Vanity Fair takes off from its full-bore, cover-to-cover Globwarming evangelism to helpfully compile all the gossip and scandal about Rudy Giuliani in one snarly piece. Their take isn’t that his judgment is bad, or his positions are odious to the base. No, we’re going for the nuance here—Rudy is mad, mad, MAD!
A famous person’s nuttiness is of an entirely different order than an unfamous person’s. The big issue with nuttiness is that it’s secret or shameful. But, in a sense, publicity cleanses or absolves nuttiness. That is, it makes it normal. We’re used to it. What’s more, with Rudy, there’s so much of it that sheer volume cancels the details out.
And, in some significant way, the nuttiness is the point. Rudy is reversing the basic political math, where likability = electability. Rather, it’s Rudy’s extremism, his vividness, the joie de guerre of his obsessions and fixations, his beastliness, that give him his chance.
I think what VF’s Michael Wolff calls insanity–not a case he makes at all, by the way; goofiness and insanity are not the same thing–translates out in the heartland as irascibility. And that’s a good thing.
Times are tough. We’re not looking for a nice guy for President. Romney-style decency isn’t necessarily selling to the base these days. The country wants someone who will treat Ahmedinejad like a ferret-rights activist and the Saudis like–well, like Rudy treated Prince Alwaleed after 9/11.
A few days back Jack M. (posting at Ace of Spades) unloaded a devastating critique of Mitt Romney’s counterproliferation strategy–naming a non-proliferation ambassador. That’s an intellectually plausible response, but as Jack notes, intuitively false. The proper response to being threatened with nuclear weapons is the natural one on any playground, prison yard, or anarchic international order: get emotional–or cold and dry, that works too–get up in the guy’s face, and make it clear that any assault is going to be met with overwhelming, humiliating retaliation.
Bush does that through exactly that cowboy swagger that the Euros hate so much. Rudy can do that, too, and even people who don’t follow politics or have strong preferences on the issues know that Rudy isn’t going to balk at demonstrating our resolve when it is tested. Our enemies will know that as well.
Nixon famously tried to deter and influence America’s enemies by what he called the “madman theory”: by sending a message that he was Whoa! out of control and you better not trifle with him, Chairman Mao, or you might just get a fusion shampoo. It didn’t work, because nobody believed Nixon was really crazy. I don’t think even Michael Wolff believes that about Giuliani, either. But what people do believe about him was summed up well by James Lileks in a column now lost to the internet (but preserved in part at Ed Driscoll’s):
He’ll nuke ’em if he has to.
Any candidate I vote for is going to have to meet that test. Rudy’s far from my first choice in this race, but I really do admire his ability to project resolve and…let’s face it…menace when it comes to matters of national security. The race will be very interesting when the other Republican candidates learn to project that as well. The second tier candidates–Hunter, Gilmore, Tancredo–can do so already. The majors? We’ll see.
The Democrats–the “nurturing parent” party as their own strategist/guru George Lakoff dubbed them— are constitutionally incapable of doing so. Irascibility remains a virtue exclusive to the Republican slate. Let’s hope that whoever our nominee is knows how to compete on our ground.