Rudy the New Yorker

December 11, 2007

Rudy the New Yorker

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Every Sunday CUIP’s president Jacqueline Salit and strategist and philosopher Fred Newman watch the political talk shows and discuss them. Here are excerpts from their dialogue on Sunday, December 9, 2007 after watching “The Chris Matthews Show,” “Meet the Press” and “The McLaughlin Group.”

Salit: Rudy Giuliani did an hour on “Meet the Press” with Tim Russert. Russert’s strategy for the Giuliani appearance was to try to pursue concerns about his judgment and his character. It was light on issues and more focused on decisions and judgment calls he’s made. This includes the relationship between his business and various foreign governments, judgment calls with respect to Bernie Kerik, his decision not to participate in the Iraq Study Group after he’d been appointed to it, and of course the latest tabloid sensation about the NYPD having provided security for his then-girlfriend, now wife Judith Nathan in 2000. Russert relied, not surprisingly, on a lot of New York reporting in order to question him. So, what does the national public see about Giuliani from this interview?

Newman: They see that he’s a New Yorker.

Salit: Truly.

Newman: He leads a New York-style life. I think the country is ambivalent on that but Giuliani gave very solid answers. He came across as a very talented prosecutor.

Salit: Yes.

Newman: And he came across as knowledgeable, even though Russert didn’t give him a chance to give much expression to this. But, if this weren’t on television, if it were a private conversation, Giuliani would have said, Come on, Tim, business is business. We know how business works, don’t we?

Salit: Exactly.

Newman: And Rudy would have added, You know, cops are tough guys. If you appoint tough guys, you run the risk that they’ve been tough in places they shouldn’t have been and done some things that are not exactly kosher. But if cops were forced to function in ways that were completely kosher, they’d be completely ineffective. That’s what Rudy would have said privately, I think.

Salit: I agree. And he did manage to communicate some of that and it really pissed Russert off. You could tell. Russert did that thing with his lips.

Newman: Well, Russert comes across like he thinks he is the pope. Actually, I thought it was a bad interview because he really didn’t explore Giuliani’s thinking about a range of issues or even about the other presidential candidates.

Salit: On the issues, Giuliani did talk about how he approaches the Iraq war, whether we get out, when we get out. Russert asked him how long will we be there? And Giuliani says, ‘We’ll be there until our strategic objectives have been achieved or until we decide that they can’t be achieved. And it’s best to keep the politics out of it.’

Newman: I don’t think that it really makes sense to rule out the politics. The politics are part of the whole picture and not just with respect to Congress. Interestingly, neither Russert nor Giuliani mentioned the fact that 75% of the American public doesn’t support this war. That’s having a huge impact.

Salit: And what about Giuliani’s argument that ‘You never fight a war on a timetable. You never say, Well we have “X” amount of time to achieve what we’re trying to achieve, because that’s never been done, that’s not how you do it.’

Newman: I don’t know whether it’s true that it’s never been done. But, if wars resemble games, and many people have analogized the two, some games do have a time limit. So, it depends on what kind of game you’re playing – or what kind of war you’re fighting. But that’s just a philosophical speculation. I don’t know the history of warfare. He may be right that wars are never fought that way. Even so, I don’t know whether it follows that that’s a good thing.

Salit: The Chris Matthews panel discussed the National Intelligence Estimate released last week about Iran indicating that in 2003 Iran abandoned its nuclear weapons program. The Iranians were still developing their nuclear capacity, but not their weapons program. This undercut the saber rattling coming out of the White House. The Matthews show question was whether Bush and the White House pursued the information aggressively enough, since they’d been given a heads up about the NIE findings a number of weeks back. Matthews wants to know why Bush doesn’t ask questions, why he is so passive. Late in the discussion, David Ignatius, who has a background in the intelligence community, called the Matthews angle a non-story. He said that the administration was concerned that the information was perhaps false intelligence designed to deceive them. He didn’t think that the way the administration had handled the processing of the information was off-base.

Newman: I think this discussion was something of a cover-up on all sides. The big issue is that the insane saber rattling that comes out of the White House, largely associated with the neo-cons, with Cheney, Rumsfeld, etc. creates an environment where you can’t have anything resembling a sensible discussion on these matters. Whether you’re the CIA or Joe Schnookhead from Kansas City or anybody else, you can’t have a sensible conversation.

Salit: There was quite a confrontation on “The McLaughlin Group.”

Newman: Yes.

Salit: About Mitt Romney and Mormonism.

Newman: Yes.

Salit: Basically, McLaughlin went around to all the panelists and everyone said “good speech,” “good moment for Romney” “high-minded,” etc. and he got to Larry O’Donnell and O’Donnell lambastes Romney for dodging the fundamental issue, which is, he says, to address the Mormon church’s abysmal history on the race question. O’Donnell accuses everybody on the panel of being hypocrites for being unwilling to talk about that and essentially buying into Romney’s silence on Mormon racism. The biggest sparks were between O’Donnell and Buchanan.

Newman: Part of what Buchanan and Clift were saying is that all religions have their histories and things they’ve done that they’re not terribly proud of and should not be proud of. And O’Donnell says, ‘Well, somehow or another there should be a special standard for Mormonism.’ I’m not sure why he says that, or thinks that. Maybe because it’s an American-born religion and he thinks he has more credibility in taking on Mormonism than taking on Christianity or Judaism or Islam. But a serious discussion – and this wasn’t a serious discussion – would be to consider religion in general and its role in generating views which are socially intolerant. I think everyone was trying to “sit on” that discussion, in their own way, including O’Donnell. Was Joseph Smith a crook? Yes, he was a crook. I know a little bit about Joseph Smith and he surely did some things that went well beyond being just a charlatan. That’s not uncharacteristic of some religious figures. But, once again, people are uneasy about having a discussion about religion as a social phenomenon itself. I don’t know what it is that set O’Donnell off about Mormonism. Maybe because – as he said – he plays one on TV. So, I guess he read a book about Joseph Smith to prepare for the part.

Salit: Romney’s speech was praised for the statement he made about the separation of church and state. He reaffirmed his commitment to it and also made a very strong statement about the importance of religion and religious beliefs in the public square. That was contrasted with the famous John F. Kennedy speech in 1960 where JFK, a Catholic, unequivocally endorsed the separation of church and state. But Kennedy went on to give a characterization of America in what might be called more secular terms and downplayed the role of religion in public life.

Newman: Watching the shows today, I keep coming back to how much more I trust the American people than I do the politicians and the commentators. I think there is a big divide on this question of faith-based vs. secular society and the American people are trying to work it out. I think the American people are doing a more honest job of having that fight than either the politicians or the commentators. That’s a hard fight, a complicated fight, a long-term fight. I feel happy to be a part of the American people engaging that. The American people in Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina and all over the country will make some decisions on that. Not permanent decisions. But, they will teach us over the next year where the country is on this. Not that that’s going to be perfect. But, I think it will be more honest and more relevant than all this politicking and commentary.

Salit: Thanks, Fred.