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The Nation | ON THE TRAIL

Ground zero is Giuliani's platform

June 28, 2007|Maria L. La Ganga | Times Staff Writer

DES MOINES — The world according to Rudolph W. Giuliani is a very, very scary place.

Just listen to the former mayor of New York City in a hotel ballroom in the scorching Midwest, two minutes and 14 seconds into a speech on "Restoring Fiscal Discipline and Cutting Wasteful Washington Spending."

"I will continue to keep America on offense in the terrorist war against us, because I think that's the overriding issue of our day," he declared. Then he leaped into a detailed discussion that wound its way through earmarks and out-of-control federal budgets to the threat of Democratic tax increases and -- as always -- back to terrorism.

While talking taxes, Giuliani spoke of listening to a Democratic presidential debate. "They never mentioned the word 'Islamic terrorist' during the debate.... Maybe they think they're going to be insulting somebody if they say it. I'm trying to figure out who would be insulted -- other than Islamic terrorists."

The man who has been billed as "America's Mayor" and who wants deeply to become America's next president hewed most closely to his core campaign message last week as the days wore on, and the twin towers rose into high relief.

An arid hour on fiscal responsibility in Des Moines on Wednesday was followed by 12 minutes of terrorism and Fidel Castro in Hialeah, Fla., on Thursday. But a silent appearance at Friday's memorial service for nine firefighters killed in the line of duty in Charleston, S.C., distilled Giuliani's message better than anything he could actually say.

Bagpipes keened "Amazing Grace." The eulogies were all about danger and heroism; about brave souls who race toward the inferno, while everyone else heads for safety; about "the largest loss in the firefighting community since 9/11."

And there he was, head bowed, the man whose candidacy is built on the rubble of the World Trade Center, the constant threat of future attack and the need to stay vigilant. On Friday morning, he didn't have to say a word to get that point across.

Giuliani's run for the White House is not based on the simple fact of Sept. 11, 2001, but who he was and what he did in the terrifying hours and days that followed. While President Bush disappeared to the safety of an airplane, the lame duck mayor of New York City headed to ground zero. He scoped out the damage firsthand, saw terrified people jump to their deaths from the burning skyscrapers, gave news conferences and planned ahead.

In "Leadership," his 2002 business book-cum-autobiography, he wrote: "After September 11, people would tell me that it was brave to go to the scene of the attacks. It was actually just carrying out my usual practice for any significant emergency ... of seeing things with your own eyes and of setting an example."

That insouciant aside for chief executives translates on the campaign trail into an argument that Giuliani's experience is as close to presidential as it is possible to get without storing your BlackBerry in the Oval Office. In other words: Vote for me, I've almost been there.

Sure, he has been blasted as an autocrat. His multiple marriages and estranged children make family-values types cringe, and his stands on abortion and gun control offend hard-line social conservatives. It took Sept. 11 to boost his popularity at home, at least temporarily.

But "I've had to run things that I guess are the most similar to running the federal government," he told the polite audience in Des Moines on June 20. "Nothing is like being president of the United States.... But I had a job in running what really is the third-largest government in the country, and the second- or third-most complex."

Not only that, he said, but he had the duty during very tough times: "When it was going through a crime crisis and fiscal crisis, and I had to change it, and, of course, on Sept. 11, when we were part of the worst attack in the history of the country."

Good message, but he may not be the only one using it.

Just the day before, New York City's current mayor announced that he was leaving the Republican Party, fueling widespread speculation that he would run for president as an independent in 2008. And so the spirit of Michael R. Bloomberg followed Giuliani from Iowa to Florida.

Reporter: "You talked a lot today about how your experience as mayor of New York is sort of comparable ... to being president. Given Mayor Bloomberg's decision ... "

Giuliani interrupts, laughing: "So now we've got two people with that experience. Mayor Bloomberg is a friend of mine. I like Mike a lot.... As a New Yorker, I'm happy that he's been a good mayor. But I'm really happy that he carried on a lot of the things that I thought [up]."

All of which raises the age-old question: How many New York mayors does it take to run for president?

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