Jan 31, 2008

January 29, 2008: Follow the Money, Mayor of Gomorrah, Trouble at Daytona, That's a Fine Machine You Got There Orville...

It is voting day in Florida and as of this writing the returns are not yet in. The last polls had McCain and Romney neck and neck with about 30-32% of the vote each followed by either Huckleberry and Giuliani, or Giuliani and Huckleberry, depending on which poll one cites, each with support in the mid teens.

This was not the way it was supposed to go. Six months ago Giuliani, on the strength of name recognition as “America’s Mayor”, had commanding leads in the polls and was seen by many as having the inside track to the nomination. He had captured the support of the Bush family’s Texas connections and big oil money that promised to fund a juggernaut that would sweep him to the presidency. But something happened on the way to the Speedway.

Giuliani, after leaving the Mayor’s office, had started several successful businesses on the strength of his political connections, foremost among them was a partnership with Bracewell & Patterson called Bracewell & Giuliani. Bracewell is a mid-sized Texas law firm described by Ari Berman (The Nation, October 29, 2007 “Rudy’s Dirty Money” page 11) “with a client list as long as the plume from a smokestack”. Bracewell represented such clients as Southern Company, the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association (which represents more than 450 oil companies), Chevron Texaco, Valero Energy and Enron. It was this lobbying firm working with former RNC chair Haley Barbour that pressured the incoming Bush administration to reverse its campaign pledge to regulate carbon dioxide. According to Berman, Bracewell “offered a gateway into the lavish world of Texas Republican fundraising and easy access to the same titans of industry who helped make the Bush family rich and propelled W. into the White House.”
By the middle of last year Rudy had raised more money in Texas than any republican candidate, over four million dollars, and recruited 37 of W’s Pioneers and Rangers, those who raised at least $100,000., and $200,000. respectively for the Bush campaigns. And Giuliani had “accepted more money from the energy industry--$477,208 through the first half of 2007—than any other presidential candidate” (Page 14). With such backing, Rudy built the ultimate campaign bus, a machine that would take him all the way to the White House.

Larry Hamp is an old friend of mine. We met in college, where we spent the hours between classes talking about politics and life; he being eleven years older and at the time more experienced in the ways of the world. One afternoon he related a tale about one of his former incarnations when he was an award-winning salesman for a Massey-Ferguson farm equipment dealership. On a bright August day the sales manager took his force out into a field to show them the brand-new combine that the company was introducing. As Larry told the story, it was a magnificent machine. It had all the bells and whistles, air conditioning, and latest sound system. It was bright, clean and polished, glistening in the morning sun. After laboriously explaining all the changes in engineering and all the new features of this latest model, the sales manager then had an attendant start it up to demonstrate its prowess. The machine began its perorations, shaking, rattling, with blades furiously moving back and forth. It was, by Hamp’s account, a magnificent spectacle. As the hot noon sun began to bear down on the newly initiated, the sales manager asked his charges what they thought of this majestic addition to human technology. “That’s a fine machine you got there Orville,” Hamp blurted out, “but you’ll never get it off the ground”.

And so it is with the Giuliani Machine. However smooth and shiny, however expensive, however powerful, it was a machine ill suited for the task at hand. No amount of money, no technological advances in polling and communication, and no Madison Avenue advertising agencies could mask the fact that this was a candidacy of a big city mayor for President of the United States, seeking the nomination from a party that loathes urban America. Nothing could mask the fact that Giuliani had stood, as any big city mayor must of necessity stand, for gun control. In addition Giuliani had compromised positions on abortion and gay rights. Intolerance is not a luxury that a mayor of a large city can indulge. Moreover, New York City, Gotham, the Big Apple, is to rural, conservative, Republican America second only to San Francisco as a hotbed of sin and iniquity. If it is not Sodom it is at least Gomorrah. The point here is that it seemed ludicrous on its face, and now with near 20/20 hindsight, that the Republican Party would nominate as its standard bearer the Mayor of Gomorrah. Ask John Lindsay, a much more articulate, attractive and successful figure who likewise found that being the Mayor of Gotham gets you no traction on the Republican circuit. And Lindsay was not up to his ass in Big Oil, did not have an ethically challenged police chief, and did not announce his impending separation and divorce with his wife at a mayoral news conference.

Richard Nixon used to ask, as a gauge of public acceptance, whether something would “play in Peoria”. Here Nixon was recognizing the natural base of the Republican Party: rural and suburban rather than urban, conservative, and Main Street. Clearly there is no way in hell that Rudy was going to “play in Peoria”; no way that the Giuliani machine was going to get off the blocks.

There was trouble right out of the box as rural America early registered its revulsion. Rudy campaigned in Iowa and withdrew well before the caucus sensing humiliation in the wind. In New Hampshire he spent 3 million dollars and hosted over 100 campaign events—more than any other candidate-- only to again withdraw well before the primary, finishing down in the second tier of candidates. He chose not to compete in South Carolina saying he would meet whoever emerged from the early primaries in Florida where he would make his stand.

As the campaign in Florida was heating up to a final climax, and the big guns from the Northeast and the West came south to duke it out, Rudy was seen driving his campaign bus on a ‘victory’ lap around the racetrack at Daytona, before largely empty seats. It was a sad metaphor for what had happened to “America’s Mayor”. Emerging triumphant from his bus, and speaking in the pits to a small group of reporters about the victory at hand, Rudy was approached by a mechanic. “That’s a fine machine you got there mayor,” he said, “but you’ll never get it off the ground.”

No comments: