Things have gone quiet about former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s widely denounced comments about President Barack Obama, but that doesn’t mean the controversy is history.
It’s symptomatic of a political Ebola that has infected 21st century political “discussion” and the sad spectacle of someone who briefly transcended tiresome partisan political polemics before destroying his legacy with his own mouth.
The man called “America’s Mayor” left thoughtful people of both parties and independents shaking their heads when they saw reports that at a Republican dinner he declared: “I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the President loves America. He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.”
The new litmus test for the GOP’s oval office aspirants then became, “Do YOU think Obama hates America?” Giuliani’s biographer later made mince meat of him in a New York Daily News piece, recounting the former mayor’s less-than-Leave-It-to-Beaver family history.
This stomach-churning turn of events was tragic in several ways.
Giuliani had been a highly controversial New York Mayor in the days before Sept. 11, but on that day Americans thought he was a real deal. He took command. He reassured. He was a genuine leader -- not someone posturing to simply appear as one.
In 2008, I talked with someone in New York who worked with Giuliani on Sept. 11, and he echoed accounts of how reassuring, competent, and courageous Giuliani was during an unprecedented terrorist attack on American soil. Giuliani zoomed in early 2007 polls leading up to the 2008 Republican Presidential nomination race -- where he became a shrill, hyper-partisan -- and eventually politically incompetent -- “new Giuliani.” He flopped.
In 2007 and now again in 2015 he virtually betrayed people who considered him a future GOP brand enhancer and national unifier and those who were with him on 9/11. He failed to live up to their expectations -- and his own potential.
But don’t blame Giuliani entirely.
While most Americans believe Obama DOES love America, polls show most Republicans do not. Rasmussen finds 65 percent of Republicans don’t believe Obama loves the U.S.A. YouGov poll finds 69 percent of GOPers agreed with Giuliani.
The broader issue is how many 21st century conservative Republicans -- and conservative Republican wannabes like Giuliani -- talk about and name-call their political foes with sneering contempt and demonizing innuendo that they most certainly KNOW is previously digested bull dinner. It’s like they’re all auditioning to be talk show hosts or bumper sticker writers.
You also see this in comments on websites and Facebook pages where political hack ideologues hurl the label “liberal” or “Democrat” at people who try to discuss, as if being a lockstep talk radio political culture parrot who automatically assumes that “Republican” or “Conservative” is the label everyone craves is going to win their argument.
Today’s politics is about hurling labels and repeating political mantras -- which doesn’t alter facts. Continuing a tiresome culture war rooted in the 1960s divide over Vietnam may make attackers feel good, but it fails to convince others.
After Giuliani came under intense fire for his 2015 version of McCarthyism, he eventually partially walked back his comments with one of those explanation apologies that really isn’t total, but allows him to save face after stuffing his foot in his mouth.
As writer Janet Shan on her Hinterland Express blog aptly put it upon reading Giuliani’s qualified apology: “The damage has already been done to the GOP brand and to his standing as ‘America’s Mayor.’ He should slither back under that rock from whence he came.”
And, indeed, Rudy Giuliani is no longer “America’s Mayor.”
He’s “America’s Hack.”
Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/joegandelman