Dear Anderson Cooper,
It's been a year since Rudy Giuliani threw his halo into the ring -- and it's past time for the national press to penetrate his 9/11 Teflon to get at his record and character. It could start with you tonight at CNN's YouTube debate.
After my experience as NYC's public advocate, the city's #2 elected official, for all of Giuliani's eight years as mayor, I've been able to reduce his repeated refrains to four, listed below. Basically they all serve to obscure those parts of his public and private life that can't stand up to scrutiny by Republican primary voters.
You prominently exposed governmental gobbledygook after Hurricane Katrina. Hope you can do the same with Rudy's evasions. Under pressure, he insults, exaggerates, jokes or admirably concedes that he's not perfect:
*Insults. Those of us who served with him in government experienced a ruthless, dour man. When someone would disagree with his policies, his immediate reaction was to destroy, not debate, an impulse he has managed to sheath this year behind a toothy grin. Until recently. Here are his responses in the past two weeks alone to Joe Biden on his over-use of 9/11, John McCain on Bernard Kerik, and Fred Thompson on guns -- Biden was a plagiarist 20 years ago; McCain was ensnared in the Keating Five scandal 20 years ago; and Thompson is merely an "actor and lobbyist."
Ok. But what about the content of their critiques? Giuliani's personal, nasty counterattacks never answer the substantive charge, but that's the point.
*Exaggerations. Mark Twain calls these "stretchers," the germ of a truth distended beyond recognition. He uses this very, very often because of a Paul Bunyan complex that he's very, very terrific. Hence he'd be "very, very" comfortable with Judith Nathan, his wife, sitting in on Cabinet meetings because she's somehow a bio-terrorism expert. Religion is a "very, very" important part of his life, even if he rarely attends church.
He can hardly say something resembling a fact without distorting it. Yes, he spent some time at the "pile" after the 9/11 attacks but for effect he couldn't resist adding that he spent "as much time, if not more" than rescue workers, which is not remotely true. Yes crime fell impressively while he was mayor, but not 74 percent -- perhaps he's counting the steady decline for 36 straight months under his predecessor David Dinkins (and indeed for the seven years since Rudy left office). Yes, the rate of survival for prostate cancer is slightly higher in the U.S. than Great Britain but no where near the 88 percent to 44 percent gap that he falsely attributes to "socialized medicine." Yes, he had some familiarly with terrorism pre-9/11 but a) had next to nothing to do with the Klinghoffer-PLO case, according to Justice Department officials, and b) never mentioned the subject in his screening of Police Commissioner candidates after the first '93 World Trade Center attack.
More recently are these two beauts. Despite some "issues" with Bernard Kerik, Giuliani insists that he was a great commissioner and only one of a thousand appointments. Issues? Like being serially corrupt and mob-connected? And he wasn't merely pluribus unum but a bodyguard who became Giuliani's corrections commissioner, police commissioner, a partner in Giuliani Partners and nearly Homeland Security secretary at Rudy's urging. And "sleep deprivation," which is torture according to the Geneva Convention, is nothing serious because then "running for president is torture" allowing Giuliani little sleep, said a celebrity who flies on private jets and eats well when not resting in four-star hotels.
Then there's a whole body of responses that go beyond tall tales. Giuliani says he put his emergency command center back in the World Trade Center complex after the '93 attack because that's what his experts recommended. But Jerry Hauer, his top anti-terrorism advisor, has the memos proving that Giuliani wanted it within walking distance of City Hall at World Trade, not safely underground in Brooklyn.
But deterring Giuliani from continuing his penchant for overstatements or lies is about as easy as damming up a raging river. Until an opponent or the media figure out how to preemptively mock this habit ("Rudy's Rampage, Part 14", "There he goes again, again"), watch for him to continue misstating facts knowing that tabloids and Fox will headline his attack while burying or ignoring the inevitable corrections later. (See, for example, Giuliani belittling Romney over the past weekend for increasing crime as Governor, an untrue charge that successfully provoked Romney into a defensive response.)
*Jokes. Then there are those quick New York quips which allow him to escape a close encounter. Recall, for example, when ABC's George Stephanopoulos asked all the Republican candidates what their flaws were, Rudy laughed it off by noting that he couldn't possibly answer in 30 seconds but would consider making confession to George's priestly father. And how can he flip-flop on such fundamental issues as choice, guns, gays and immigration. "I don't agree with myself most of the time!" has won him laughs and an escape hatch.
*Imperfection. "I'm not perfect" is his near-perfect, all-purpose slicker in a storm. Of course, since George Washington died in 1799, no one is. And his answer would also be available to figures from Richard Speck to Michael Vick. Fine Richard and Michael, now how about those shootings and that dog-fighting?
Most interviewers have allowed him to escape serious answers to serious questions -- about his record, his character, his temperament -- by not following up on such lame diversions. So he keeps them up for three reasons: his 1950s views are grossly out-of-touch with 21st century America; he lacks any deep knowledge about foreign affairs, or about much of anything other than municipal and legal affairs; and he really can't plausibly explain his Kerik judgments, his racial divisiveness, his failures to protect New York City before and after 9/11, not to mention his earlier ardent support for reproductive rights, gun control, gay rights and immigration.
Rudy implies those are all off-limits. Anderson, are you ready for your follow-up?