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Sure, he has his flaws, and he is out of sync with some long-revered positions of his Republican Party. But Rudolph Giuliani brings a mightily impressive resume to his race for president of the United States, and it is something on the order of crazy that he has fallen so quickly and so far from his standing as GOP front-runner.
One reason, it is said, is a mistaken strategy of making minimal effort during the early primaries and caucuses while focusing his resources instead on the coming Florida contest and then on February’s 24-state Super Tuesday. Other candidates picked up momentum and extensive press coverage and he didn’t, and this fact supposedly hurt him badly, political observers theorize.
That may be part of it, but the bigger part in my view has been extensive press coverage of the wrong kind.
Many commentators have bashed him hard, some refusing against all logic and evidence to give him credit for the utterly astonishing turnaround of New York City he engineered as its mayor. He had maybe the second-toughest job in American politics behind the presidency, and he mastered it, bringing New York back to greatness as he conquered crime and helped reinvigorate the city’s economy.
The critics focus elsewhere — on Bernard Kerik, for instance. Giuliani appointed him New York police commissioner, made him a business associate and recommended him for secretary of homeland security. Kerik has since been indicted on charges of corruption. The critics also pay considerable attention to a Giuliani consulting business that supposedly paid less attention than it should have to lobbying laws.
No one doubts — certainly not me — that voters should have information reflecting directly on the qualities of competence and character Giuliani might bring to the White House. By the same token, however, voters should know or be reminded that other candidates have had their judgment questioned on issues similar to those raised about Giuliani at one time or another, and should consider that while any errors appear in the final analysis to fall short of disqualifying them from high office, his mistakes as so far demonstrated also fall short.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the new front-runner in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, is forever projecting himself as a man who will follow truth wherever it leads him. Once in his career, he seemed to be spending more time following the wishes of Charles Keating Jr., as an Internet review reminds us.
Keating contributed big money to McCain’s political campaigns. McCain’s wife had invested in a Keating business venture. When Keating got in trouble with federal regulators, McCain lobbied those regulators on Keating’s behalf. McCain did nothing illegal, but he earned some harsh words from the Senate ethics committee. He apologized for the appearance of impropriety. Lots of people lost big money because of Keating’s business failures. Keating went to prison.
On the Democratic side of the presidential race, is it possible that Barack Obama has his version of a Kerik or a Keating to worry about? Hillary Rodham Clinton seems to think so. In a South Carolina debate, she said to Obama that she was “fighting” against Republican “ideas” when he was “practicing law and representing your contributor (Antoin) Rezko in his slum-landlord business in inner-city Chicago.”
Obama, it’s reported, did indeed represent Rezko, who has been indicted on fraud and influence-peddling charges. Obama also bought a house for $1.65 million at the same time Rezko was buying an adjoining lot for more than $600,000. Later, Obama bought some of that lot from Rezko for something over $100,000. Obama says he did nothing ethically wrong, but did “misgauge the appearance” of the deal.
And, of course, some of Hillary Clinton’s Arkansas business associates were sentenced to prison. She claims to have been thoroughly “vetted” during her years in public life, but news outlets report the Clinton Library as saying it’s, well, really, really difficult to produce records of her policy involvement during her husband’s presidency.
The shame about Giuliani’s tumble in the polls is not that there are no other good candidates out there, but that he has so much to offer and seems to be in trouble for reasons that could apply as well to candidates in the ascendancy.
(Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at SpeaktoJay(at)aol.com.)