Politics & Policy

Latin Rudy

Not so hot in May.

It was by no means a bad appearance for Rudy Giuliani late Tuesday morning at the Latino Coalition. But one got the feeling that his applause lines were a little out of sync with his audience’s passions.

Latino Coalition Chairman Hector Barreto — President Bush’s appointed head of the Small Business Administration from 2001 until last year — gave an introduction so effusively enthusiastic that Giuliani ought to take him on the road with him for his stump speeches. Barreto noted that the group had invited every major candidate, “Republican, Democrat, Green, red or blue” and that only Giuliani had accepted; and he mentioned that the former New York City mayor had rearranged his schedule in order to appear. He was, Barreto said, supposed to be in California preparing for a debate at the Reagan library later this week. Describing Giuliani’s accomplishments as mayor, he summarized, “Rudy [pause] did [pause] miracles.”

So maybe it would be tough to live up to the hype, as Rudy was greeted with a standing ovation from the 250 or so Latino Coalition members in the ballroom of the Four Seasons in Washington.

“Dignity” is not a word commonly heard on the campaign trail, but speaking before a group that included a healthy amount of small business owners and entrepreneurs, Giuliani more or less portrayed it as the centerpiece of his campaign.

“I reformed welfare not because I didn’t care about people, but because I did,” he said. “If your brother or sister were out of a job, what would you do for them? Would you try to make them dependent on you for the rest of their life? Of course not. You would want to help them get a job, so they can maintain their dignity, their self-respect, their ability to take care of their families.”

Thus the social reforms of Giuliani the mayor would continue, he suggested, under Giuliani the president: using government to nudge people from the easy, if unfulfilling, dependence that comes from relying on government assistance and services, to the self-respect and independence that comes from working. The theme was a distant cousin of John Edwards’s complaint that the country has come to value wealth over work: The North Carolina populist looks at the working class and laments that their labors were under-rewarded compared to hedge-fund managers; Giuliani looks at the working class and sees them as the role model for the young and those still languishing on some form of assistance.

“Dignity” came up again in his discussion of immigration, where Giuliani suggested his measuring stick for whether he wanted to eject someone here illegally was whether or not they were working hard, willing to pay taxes and back fines and fees, and whether they were supporting their families.

He described his exasperation with the immigration authorities as mayor: “I had the police go after drug dealers, and I told the immigration authorities, ‘I got a couple hundred drug dealers you can deport, why don’t you put ’em first?’ And they said, ‘Well, we have this professor who overstayed his visa, he’s first on line. We have two people working in the back of a restaurant. We have three guys in the construction business. We have a guy who drives a van.’ Now you can debate whether these guys are good for the economy — I think they are, but you can have a nice debate about it — but I said, ‘Hey, I got drug dealers, pal. They’re not good for anybody! They’ve got no interest in paying taxes, not trying to make better life for their family, they’re trying to kill people!’ They said, ‘We have our priorities.’ Basically, the problem was too big.”

Rudy was the Rudy we’ve all seen before, invoking Reagan at every opportunity and not only using “optimistic” frequently, but actually demonstrating optimism, as when he said the illegal immigration debate was an illustration of an unrecognized greatness of America:

“America is the country that more people around the world want to come to than any other country,” Giuliani said. “Before we reflect on our problems, we should reflect on our strengths. More people around the world want to come here than anywhere else. Isn’t that good?” That question got a loud bout of applause. “When we hear about how unpopular America is, and how angry people are at America around the world… well, if we’re so unpopular, why do they want to come here? We must be doing something right!”

Yet the meat of Giuliani’s stump speech, the section on 9/11 and the war on terrorism, was greeted with, if not quite silence, a distinct quiet after what one might think were intended to be applause lines. Iraq was not mentioned at all, and there was a palpable lack of enthusiasm after Giuliani’s statement “We have to be on offense against them — we have to say we’re never going to go back to the way we were before September 11. We’re never going to be in denial, never going to be in a situation again. The only real good defense is a good offense.” Perhaps the audience looked back on the façade of peace on September 10 with a bit of nostalgia.

At other points, lines that may not have been intended as applause lines were heartily endorsed by the audience. His opening statement on immigration — “first, we have to control the border” — received effusive applause.

When word came that Rudy was running late, actress and singer Maria Conchita Alonso serenaded the crowd with a song in Spanish, the title of which translated to “Caress Me.” Not the kind of time-filler you get at, say, an AFL-CIO candidate forum.

So if Rudy seemed slightly off, he has an excuse: Any politician would pale after that opening act.

Jim Geraghty writes The Hillary Spotblog on National Review Online.


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