HOOKSETT, N.H.– The difference in atmosphere and mood between John McCain’s visit to a local diner yesterday and a Rudy Giuliani event at an American Legion hall a few hours later could not have been any more stark.
McCain, clearly buoyed by poll momentum and the comeback narrative the mainstream media is so enamored with of late, bristled with an energy more infectious to his supporters than the latest flu making the rounds, while the hundred or so people who trekked out in subzero temperatures to see Giuliani were, after an initial burst of fervor, nearly as subdued as their candidate.
Fortunes have shifted over the last few months and the effect is so tangible George H.W. Bush’s long ago prayers at the altar of “the big ‘mo” suddenly seems a whole lot less crazy. During the Q&A last night a woman asked Giuliani a question that would have been unthinkable last summer: “How do you primarily differentiate yourself from Senator McCain?” — the candidate left for dead, resurrected on the eve of voting to haunt the national frontrunner.
“We’re two different people,” Giuliani joked in response, before adding in a more serious tone, “I like John very much. He’s a good friend of mine so I don’t feel any necessity to differentiate myself from John. John is a hero and a very good man and someone I admire. I have my own set of assets.”
Giuliani counts executive experience and a finely honed fiscal conservatism among those assets, but has nonetheless opted to cling to the national security reed that originally vaulted his campaign into the national poll stratosphere.
Entering to strains of classical music resembling the coda from a 1960s western, Giuliani spent virtually his entire stump speech on the need for America to remain “on the offense in the terrorists’ war against us.” He invoked the specter of a rising Islamic caliphate based on “perverted,” “vicious,” “horrible” ideas as heir to the lost throne of fascism and communism, and insisted a strong leader was needed to rally the American people if this “existential threat” was to be thwarted. When he said he’d like to emulate Ronald Reagan’s philosophy of peace through strength, Giuliani raised both fists and shook them, walking back and forth, adding emphasis to his points with little jabs like a shadow boxer.
It isn’t only Islamic terrorists Giuliani has his eye on, either.
“We’re going to make sure China has a peaceful rise, as some of the Chinese like to describe it,” he said. “We’re going to make sure Russia doesn’t consider anything beyond economic competition.”
The new three-word Giuliani slogan beaming out from two television screens and speckled across a backdrop banner left little doubt as to the perhaps presently obscured identity of that leader. No matter which angle you looked at Giuliani from, the man was framed by those words: Tested. Ready. Now.
Problem is the old lines don’t seem to be working quite as well as they used to.
BEFORE GIULIANI HAD EVEN arrived reporters were abuzz about the former New York City Mayor’s apocalyptic new ad. “Who do you call when you’re down in the polls?” one snarked as he watched it on a colleagues computer. “Osama!” And yet, if this was fear-mongering, the audience seemed mostly indifferent to it. Silence greeted Giuliani’s call for a vast expansion of the U.S. military and a force surge in Afghanistan. When Giuliani argued, “In our biggest cities, in our smallest towns, in our littlest rural outposts, we need to be prepared because we don’t know where or how something might happen and we have to be ready for anything the terrorists throw our way,” none present appeared to actually fear terrorists might throw something rural Hooksett’s way.
In an ominous sign for Giuliani, the loudest applause of the evening came when he said immigrants should assimilate into American society and learn to speak and write English — hardly a position unique to him in the primary field.
IRONICALLY, THE CONVENTIONAL wisdom as to what constitutes Giuliani’s greatest strength appears more than a bit outdated. While the terrorism talk came off as blandly predictable and diluted as an elementary school music class recital, the Q&A session revealed a much more engaging candidate capable of speaking thoughtfully and at length about health care, energy policy and immigration, impressively encapsulating detail into a broad philosophical framework.
Even Giuliani’s views on the threat posed by fundamentalism in the Muslim world become more nuanced and complex once a questioner draws him out of his Islamofascism talking points. Based solely on commercials and soundbite rhetoric, for example, few people would probably infer Giuliani is a man who believes “strength also means the confidence to reach out” and supports increased “cultural exchange” between the United States and the Middle East.
“We have to make it clear we don’t have any narrow thinking about this,” Giuliani said, in the understatement of the night. “The more we can learn about the Middle East, the more they can learn about us, the more business we can do with each other…the sooner we’re going to win this war on the other level, the war of ideas where we will find, you will find, I will find and they will find that we have more in common than people want to divide us.”
During his speech Giuliani expressed hope that once the War on Terror — or “the terrorists’ ongoing war on us,” as he insists on repeatedly labeling it — the nation could get back to what it really does best.
“What America would like to do — this is the essential nature of Americans — is sell you something,” he said. “We got something to sell you. We’ve got a product to sell you. We have a process to sell you. We have a computer program to sell you. You name it. We’ll invent it and sell it to you.”
Giuliani needs some new salesmen. He’s a multi-dimensional politician stuck in a one-dimensional candidacy that in these waning hours is doing him no favors.
American Spectator Contributing Editor Shawn Macomber is writing a book on the Global Class War.
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