I'm an independent journalist and try to be neutral about these things, but I must admit I'm disappointed in Rudy Giuliani's abrupt slide in the polls. Maybe it's because I'm a fellow New Yorker, but I truly thought he was going to bring something more substantial to the table.
So here's a bit of unsolicited advice to the Giuliani campaign about how to get back in the ballgame.
STOP TALKING ABOUT 9/11!!!
Giuliani so far has been a one-note candidate. It's gotten so bad that one editorial cartoon last week showed Rudy begging for money on the streets of New York while holding a sign, "Down to my last $9.11." That says it all. Public perception is that twenty years from now, Giuliani will still be talking about September 11.
That's exactly what you don't want -- especially in this election.
Let's face it. Whether you're for or against the effort in Iraq (and I'm for it), people are sick of this thing. We got into this five years ago and last week some high Iraqi official said he thought we'd have to stick around until 2018. Voters don't want to be reminded of all this.
Of course that doesn't mean we're going to pull out immediately or in the near future when someone new gets elected. There is no "peace" candidate in this election in the fashion of George McGovern in 1972. Hillary is carefully hedging her bets and even Obama seems to understand that he's not going to be able to cut and run. Any intelligent person knows that at this point pulling out abruptly would light a fuse that would blow up the whole Middle East.
AS FAR AS THIS election is concerned, however, people want to put September 11 behind them. That's why Rudy is doing so poorly. 2008 is going to be a huge break with the past. It's like Ronald Reagan's election in 1980 -- people will wake up on November 5 and find they are living in a different country.
I don't know what the change is going to be, but that's what people want. Obama has captured this first with his mantra of "Change." Now everybody has picked it up. Hillary Clinton is "Ready for Change, Ready to Lead." Mitt Romney says "Change Starts Here." Where is Rudy? He's still talking about 9/11.
By endlessly harping on the same subject, Rudy has become a bore. He's like the high school quarterback who's earned a reputation around town and gets invited to a few grown-up parties.
It's fun to have him around for a while but when you realize he's going to do nothing but stand around talking about his exploits, people start rolling their eyes. This kid isn't ready for the big time.
Giuliani has exhausted his 9/11 capital. By failing to evolve, he's made himself the candidate of the past.
What should Rudy talk about to change the subject? I'm only a reporter and I'm sure he's got plenty of good material on his staff, but here's my list of interests:
* America's place in the world. It's obviously time to start mending fences. We've gone it alone for the last six years but now it's time to show we can play with others.
Global warming is an obvious place to start. I know it's mostly hype, but the point is people believe there's a problem so it's time to address it. Nobody who signed the Kyoto Protocol is doing anything about it and we're probably doing more after not having signed it. But do we have to isolate ourselves on everything?
Why not go along with the rest of the world on this issue? Rudy should announce, "I will sign the Kyoto Protocol." That will electrify the press.
* Nuclear power. The only way we're ever going to make any progress on carbon emissions anyway is by reviving nuclear power. Rudy has said he's for nuclear but never makes an issue of it.
The important point is that nuclear is now about much more than global warming. It's about energy and the economy. If we don't stop printing dollars to pay for foreign oil, we're going to lose more than the world's good opinion -- we're going to lose our economic leverage. (I know nuclear doesn't replace oil immediately but it will if we develop electric and hydrogen cars.) France, Russia and Japan are moving ahead with nuclear technology and starting to sell to developing countries. We're doing to get left out if we don't do something soon.
A presidential campaign is a courtship. As David Brooks wrote the other day, people say they're interested in the issues but they're much more interested in personalities. What we're doing is trying to decide who we want in our living rooms for the next four years. Al Gore lost in 2000 because people found him pompous and condescending. John Kerry came off the same way, while George Bush seemed more comfortable in his own skin.
I honestly believe Rudy Giuliani is the most intelligent and engaging candidate in the Republican field, flexible, articulate and certainly capable of inspiring and leading the country. But he's got to come down from his high 9/11 horse and show the voters.
And if something should happen between now and November to remind us of the dangers in the world, don't worry -- people will remember the other stuff as well.
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