The fallout from last week’s all-consuming scandal involving former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani calling into question President Barack Obama’s genuine love for his country continues to settle.
The press almost immediately set about hounding Republican officeholders and aspiring presidential candidates, demanding that they weigh in with their thoughts on the former mayor’s remarks. Last week, Giuliani might have had no more vocal supporter among the set of likely 2016 presidential candidates than Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. Though the governor conceded that Giuliani “should have chosen different phraseology for his remarks,” Jindal insisted that he generally agreed with the “gist” of the mayor’s criticism of Obama’s patriotism.
“If you are looking for someone to condemn the Mayor, look elsewhere,” Jindal said. “The gist of what Mayor Giuliani said – that the President has shown himself to be completely unable to speak the truth about the nature of the threats from these ISIS terrorists — is true.”
Conservatives bristled at the frenzy into which Giuliani’s remarks sent the press, a tizzy that is perhaps best demonstrated by Time Magazine’s coverage of Jindal’s support for Giuliani.
“Jeb Bush. Scott Walker. Marco Rubio. Now it’s your turn,” [Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Rep. Debbie] Wasserman Schultz said. “Chris Christie. Ted Cruz. Rand Paul. Stand up, say ‘enough’. Lindsey Graham, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Ben Carson, Mike Pence, John Kasich, and the rest of you. In fact, I would challenge my Republican colleagues and anyone in the Republican Party to say enough. They need to start leading.”
The press went right about following Wasserman Schultz’s orders as though they came straight from their editors. No mention was made in this article of the scandal surrounding the DNC chairwoman that involves allegations she offered to change her political position on the controversial issue of medical marijuana if a Florida-based Democratic donor would stop criticizing her.
For much of the media, the manufactured scandal surrounding Giuliani’s remarks trumped a real one involving Wasserman Schultz.
Regardless of the conservative blogosphere’s rejection of the premise that the former mayor’s remarks were cause for a National Conversation, the withering criticism Giuliani and his backers endured in the last week have taken their toll. In an op-ed in Monday’s Wall Street Journal, Giuliani backed off his criticisms of the president.
“My blunt language suggesting that the president doesn’t love America notwithstanding, I didn’t intend to question President Obama’s motives or the content of his heart,” Giuliani wrote. “My intended focus really was the effect his words and his actions have on the morale of the country, and how that effect may damage his performance.”
Presidents John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton all possessed the ability to walk a fine line by placing any constructive criticisms regarding the ways the country might improve in the context of their unbending belief in American exceptionalism. Those presidents acknowledged America’s flaws, but always led with a fundamental belief in the country’s greatness and the example we set for the world. When President Reagan called America a shining city upon a hill, it burnished our image, rallied our allies and helped ultimately to defeat the Soviet empire.
Obviously, I cannot read President Obama’s mind or heart, and to the extent that my words suggested otherwise, it was not my intention. When asked last week whether I thought the president was a patriot, I said I did, and would repeat that. I bear him no ill will, and in fact think that his personal journey is inspiring and a testament to much of what makes this country great.
It is a subtle self-criticism, but it represents a dramatic departure from Giuliani’s remarks on Fox News Channel last week. “I don’t feel [Obama’s] love of America,” Giuliani said. “I believe his initial approach is to criticize this country, and then afterwards to say a few nice things about it.”
Giuliani was joined by Jindal who also pulled back his criticisms of the president… slightly.
“I didn’t want to throw him under the bus” Jindal told reporters on Monday after noting that he has never endorsed the mayor’s choice of words. “I know the media loves to see Republicans attacking other Republicans.”
“The president loves America,” the Louisiana governor added. “He loves our country. There’s no doubt about that.”
He went on to say, though, that Obama’s strange refusal to identify the threat posed by radical Islamic terrorism and to take the steps necessary to defeat it has “disqualified him to be our commander-in-chief.”
In these comments, both Giuliani and Jindal have probably neutralized the controversy surrounding their initial questioning the president’s patriotism while also framing his conduct of the war against Islamist militancy as dangerous and irresponsible. It is a smart approach and will probably result in the cessation of all media coverage of this episode lest the press have to repeat this dangerously resonant accusation. The game is rigged.