gore almost certainly was as a company senior adviser… well, who’s counting the crumbs?)

Russert mentioned another possibly tantalizing role for the former vice president. “I also think that the next president could really take advantage of Al Gore’s talents, and use him as an ambassador, especially if there is a worldwide effort on global warming. I think he’ll continue to play a very active role as a citizen activist,” Russert said, seeming to align Gore’s possible world-fixer role with that of Tony Blair, the former British prime minister now embracing his new role as ambassador without portfolio, pursuing a solution to the intractable problems in the Middle East.

(On the day Gore won the Nobel, MSNBC.com prominently featured a timely story on the emerging phenomenon of “cradle to cradle” consumer products, goods with a fully-extended recyclable life cycle, their componenrts turned into new materials after their previous use.)

Everything’s gone green. Scientists and environmentalists have been saying it for generations – arguably since Rachel Carson’s 1962 book “Silent Spring,” certainly since the first Earth Day in 1970. Al Gore is the irresistibly visible champion of a cause that’s finally achieved a top-of-mind recognition not so much deserved as required. The new inconvenient truth is, we dare not ignore it anymore.

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Image: Copyright 2006 Brett Wilson > licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 > Wikipedia

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Fighting the power

Hillary Clinton’s recent pre-emptive move against some of the press covering her ascendant Democratic presidential campaign is starting to get the expected (and deserved) reactions from journalists monitoring, if not actually covering, the campaign.

A story on the senator planned for publication in GQ –a piece about infighting within the campaign, written by Atlantic Monthly writer Josh Green -- was killed at her request, or, more appropriately, at the request of some of her operatives, who managed to extract a nasty quid pro quo: access to sources for a planned forthcoming GQ story on her hubby, former President Bill Clinton, would be denied if the Hillary story went through as planned [see "Hill kill" for more of the details].

Jon Friedman got the ball rolling in his Oct. 1 MarketWatch column, “Memo to Hillary,” telling the senator, in no uncertain terms, “you are playing a dangerous game with the media.”

Friedman said “that kind of stuff may work at GQ, which can be loosely regarded as a fashion magazine stuffed with some words. But if you think you can pull the same stunt with other self-respecting media organizations, you might not be so lucky.”

But the always spot-on Ron Rosenbaum, writing for Slate, really weighed in on Thursday, Oct. 4, with a Spectator column that smartly puts her seemingly isolated action in its proper wider perspective: “[T]he recent Bill and Hillary tag-team mag-control operation—and GQ's craven cave-in to it—suggests that the contagion, the plague of fawning-for-access journalism, has now spread to politics, with Bill and Hillary playing the role of Brad and Angelina.”

Rosenbaum writes: “Of course, any editor with a backbone would say, "Thank you, your crude effort to kill this story will be included in the story. Goodbye."

“Instead, the GQ editor killed the story. Profile in courage!

“What is even more reprehensible is that GQ's editor then began to claim—in a cringe-inducing, unconvincing way—that the visit by a Clinton consigliere had nothing to do with his killing the piece. Instead, unforgivably, he turned on his own reporter and in a spectacularly demeaning way suddenly claimed there were 'problems' with the story unrelated to Clintonian pressure.”

Rosenbaum cites what reporter Joshua Green said to Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post: "GQ told me it was a great story and a hell of a reporting job, but they didn't want to jeopardize their Clinton-in-Africa piece. GQ told me the Clintons were unhappy and threatened to revoke access to Bill Clinton if the Hillary story ran."

This is what GQ editor Jim Nelson said: "[T]he story didn't end up fully satisfying. ... I guarantee and promise you, if I'd have had a great Hillary piece, I would have run it."

“… I think the Clintons have the right to exercise as much control as they can. That's politics,” Rosenbaum writes. “But editors have the obligation to resist them. That's journalism. …

Rosenbaum rightly notes that resistance “will send a signal to politicians that magazine editors are whores for access who can be rolled at will." And he notes that such cowardly retreats as GQ's exact an "intangible cost: the cost of such behavior to whatever respect is left for the magazine industry from a public that increasingly thinks the mainstream media are in the pocket of the powerful.”

“It's time for magazine editors to fight this censorship-by-access. Because it's really self-censorship: the false belief that one can't run a probing story just because one is denied the anodyne 'exclusive' quotes and the super-special 'exclusive' photo of the powerful subject reclining on his or her patio. …”

“Given the cover appeal of the famous and the powerful, magazines will continue to assign profiles. The problem is that the spread of Hollywood access rules has blurred the line and blunted the journalism when it comes to profiles of people in power in politics and government, or people with private corporate power.

“Powerful figures who now think they can avoid thoroughgoing scrutiny by journalists just by withholding their participation might become a little concerned that magazines might then decide to hire more energetic and investigative-minded reporters (the sociopaths of doom) to look more deeply into their record than those who lazily settle for unexamined explanations and equivocations in person. …”

“I'm not saying journalism is war, but it's often a struggle between those with power who want to avoid or control scrutiny and those who feel scrutiny of the powerful is a public service.”

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

How to reappear completely

After four long years away, the subterranean homesick polymaths collectively known as Radiohead return with a new record, their first since the visionary “Hail to the Thief” (one of the best records we’ve heard in years). The Oxfordshire-based band’s usual doing away with convention will take a new turn this time out. The band with a refreshing disdain for the expected is poised to turn the recording industry financial model on its head.

The new one, “In Rainbows,” is due out on Oct. 10, and will be released both as a regular CD release (if a pricey one; more on that shortly) and as a digital download set to be priced at whatever the prospective buyer is willing to pay. You heard right: you can set the price for the digital download of new music from one of the most important bands in rock.

It hasn’t gone unnoticed. "This is all anybody is talking about in the music industry today," said Bertis Downs, longtime manager of R.E.M. "This is the sort of model that people have been talking about doing, but this is the first time an act of this stature has stepped up and done it. . . . They were a band that could go off the grid, and they did it," Downs told the Web site of the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday.

As a bite-the-hand-that-feeds move, Radiohead’s gambit is hard to top. Bands and the record companies that go a long way to keeping them alive rely on chart placement and unit sales as a kind of EKG to monitor public reaction. By releasing a record solely through downloads, this Brit band undercuts the very mechanism bands and their companies need to see how well they’re doing. “Radiohead has sold close to 9 million albums in the U.S., and three of its CDs have debuted in the top 10 on the Billboard album charts,” LATimes.com reported. “The band has in effect made sure that won't happen with 'In Rainbows' by taking its unorthodox approach.”

This from a band whose biggest radio hit, “Creep,” came out in 1992.



But it might make all the sense in the world. The recording industry has seen other DIY moves in recent years; consider Ani DiFranco's pioneering move with the launch of the Righteous Babe label, or the series of bootleg discs Pearl Jam has been releasing for years, even while they maintain a relationship with a conventional recording company.

Since their contract with EMI expired in 2004, Radiohead has been a free agent. By conducting this experiment independent of the middlemen that are central to big media getting things done, the band could stand to make even more money then they would have with a regular distribution arrangement with one of the corporate heavyweights.


And the group hasn’t abandoned the idea of making a living. For those who relish an actual disc in their hands, the band plans to also release, by year’s end, a deluxe package including a disc with the download release’s content, plus a second disc of eight new tracks, as well as a lyric sheet, artwork, a hardcover book and a slipcase. Price at this writing: 40 pounds, or $80 at the current rate of exchange.

At that price, casual listeners or the merely curious are liable to walk away. But it’s to Radiohead’s credit that they’re willing to conduct this experiment as a way of flexing their creative muscle, and endearing itself to the fans who've bought those 9 million copies of their past work. It’s liable to help them in another way: Remember, since “Hail to the Thief” was released, Radiohead has been a band without a company. Watch the bidding war begin (Virgin, are you listening?).

After years out of the limelight they seem to shun anyway, Radiohead has devised a brilliant way to reappear to its public. In a beautiful world, this is special. It’s so fucking special.
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Images: Thom Yorke: RhodesSchool.com; band photomontage by Kollision

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Letting Obama be Obama

A lot’s been made recently about Sen. Barack Obama not having the fire in the belly to pursue this presidential campaign to its illogical conclusions. There seems to be a real drumbeat, a barely contained cry among the media who want Obama to “call out” Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton – like the upstart young gun who stands on the streets of Dodge City and calls the craggy, wizened sheriff out of the saloon for the purpose of seeing who’s faster on the draw.

It’s a sick reflex common to the media in big election campaigns: They can’t wait to do what they can to start a fight between candidates. They long for confrontation, and what’s got some in the media a little uneasy is that they’re starting to discover that Obama is apparently serious about taking the high road, fostering an atmosphere of civility in American politics and not generating conflict for the sake of soundbites and edgy TV.

But Obama has absolutely no reason (right now, anyway) to engage Clinton in the kind of knockdown, drag-out bare-knuckled fisticuffs that the media love. Why should he? He’s kept pace with her on fundraising, or raised more money than she has. He’s been able to get his message across, building a solid core of supporters and an equally solid ground game in Iowa by fighting his way. There’s no need to pop Hill with a rhetorical Taser on the campaign trail.

The senator from Illinois has nothing to gain and everything to lose by reverting to the type of bloodsport politics historically associated with the Democrats. If he picks up the cudgel, he risks alienating the core of voters and supporters that have followed him precisely because he’s succeeding without being confrontational. Raising the ante with needless clashes would also play into the hands of the Republicans, who’d love to say Obama was just engaging in divisive Democratic “politics as usual” after all.

The media thinks the New Hampshire primary is some kind of do-or-die test for Obama -- that, unless he engages Clinton directly (perhaps as soon as the Democratic presidential debate in Manchester on Oct. 21), the state’s voters will gravitate, glassy-eyed, to the Clinton campaign (whenever the date for that primary is set).

But that media calculation overlooks the nature of the rock-ribbed New Hampshire independent. The pol-watchers’ thinking says that those independents aren’t likely to go with the GOP candidates in the primary. If that’s true, then it’s likely just as true that those independents will vote for Obama, in no small part because he walks it like he talks it – because his maverick approach to campaign politics is exactly the iconoclastic, independent thinking they’ve been looking for.

There’s an old saying — “the light that burns twice as bright burns half as long.” So far, at least, Barack Obama has mastered the art of political energy conservation, and realized a cadre of very loyal followers, and the money that flows from those loyal followers. Since he’s not broke — literally or figuratively — what’s there to fix?

Many in the media – the lamebrains who cluck their tongues and call Obama “weak” and “insubstantial” – are desperate for a battle royal between Clinton and Obama. They may not get it. They’re looking for a “race,” but they don’t realize they have a race right now. It’s just not the Ben-Hur chariot competition they’re hoping for. It’s time for the media to stop angling for a clash of the titans. It’s time to let Obama be Obama.
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Photo: transplanted mountaineer; fair use under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license. Source: Wikipedia

Monday, October 1, 2007

The Rudy factor

Rudolph Giuliani, the man dubbed America’s mayor and who seeks to be America’s next president, is a complicated cuss – has been since he was Mayor of New York City. Never a by-the-book Republican, Giuliani has so far parlayed his role as (for want of better shorthand) Mr. 9/11 into a stronger-than-expected bid for the presidency.

But some of the issues that have dogged him since he was mayor of NYC are following him onto the national stage – not the least of them being a thin skin about his personal life and a debatable sensitivity to minority concerns. Now, more recent reports suggest Giuliani has a smug certainty about his ability to defeat the Democratic nominee – pre-empting any mention of the rest of the Republican field trying to do the same thing.

It’s been his stump statement in any of his stump speeches: “I'm the only Republican candidate who can beat Hillary Clinton." His Republican rivals would beg to differ.

It’s not just a manifestation of confidence bordering on hubris. With such statements -- and actions like crossing the pond to shake hands with and raise campaign funds from expatriate Americans in Great Britain, the better to make himself look presidential -- Giuliani’s clearly put cart before horse. It takes more than a spread-collar shirt and a silver tie to convincingly pull off the president-presumptive act.

Given the competition, and his standing in the polls, he may not have a choice. In various recent opinion polls Giuliani has placed a reliable third behind former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson. Making an argument for his own inevitability may be his only option right now.

"This is his best strategy for getting from here to there, given who he is, where he comes from, and where the minefields are," said Stephen Hess, a George Washington University professor who has worked in several Republican administrations. "It's out of necessity ... unless he wants to recreate himself," Hess told Liz Sidoti of the Associated Press in a recent interview.

The minefields are formidable. Giuliani breaks ranks with his Republican counterparts – and most of the GOP voters he’s courting – with his liberal-to-moderate positions on hot-button values issues like abortion and gay rights, and a past record of backing gun-control measures.

That’s the big challenge the Rudy camp faces: finding a way to get those rock-ribbed Republicans to look the other way on those issues, and reaching out to a broader constituency of Americans who, after seven years of the Bush White House and four years of war, have had enough of GOP governance. “Uphill climb” doesn’t begin to express the challenge he faces.

“He's asking them to overlook what he doesn't offer — right-leaning views on cultural issues they care about — for what he says he does offer: the best opportunity for Republicans to thwart another Clinton presidency,” Sidoti observed in a Sept. 30 story.

That’s a huge problem for a party eager to re-establish its own bona fides with a public disgusted with GOP scandals, judicial failures and a president whose dead certainty about the need for an elective war in Iraq has rifled the national treasury, robbed the nation of thousands of soldiers’ lives and broken the finest armed forces in the world. For Giuliani to prevail, those conservative voters would have to reject the very values their party stands for.

Giuliani has tried to pimp his Mr. 9/11 role from New York City to the nation as a whole, effectively pursuing a campaign no less one-note than Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo, whose anti-immigration platform is not so much a platform as a plank. But Giuliani is no more the inevitable Republican nominee than the Republicans are the inevitable victors in 2008.

And even if he wins the nomination, Giuliani faces the task of establishing not just a difference between himself and the other candidates, Democrat and Republican. He’s got to make the case he’s different – different enough – from the Republican incumbent he hopes to replace in the White House.

Matt Taibbi understands this. Writing in Rolling Stone in May, Taibbi noted that “[Giuliani’s] political strength -- and he knows it -- comes from America's unrelenting passion for never bothering to take that extra step to figure shit out. If you think you know it all already, Rudy agrees with you. And if anyone tries to tell you differently, they're probably traitors, and Rudy, well, he'll keep an eye on 'em for you. Just like Bush, Rudy appeals to the couch-bound bully in all of us, and part of the allure of his campaign is the promise to put the Pentagon and the power of the White House at that bully's disposal. …”

“To the extent that conservatism in the Bush years has morphed into a celebration of mindless patriotism and the paranoid witch-hunting of liberals and other dissenters, Rudy seems the most anxious of any Republican candidate to take up that mantle. Like Bush, Rudy has repeatedly shown that he has no problem lumping his enemies in with 'the terrorists' if that's what it takes to get over.”

A weary, Bushed America may not be ready for Bush III. “I’m electable,” Rudy Giuliani screams again and again. At this point, maybe he should consider seeking the one office he could maybe still make that credible claim for – repeating as the mayor of New York.
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Image credit: Jason Bedrick, released to public domain
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