On January 20th, 2009, when either Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Fred Thompson, Mitt Romney, John Edwards or Barack Obama is sworn in as the nation’s 44th president as Rudy Giuliani, private citizen looks on, it’s quite possible that we’ll all look back at comments made by his son Andrew as the pivotal moment that cost his dad the presidency.
“I got my values from my mother,” said 21-year old Andrew Giuliani, who America last saw as a little kid squirming and fidgeting at his father’s inauguration as mayor of New York City. Giuliani is all grown up now and his comments came at a moment in campaign ’08 when his dad seemed to be gaining traction and many Americans were trying to talk themselves into a Giuliani candidacy as a result of arguments advanced by the Giuliani campaign.
First there was the skilled attempt by his supporters to woo Republicans with the amazing suggestion that though the candidate was himself pro-gay, anti-gun and pro-choice, he would nonetheless appoint judges who took all of the opposite positions. Then there was the attempt to paint Giuliani’s two divorces as being no different from Ronald Reagan’s divorce from Jane Wyman and the wooing of independents with the promise that Giuliani would keep America safe from terrorists.
All of this had been preceded by the implosion of the George Allen campaign, John McCain’s candidacy getting lost in the swamp of Iraq, Mitt Romney’s numerous change of positions and the inability of Kansas Senator Sam Brownback and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee to generate a scintilla of interest among voters, even those who agreed with them.
Just as America was trying very hard to like Rudy, along came Andrew.
To be sure, very few children embrace a woman who appears to have stolen their father away from their mother, but what young Giuliani’s comments tapped into was something that even he couldn’t have understood when he spoke them—words that reminded Americans of a deep felt need to elect a man or woman President who is decent.
Giuliani boosters were partially right—Reagan had been the first divorced president, but voters in 1980 had carefully considered the context of the divorce and had came away with a belief that it hadn’t been Reagan’s choice, but that of Ms. Wyman who, according to Reagan biographers had grown weary of her husband’s involvement in the Screen Actors Guild and filed for divorce against his wishes.
Unwittingly perhaps, it was Andrew Giuliani who reminded America of its own wandering eye, and seemed to urge it to reject a man for president who couldn’t be trusted to be faithful to his family, and thus by implication, to a nation. It was also another reminder that though he’s been off the political map for 20 years now, all Republican candidates are still haunted by and measured against, the ghost of Ronald Reagan. And when young Giuliani told the nation that he didn’t get his values from his father, it reminded America of another father and son and the words Reagan wrote to his eldest son on his wedding night:
“Dear Michael,” he wrote, “you’ve undoubtedly heard the jokes that have been rousted around by the ‘unhappied marrieds’ and cynics. … you have entered into the most meaningful relationship there is in all human life. It can be whatever you decide to make it. … sure, there will be moments when you will see someone or think back on an earlier time and you will be challenged to see if you can make the grade, but let me tell you how great the challenge is of proving your masculinity and charm with one woman for the rest of your life. Any man can find a twerp here and there who will go along with cheating, and it doesn’t take all that much manhood. It does take quite a man to remain attractive and to be loved by a woman who has heard him snore, seen him unshaven, tended to him while he was sick, and washed his dirty socks. … Love Dad.”
Campaign ’08 has just begun and there will likely be many related questions that will be asked of the other candidates. What about John McCain’s decision to divorce his first wife and marry the attractive daughter of a wealthy businessman a short time later or Hillary Clinton’s enabling of her husband’s bad behavior? These questions and others are still to be asked and answered and Americans will grapple with the nuance and unique circumstance that each pose. And while voters don’t expect moral perfection from a potential president, they do still like to see a certain modicum of common decency in the man or woman they will send to the Oval Office.
When the dust has settled, it’s quite possible that Andrew Giuliani’s seven words will be seen to have helped America winnow the list of presidential candidates down by one.