Wednesday, January 30, 2008

"BUT I'M AMERICA'S MAYOR!" "AND WE SALUTE YOU FOR IT. DON'T COME BACK, NOW." It wasn't supposed to go down like this. People had been talking about a Giuliani Presidency since shortly after the September 11 attacks. After the 2004 elections he was the Republican front-runner, and remained in that position until December of this year, when it all went to shit.

What happened? Captain Ed Morrissey blames the media. Others talk about his insufficient obeisance to the GOP's social conservatives -- though the former Mayor had tacked far enough right to gain the endorsement of Pat Robertson. Poor campaign planning, the dwindling of 9/11 as an emotional touchstone, and other excuses are being rolled out at this writing.

Few mention the most obvious factor. Since the first Presidential debate in May, voters have been getting to know the candidates. They've been on TV non-stop, often speaking directly to cameras. And citizens who till then had a vague, patriotic memory of America's Mayor somberly handling the grim duties of that extraordinary time now saw a different person entirely.

They saw a former prosecutor who had never been lauded for his people skills, who had been elected twice as New York Mayor only because his toughness was perceived to be the harsh medicine the beleaguered City needed. But no one was looking for harsh medicine now, and without squeegee men or collapsing towers to justify him to the moment, Giuliani had to sell himself on the going terms. Republicans had swooned for the Great Communicator and the Compassionate Conservative, but here was a short bald man dressed like a successful banker and grinning. They had seen little of that grin in September 2001, and maybe a flash or two on a talk show since. Now they were accosted by it on an almost daily basis and, having the ordinary perceptual skills of human beings, they may have recognized it as the smile of someone who doesn't actually like people.

And he didn't have to be smiling to convey that impression. Giuliani talked about immigration and the economy and health care as if they were things he could bat into shape the way he batted Gotham into shape. He constantly reminded us that he wasn't pandering, as if that weren't obvious.

It is often counted it a deficiency in our politics that voters rely on personal impressions when they choose a President. Maybe we do cut too much slack for the candidate we would, as the saying goes, like to have a beer with. On the other hand, if we perceive that a candidate would happily confiscate our beer and jail us for violating the Open Container Law, it would just be common sense to deny him our support.

UPDATE. Some alicublog commenters saw it coming on more mundane terms. "I long ago predicted," says cleter, "that I wasn't sure who was going to win Iowa or South Carolina, but I was pretty sure it wouldn't be the pro-choice, pro-gay, thrice-married New Yorker. And the New Yorker wasn't going to beat the guy from Massachussetts in New Hampshire. I should be on one of the gas-bag pundit shows! My pundit powers are awesome!"

I submit that nearly any alicublog commenter removed to such a milieu would immediately cause traditional talking heads to unionize and declare reality an unsafe work environment.

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