Monday, April 30, 2007

Giuliani as Leader and Consoler

The Opinionator

Reason contributing editor Julian Sanchez has a question: What exactly did Rudy Giuliani do on Sept. 11, 2001, that qualifies him to be president of the United States? “I’m not so much interested here in the broader question of whether he’d make a good president, but why this, in particular, seems to be given such incredible weight,” Sanchez writes on his personal blog, Notes From the Lounge. He adds, “[T]they seem to half mean it in the theatrical sense of the word: the image of a strong, calm leader he projected to the city and the nation.” He continues:

Now, I was in Manhattan on 9/11, and I vaguely recall some of this, remember thinking he did a good job. I’m sure it would’ve been worse if he’d gone on TV and begun hollering: “We’re all going to DIE! Flee, flee NOW!” But at the end of the day, on the long list of things vying for my brainspace that week, Rudy’s personal gravitas ranked low. Maybe this kind of thing seems more important after six and a half years of a president who seems improbably unacquainted with his ostensible native tongue, and whose face seems perpetually frozen in the expression of a sniggering teenager waiting for you to realize he’s Saran-Wrapped your toilet bowl. But Bush is, as in so many other things, aberrant here. Within the normal range of competence—which is where all the major contenders appear to be—marginal differences in ability to do a passable Robert Young impression just don’t seem especially important—nowhere near important enough, at any rate, to hang an entire campaign on.

It’s perfectly understandable, of course: We know that the vast majority of an executive’s job—the most important part—happens offscreen, but that (naturally) makes it hard to evaluate well. What we all see is not so much the actual leadership, but the president playing leader on teevee in the wake of major tragedies, so we use that at as a proxy.

Or, at any rate, so I hope. The more terrifying possibility is that this kind of therapeutic speechifying is, in itself, a core component of what we want from a president—that grown American men and women need their elected political leaders to make them feel OK about sad or scary events.


Where Was Perle After 9/11?

Bill Kristol says George Tenet’s anecdote about Richard Perle isn’t a slam dunk: The Weekly Standard editor writes of what he calls a “stunning error” in Tenet’s new book, “At the Center of the Storm.” Tenet writes that Richard Perle told him during an encounter on Sept. 12, 2001, “Iraq has to pay a price for what happened yesterday. They bear responsibility.” Kristol objects: “Here’s the problem: Richard Perle was in France on that day, unable to fly back after September 11. In fact Perle did not return to the United State until September 15.”

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