If It’s Showtime!, Is It Giuliani Time?

Who is the bottle blonde on the cover of the current issue of National Review? (N.B.: I am a senior editor at the magazine.) When did cross-dressing sink so low? During the Mayoralty of Rudy Giuliani, of course.

That is the inner Rudy, parading himself at an Inner Circle dinner; please, give us the outer one. Inside, in the cover story (“But Will It Play in Peoria? The Drag on Rudy Giuliani’s Presidential Prospects”), my colleague Kate O’Beirne examines the paradoxes of Mr. Giuliani’s run for the White House.

For the last two years, poll after poll—McLaughlin and Associates, NBC News/Wall Street Journal, Gallup—has found Mr. Giuliani either leading the field among Republican voters, at around 30 percent, or a close second to John McCain. And yet when one considers his positions on a number of issues dear to Republican voters, Mr. Giuliani is defiantly out of the loop. “When it comes to winning over GOP primary voters,” Ms. O’Beirne says, “if you can make it in New York, you can’t make it anywhere else.”

In fact, Kate soft-pedals the story. The case against Mr. Giuliani is even stronger than she makes out, as is the case for him. Mr. Giuliani’s candidacy is simultaneously impossible, and necessary.

Take the difficulties. Mr. Giuliani has been enjoying superstardom and speaker’s fees, and so has not had to cast defining votes in a while, unlike his office-holding rivals. Yet during this artificial grace period, several issues have actually gotten worse for him. Mayor Giuliani was for abortion, including by partial birth. Yet, as the Catholic and evangelical Chicken Littles warned, the politics of life and death has moved on. The committed will now want to know if Mr. Giuliani is in favor of unplugging the immobilized, or breeding embryos for experiments.

Mr. Giuliani earned the affection of the Log Cabin Republicans by supporting gay rights. Now supporters of marriage are trying to stop the courts from imposing gay marriage via a few vanguard states and the contract clause of the Constitution. Will he be Leonidas in that pass? Mayor Giuliani’s rhetoric on immigration was Emma Lazarus, updated by the Manhattan Institute: Open House! BYOC (bring your own cousins). Now the flood of illegal immigrants, combined with President Bush’s 10-thumbed handling of the problem, has made this issue a third third rail for Mr. Giuliani.

Finally, there is that G.O.P. primary perennial, guns. It is hard for New Yorkers to take this seriously, but they should. Recently, as I was about to give a talk in Concord, N.H., a gentleman who had come to listen asked where I was from. When I answered, he commiserated. “Your gun laws are terrible. Ours are good, and we fight to keep them that way.” He lifted the tail of his shirt to show me the (very large) pistol he was packing. The New York cops’ attitude—if we grant a right to bear arms, only criminals will bear them—will not serve Mr. Giuliani well.

Some issues find Mr. Giuliani in an uncertain middle. In 1993 candidate Giuliani promised to cut some of the city’s taxes, and as Mayor he delivered. But he is not a passionate tax cutter, like Steve Forbes or Jack Kemp, so that issue is a wash. Mayor Giuliani faced down the city’s racial hustlers, refusing to meet with defamer Al Sharpton. It is hard to know how that once-hot local lightning rod would look to the nation.

Mr. Giuliani crossed party lines to endorse Mario Cuomo in his last run for Governor in 1994, though this act of electoral treason looks better and better, since Mr. Cuomo’s successful opponent was George Pataki. Add the personal to the political—three marriages, the taste for drag—and the Giuliani campaign is listing like the Norwegian Dawn.

Mr. Giuliani did one thing right for the right in the normal course of politics, and it was huge: He took on the problem of big-city crime, from muggers to mobsters, and solved it. New New Yorkers who have moved here in the last 10 years can’t know how intractable this problem once seemed. Responses ranged from resignation to an impotent fury that was the practical equivalent.

I remember the crime position of my friend George Marlin, who was Mr. Giuliani’s Conservative Party opponent in 1993: lock ’em all up, on barges if necessary. But it took creative, proactive policing to bring the perps within the net of the law. As Heather MacDonald notes in the latest issue of City Journal, the post-Giuliani NYPD is still keeping crime down, even though numbers are creeping up nationally.

One issue, even a big one, would not a President make, were it not for Showtime! What is that?

Every aficionado knows that politics is a show, and we laugh at its minstrelsy, but the wise know its uses: F.D.R. triumphing over his withered limbs with his million-dollar smile; Lincoln knowing that Matthew Brady’s photographs made his busted-sod face haunting; Washington carefully designing all his uniforms. The ordinary show of national conventions is as venerable as the iconography of donkeys and elephants: for Democrats, passionate aggrieved black folk; for Republicans, benedictions by ministers with 5,000-strong congregations and suits the color of blue Curaçao.

The show of politics is choreographed and predictable. But sometimes, and you never know what time, it’s Showtime! Lights, action. When was it Showtime! any time recently? Pearl Harbor; newly-sworn-in Harry Truman, learning of the existence of the A-bomb; on a personal level, Ronald Reagan strolling out of the Washington Hilton to his rendezvous with John Hinckley. And our own Showtime!, downtown.

No need to recite what everyone knows. Of course there were stumbles. There must be. But when it’s Showtime! you press on. For example, Mr. Giuliani’s emergency command center was in the very buildings the terrorists had targeted. No buildings, no command center. Showtime! I remember a letter to the editor of this publication, harping on the disastrous irony. I forget the name of the letter writer, and even the sex, but I remember the tone: a gray gabble, yarf-snarf: Well, anyone would know not to put a command center in the World Trade Center.

That’s right, anyone would, during the postgame analysis or even the replay. But when Holy Shit Hell walks through the door and beats your head with a bat right now, and it’s Showtime!—what do you do in that case?

We know what Mr. Giuliani did, again and again, through that endless fall as it morphed from shock to anthrax. Who can tell when it will be Showtime! once more? It is an article of our democratic faith that ordinary men may rise to the occasion. Washington had a track record before he became President; Lincoln, F.D.R., Truman, Reagan didn’t really. So perhaps we can trust to God. But if we feel we need such a person again, and we need to know him ahead of time, there’s no other choice.