May 17, 2007

Having forced myself to watch the most recent display of Republican presidential intelligence in Columbia, South Carolina on May 15, I came away with impressions that clearly jar with those of the authorized FOX commentators. Unlike Hannity and Colmes, who after the debate rushed to assure us that the “€œMayor”€ had performed brilliantly, I cringed with disgust at Hizzoner’s verbal ineptness. Giuliani gave an impersonation of an Italian-American clone of the Bush family, particularly when it came to a question of where he stands on abortion. From what I could tell, his position on a woman’s right to dump her fetus is indistinguishable from that of Hillary Clinton, although Giuliani has recently changed his mind on partial birth abortion in order to court the Evangelicals. But when asked about his apparent about-turn on late-term abortion after the debate, Giuliani was as incoherent as he had been during the debate (during which he”€™d been asked whether his views on abortion might offend the Republican base).

In his debate response, Giuliani had slavishly followed Hillary by claiming that women should “€œbe able to choose,”€ but that we should focus on the possibility of adoption for children who get born to parents who cannot or will not look after them. But then Giuliani turned on the very celebrity who had earlier enunciated this evasive fluff, by urging Republicans to vote for him lest they get Hillary as president. We were led to believe that Hillary would be dangerous in the White House because she did not believe in a market economy. At that point Giuliani’s syntax became even more tangled, but the gist was clear. Although the former New York mayor must know that some of us know that what divides him from the other New York presidential candidate is mostly cosmetic, he was looking hard for ways to differentiate his product. The major difference that I picked up last night is that Hillary commits fewer grammatical errors.

On one particular question the neocon star fell over his syntax with particular gaucherie, but for good reason. When Chris Wallace, whom I have begun to respect despite his association with the Murdoch-Kristol ministry of propaganda, asked Giuliani whether his repeated support for illegals would sit well with a Republican electorate, Giuliani turned the issue around in a way that was both clumsy and mendacious. He made it appear that the speech from which Wallace had quoted was about registering everyone in our borders as a matter of national security. But Giuliani’s speech had been given before 9/11, and it was a straightforward call to expand social services for illegals, whose future votes the mayor was then soliciting. That having been said, it should be noted that Giuliani responded to the question with such garbled sentences that I thought that he had taken rhetorical lessons from the president he hoped to succeed. John Podhoretz, who declared (NY Post column, May 17) Giuliani to be the “€œhands-down winner”€ in this debate, dwells on his improvement from an earlier Republican debate in which the candidate “€œwandered and stumbled”€”and could not speak with any clarity about abortion.”€ As far as I can recall, that is exactly the way Giuliani performed on Tuesday night in Columbia.
The one occasion when, according to FOX, Giuliani soared above the other assembled wannabe presidents was when he responded to Texas congressman Ron Paul, whom the LA Times describes with obvious sarcasm as the “€œleast known candidate.”€ In a thundering answer to Paul, a defender of tight constitutional limits on executive power, who indicated that it was a bad idea for the US to muck around in the Middle East, a habit that might have contributed to 9/11, Giuliani pounced on his co-debater. He demanded that Paul apologize to the group he had just insulted, namely “€œthe American people.”€ (I for one do not require the apology and shall bequeath my share of it to someone else.)  While another candidate, the crusading opponent of illegal immigration, Congressman Tom Tancredo, merely begged to differ with “€œmy beloved friend,”€ Giuliani went ballistic over someone in the Republican Party seeking to “€œblame our country.”€ Since the speaker was prepared for this stem-winder, he brought it off with whole sentences. When his slobbering admirer Hannity had Giuliani on his post-debate program afterwards, he began bellowing that “€œthey hate us”€ because we”€™ve liberated women. This extended performance was more than my ears could take and so I retired for the night. If one enjoys the current president’s ungrammatical, self-righteous oratory, then Giuliani is the candidate who can provide more of the same.

The shame is that Paul tried to say something significant but did not have the time to finish his thought, before a loud buzzer went off. His large point was eminently defensible, namely that the American effort to carry out regime change in the Middle East is a hazardous and foolhardy enterprise resting on questionable constitutional justifications. Our involvement in Iraq, moreover, started before 9/11 and the air missions that we flew over that quarantined country may have incited some of the resentment leading to the events of 9/11. Paul’s reference to “€œblowback”€ was not an attempt to condemn the American people but a warning about fishing in troubled waters.
The problem is that such arguments may take more than thirty seconds to make, unlike the absurd posturing engaged in by the other candidates when asked whether they would take extraordinary measures to extract vital information from a terrorist whose confreres were planning to blow up the country. It was truly nauseating to have to listen to politicians, some of them my age or older, competing with each other to outdo Giuliani in bombast in the face of some nutty hypothetical devised by one of the moderators.
Apparently those who called FOX after the debate were generally impressed by the quiet dignity of Ron Paul. Unfortunately his display of that dignity required him to sit through the tongue-lashing of a blowhard. Even more upsetting but not surprising is the failure of the liberal media to rally to Paul, who describes himself as a “€œRobert Taft Republican.”€ Although a severe critic of Bush’s war policy, Paul comes through in the national press as a “€œman of the fringe.”€ This judgment found in the New York Post is entirely typical of Paul’s standing in the liberal establishment, which has no use for the antiwar Right. In what I have seen in the national press, the warmonger social liberal Giuliani was painted as having beaten the antiwar advocate of strict constitutionalism. But of course the liberals are not fools. It is not Paul but Giuliani who will help them move the country leftward. The war for the liberal establishment is a made-up issue to neutralize the present Republican administration. It is a means for getting someone who is perceived as farther left than Bush into the executive.

Equally disturbing was the way Mitt Romney and John McCain falsified their records on immigration reform to sound “€œconservative.”€ Both men had had quite different things to say on this subject when they were wooing other constituencies; and their strained efforts to make contradictory statements fit together was almost too painful to hear. From the debate I learned that McCain, who in 2000 had averred that South Carolina had a right to fly the Confederate battle flag on its state house, had since reconsidered this legal issue. Somehow this right to fly the flag had deliquesced in his mind”€”a situation that might have been related to where the Arizona senator might have been speaking at the time of his second hermeneutic judgment (perhaps before a Northern leftist audience?). But now that he was back in the Palmetto State, McCain let it be known that the thorny question had resolved itself. The offending flag was now on display not on the state house but in some undisclosed area nearby. That was OK but it might soon cease to be. Civil rights groups and liberal elites are currently agitating to remove the Confederate battle flag entirely from public view as a hate symbol. Would anyone care to bet what position McCain will take on this issue?     


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