Jewish World Review July 29, 1999 /16 Av, 5759
Rudy Giuliani's fund- and fun-raising stop here was opera. Light opera. It was almost Gilbert and Sullivan, considering the outdoor setting and the very conscious, if not heavy-handed, ironies involved.
A good time was clearly going to be had by all, except maybe those who insist on taking a spoof seriously.
Like the chairman of the state's Democratic Party, who was out on Center Street in front of the Governor's Mansion holding his own counter-press conference before the main event. He kept accusing the visitor from New York of pulling off a publicity stunt. Imagine: a politician seeking publicity! Shocking.
As for Chairman Vaughn McQuary, he was doubtless out on this frying-pan-into-the-fire hot July morning with no intention of being quoted in the public prints. But why would any politician give an interview, whether on the White House lawn or on melting asphalt in a Southern capital, unless he could be assured of publicity? It would be like a tree falling in the forest without making a sound: politically pointless.
My favorite part of these well-orchestrated performances has always been the pre-concert warm-up, with the crowd slowly gathering, the place filling, the sound of instruments being tuned up. Right now a basso profundo voice is being strummed near the fountain like a bass violin: This is So and So of Such and Such from Little Rock, Ark. ... Deep, full-throated, portentous, signifying nothing but another newscast.
A few TV vans are already on the parking lot in front of the Governor's Mansion, and the natural Southerners in the crowd are gravitating toward the nearest shade. Correspondents foreign and domestic slowly drift in, the bank of cameras waits in front of the handsome portico, a sense of anticipation slowly builds ... and there's even a fan club. Some ladies from Memphis have arrived with their home-lettered, made-for-TV signs. The whole setting could have come straight out of our summer music festival at Wildwood Park here in Little Rock. There are costumes from the East and a guest artist from New York.
The press conference itself is routine after all the buildup. Everybody in politics -- governor, lieutenant governor, the headliner from The City -- has learned to stay On Message. Spontaneity can be dangerous in these matters. The ghost of another George W. (Romney) still haunts political campaigns. One unthinking comment and the show could close.
The mayor's parody of Hillary Clinton's campaign in New York has a practiced flair by bow: He's here to listen. He's never been here, lived here or worked here, so naturally he's thinking about running for public office here. Yeah, but how's he going to resolve any conflicts of interest between his home state and his adopted one -- like where federal highway money should go? "I would always vote fairly and equitably,'' he says with a gleam in his eye. (Bill Clinton could have delivered that line perfectly seriously.) The mayor adds that he's been a fan of the Arkansas Travelers since childhood, since everybody in New York needed a AA team, as well as an American League club to root for. ...
The rest is pretty much predictable: This publicity stunt is not a publicity stunt, but a routine swing around the Southern fund-raising circuit. (As if it couldn't be both.) His party is more unified than ever, which is what any party says when divisiveness looms. He may disagree with his fellow Republican and host at the Governor's Mansion (no need to go into detail and mention abortion, civil rights for homosexuals or gun control) but What Unites Us Is Greater Than Anything That Divides Us.
Once you've out all the predictable pabulum, one impression of Rudy Giuliani remains: A guy who comes from someplace definite. From the accent, you'd know it was New York and might guess the Bronx with Manhattan pretensions atop Brooklyn underpinnings. As a parting gift, he leaves behind still another pronunciation of the protean name of our small, wonderful state: Arkansar.
But before he says goodbye, he's come across as a big-city mayor who has actually made the big city livable. A gangbusting former prosecutor, but no genteel Thomas E. Dewey. He's more Grover Whalen with a dash of acquired Jimmy Walker and a saving splash of Fiorello. Not a bad cocktail.
He talks about the polls in New York (they're suddenly leaning his way) and about how Ronald Reagan transformed the American political landscape. And he gives a couple of us Arkies a short course in New York geography: All of New York is divided into three parts: upstate, The City and its burbs. The latter two mix like oil and water, which is why New York has an upstate, but no downstate, at least not in any clear political sense.
Now that he's left (Hurry Back!), the strongest impression Rudy Giuliani leaves is this: He's not just the non-Clinton in this forthcoming Battle of the Titans, but an authentic figure of his own. Because he's got an authentic sense of place. His principal and possibly decisive advantage in any match-up with First Woman is not that she's a carpetbagger, but that he's a New Yorker. It might be different if she had an accent as distinctive as, say, the late Robert Kennedy's. Then she would come from some immediately identifiable place, instead of out of a series of career moves.
Love him or hate him, Rudy Giuliani has a not-so-secret weapon that he reveals with every
word: the accent of a real Yankee fan. In a debate with Hillary Clinton, who's going to sound
like the authentic voice of New York? Whom would you ask for directions, and for
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