Noted press critic Rudolph Giuliani offered a startling analysis of himself and his chroniclers the other day. In the course of a 48-hour period during which he extended benefits to unmarried couples, canceled a speech that would have discussed the exciting prospects of a welfare-free New York and directed a blast of overheated air at misbehaving cabdrivers, the Mayor informed reporters that their search for a hidden purpose was misguided and, indeed, insulting.
To those jaded souls who saw in this policy or that decision signs of the Mayor’s higher ambitions, Mr. Giuliani curtly noted that his decision-making process does not factor in such unworthy considerations as grimy politics. Reporters who thought his aborted speech calling for an end to welfare was written to excite the masses beyond the Hudson River were assured that only they are capable of such crude calculations. Nothing of the sort ever enters into the mayoral mind.
This, of course, is heartening news if you are one of those good-government reformer types who think it is a bad thing for politicians to practice the art of politics. The Mayor, of course, is among those who consider the act of committing politics to be at least a civic misdemeanor. Given that Mr. Giuliani is an elected official who has submitted his fate to the tender mercies of the democratic process, this abhorrence of politics suggests certain psychological dramas that are beyond the writ of this writer.
There is no question, however, that the Mayor’s purity of purpose bodes poorly for the state of political coverage in the foreseeable future. If Mr. Giuliani insists upon making all of his decisions for reasons other than politics, well, then, your dutiful correspondent may soon find himself reduced to writing about his adorable children and the gosh-darn funny things they say. Oh, sure, it’s terrific to know that the top politician in the city is not guided by political considerations or ambitions, but talk about boring copy!
Nevertheless, I, for one, am more than happy to take the Mayor at his word, and not simply because I am eager to tell you all about the tranquillity of domestic life. I am advanced enough in years to recall the days when the State of New York and its possessions (the media, the finances of the United States of America, etc.) were in the thrall of a certain politician named Mario Cuomo. Because he gave good speeches and possessed more charisma than a roomful of ordinary human beings, Mr. Cuomo was judged to be a Presidential candidate-in-waiting. And for eight tiresome years, Mr. Cuomo could not sneeze without the press corps concluding that he clearly was attempting to curry favor with ragweed-challenged voters, who constitute a critical swing vote in several primary states.
And so the consumers of news were bombarded with long-winded analyses of how the latest maneuver, the latest initiative or the latest appointment would either serve Mr. Cuomo’s ambitions or hinder them. What effect these maneuvers, initiatives or appointments might have on the health and well-being of New Yorkers was seldom discussed, as, let’s face it, few people in the long-winded analysis business really know what effect government has on anybody. Long-winded analysts tend to be immune from economic conditions that sometimes lead to a vested interest in the trickledown effects of political posturing.
Those of us who lived through the Cuomo-for-President scare should think long and hard before engaging in a similar exercise with either Mr. Giuliani or Gov. George Pataki, another New York Republican who is said to harbor thoughts of even grander office. In order to document the presumed ambitions of either man, we in the documenting business must expend precious time and energy in figuring out the plot lines. This can lead to the sort of dreadful cocktail-party conversations that so drained the wit out of Albany and its environs in the 1980’s. We, the jaded, must ask ourselves an important question. Do we really want to spend the next two years exchanging the following sort of chatter:
“I hear his pollsters told him that a welfare-cutting, crime-busting, gay-tolerant, ethnic Catholic from the Northeast would help the party win California and Florida.”
“Ah, well that explains why he’s been a welfare-cutting, crime-busting, gay-tolerant ethnic Catholic from the Northeast. God, isn’t it amazing how these guys tailor themselves to their polls!”
So, in the interests of our own sanity, let’s take the Mayor at his word. Let’s no longer question him about his ambitions, and let’s stop this incessant buzzing about whether he has his eyes on national office.
After all, if Mr. Giuliani isn’t thinking about these things, why should we bother trying to read his mind? As he tells it, there’s nothing going on there, anyway.