The Coming Swiftboating of Rudy Giuliani

If there is one thing that drives Democrats crazy, it is the success Republicans have had defeating decorated Democratic war veterans while attacking those Democrats on their foreign policy credentials. For example, Georgia Sen. Max Cleland’s defeat in 2002 is frequently blamed on an advertisement that blasted Cleland for his opposition to certain homeland security efforts and went so far as to show his image next to Osama bin Laden. Even though the ad aired only briefly and was only one of many attacks on Cleland’s left-leaning record, Democrats were furious when he lost in a last minute Republican surge that swept Georgia.

The left is especially incensed that a group called Swiftboat Veterans for Truth questioned Sen. John Kerry’s war record and post-war activities in the 2004 elections. Democrats often blame the ads for the senator’s defeat. In truth, the group’s initial advertisements were shown in only a few states and were found credible by only about a quarter of independent voters who viewed them, while the later advertisements were run after President Bush had successfully found his footing after the Republican Convention. And there was nothing new about the accusations — in fact they were deployed successfully against Kerry when he ran unsuccessfully for the House in 1972 (when he was the only Democrat to lose an open-seat election in a district McGovern carried) — the Kerry campaign simply should not have been as slow to respond to the accusations as it was.

Regardless, Democrats still seethe at the fact that their candidate’s perceived strength — his military background — was used against him. They would love nothing more than to destroy a Republican hero on the basis of his perceived strengths. As Rudy Giuliani, the hero of September 11, cements his status as the Republican front-runner, the knives are simultaneously being drawn.

Although Mayor Giuliani is seen as the hero of 9/11, bravely supporting firefighters and police officers in the aftermath of the tragedy, he has had a tempestuous relationship with police and firefighters dating back to his pre-9/11 days as mayor. Some of this revolves around Giuliani’s numerous scuffles with unions over pay raises above the annual cost-of-living adjustments, while some of this simply revolved around the mayor’s gritty personality. Regardless, while Giuliani has plenty of admirers among the ranks of New York City’s finest, he has his share of detractors as well.

A recent event shows these detractors champing at the bit at the opportunity to go after Giuliani on his 9/11 record. In a draft letter, the International Association of Firefighters explains its initial decision not to invite Giuliani to its debate. Although the letter was not sent, and Giuliani was invited to the debate (the mayor declined, citing scheduling conflicts), the letter was leaked to the press. Though the mainstream media did not cover the story much, it spread throughout the blogosphere, where it waits to be picked up at some later date.

The gist of the letter is that, in early November of 2001, Giuliani decreased the number of firefighters searching for bodies in the wreckage of the twin towers, and shifted to a quicker mechanical search. According to the union, this “scoop-and-dump” operation made it much less likely that firefighter’s bodies would be found, and more likely that they would end up in a garbage dump. Moreover, the letter alleges that this shift was caused because precious metals from the tower’s vaults had been found.

The union letter is clearly a piece of propaganda. For example, it mentions that Giuliani had firefighters who protested his change in policy arrested, but omits that the arrested firefighters had assaulted police officers and overturned barricades as part of their protest. And there were certainly contemporary stories of the increasing safety risks to firefighters, which was the reason given for the cutback.

But in politics, fact is often merely a sidekick for perception. One can almost see the commercials now, with tear-streaked widows talking about their husbands being picked up like common garbage, as soon as “Big Business’” gold was found. While the mayor will almost certainly be able to rebut the accusations, this inevitably devolves into a he-said-she-said sort of debate about his intentions, and it is unlikely that the mayor will be able to avoid losing at least some independent support.

Other parallels are forming. Consider the counterpart to Unfit for Command, the book that placed the Swiftboat Vets’ allegations in print. Wayne Barrett’s book, Grand Illusion: The Untold Story of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11, tells a tale of a detached mayor who did not heed the warnings of the 1993 terrorist attacks, who grandstanded instead of governed in the wake of 9/11, and who valued his relationship with the always-evil “Big Business” so much that he refused to replace radio handsets that had malfunctioned (for a thorough takedown of Barrett’s book, read here.)

Make no mistake about it: If Rudy Giuliani is the nominee in 2008, the left will not sit idly by and allow Hizzoner to wrap himself in the mantle of 9/11. They have been waiting for over three years now for the opportunity to attack him on his home turf. If he is the Republican nominee in 2008, hopefully he will be better prepared than Kerry was in 2004.