We have always been a nation defined by images. From the founders lining up to sign the Declaration of Independence to JFK, Jr. saluting his father’s casket, Americans think of things in images and phrases as they might appear on television and now on the internet.
During Rudy Giuliani’s 1990s term as Mayor of New York, image was a problem and to some extent, still is. Later, while still a very successful mayor, he was dealing with a messy divorce and a diagnosis of prostate cancer which took him out of the 2000 United States Senate race against Hillary Clinton. Many believed that this was the end of Rudy’s political life. Then came 9/11, the kind of tragedy that makes you wonder: are great men made or do circumstances force greatness upon them?
Rudy Giuliani seemed just the man to handle the crisis on 9/11. He was forceful and confident and he understood the first responders. He not just spoke to them, but for them. Growing up in New York as an Italian-American and Catholic, he had a common bond with many of the first responders in their gritty, streetwise approach to their work.
I said on that day that by the time the sun set, there would not be a family in America that would not be connected to this tragedy and Rudy was the face of that connection. It was a day of pictures that will resonate with this generation as the images of the Kennedy assassination resonated with an earlier one. It was also the day Rudy was remade and given new life on the national scene. He was one of the successes that Republicans pointed to as if to say, “he’s a Republican and he’s successful in one of the most Democratic of cities. We can win anywhere.”
Giuliani has been a lifelong Republican and without those pesky primaries, there is little doubt that he could be elected President of the United States. He relates to the mainstream of America through his strength in a crisis, in faltering personally and his tough nature. Giuliani does not often sugar coat his views and I think that is why he’s polling strongly across the country.
On Friday, new polls were released by Strategic Vision on presidential preferences in southern states. Giuliani has given up ground to Fred Thompson for the moment in Georgia and in South Carolina. But these polls were taken before the California fires and the pictures of another liberal Republican, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, covered the media with the same kind of take charge/can do attitude. Like Mayor Giuliani on 9-11 Schwarzeneger is achieving much in evacuating 1 million Californians and keeping the peace while fighting these fires.
It’s too big a stretch to say that the California government’s response to the fires, with Gov. Schwarzenegger leading the charge, would be a political boost to Rudy Giuliani’s presidential bid. But it does repair some of the damage the Republican Party — most of it unjust — took because of the Bush administration’s response to Katrina. And whomever is the nominee, especially if he shares some liberal leanings with Schwarzenegger and equals the Californian’s disaster competence — which means Giuliani, and no one else — the California response may boost the GOP nominee.
Arnold invokes the leadership of the post-9/11 era without even mentioning 9/11. Just by his success in garnering support while fighting against negative media reminds us of the days after 9/11 when we all spoke in one voice. The Governor even took on ABC’s Claire Shipman in a smiling way, pointing out that she was looking for bad news in the California response the fire. Arnold said what all of us have been thinking about the news media.
We, the people, are sick to death of the parsing of tragedies looking for the conspiracy in them before the fires are out and the dead are buried. We are tired of looking at hard-working first responders and hearing the media and their echo chamber, the Democrat leadership in Congress, looking for problems where they are none and ignoring the real problems that government should be facing.
So does Arnold help Rudy? He might in states where independents can cross over and vote in Republican primaries and that just might be enough for Rudy. But don’t look behind you, Mr. Mayor. Fred Thompson is gaining and he looks good on TV, too.