Rudy Giuliani is one savvy politician. He knew that the territory he was entering was going to be cordial, but cool toward him, and he managed to bring the room to loud spontaneous applause.
Not only that, under intense media scrutiny, his speech will doubtlessly give him far more press than the other candidates, if only for its candor.
Contrary to what most people expected, he didn’t open with the war. He closed with it. He didn’t lead with terror–he saved it for the end, as he said it was the “most important” issue. Rather, from the beginning, it was clear this wasn’t going to be a similar speech to the other candidates. Giuliani did not dance around the significant difference of agreement between him and his audience. But he did strive for unity, opening with the claim that “what unites us is deeper than what divides us.”
Giuliani’s speech was nothing less than an attempt at securing for himself Reagan’s mantle as the bearer of “big tent” Republicanism. But as everyone knows, while Reagen was pro-life, Giuliani is definitely not. So how did he do it?
The central issue is the relationship between faith and politics, and on this point, Giuliani was less clear than a philosophically trained thinker such as myself might like. On the one hand, he said: “Belief in God is at the core of who I am, but he grew up in an environment where it was if not private, then separate from public life.” On the other hand, he said: “Don’t let anyone tell you that your faith can’t inform your political values–that’s up to you to decide.”
Read one way, there’s clear disagreement between these two positions. Giuliani seems to be suggesting that social conservatives should let their faith inform their politics, but Giuliani will not. On the other hand, Giuliani is consistent in his relativism–if you want to let your faith inform your politics, go ahead. I choose not to.
That sort of position–and the appeal to the “inclusiveness” of Christianity–probably wouldn’t sit well with most thinking evangelicals, but for setting up an atmosphere of agreement in his speech, it was brilliantly successful.
Giuliani’s strength in the speech was his candor. It was refreshing to hear him acknowledge his differences openly and frankly. And it was equally interesting to see his attempts to reach out to social conservatives. He told us he would elect judges. He boasted about moving pornographers out of Times Square. He pledged to reduce abortions and increase adoptions. He extolled school choice and homeschooling, and he defended religion’s place in the public square (if individuals so choose, that is). He promised us justices in the mold of Thomas, Scalia and Roberts. And through it all was his narrative of personal responsibility and his identification with Ronald Reagen.
And it worked. Oh, did it work. The applause increased steadily and he managed to get a few isolated individuals to stand in applause at a few points. His sincerity was evident, and palpably appreciated.
But the nagging voice remains–will he deliver? Or will he discard social conservatives and do his own bidding once he’s elected? Was his sincerity sincere, or was it simply an attempt to separate himself from Romney, his only real competitor? You can’t fake that sort of sincerity–or can you?
The nagging question isn’t going to leave. I want it to leave. I want to give Rudy the benefit of the doubt. I want to have charity toward politicians, as I would toward my neighbor. I want to avoid the cynical skepticism that pervades the electorate. And in this case, I may escape it yet. But I’m afraid that if I give Giuliani my vote, I’ll be given a better and clearer reason to distrust politicians than I have been given yet.
Giuliani hit a home run with social conservatives. But whether he will win the game has yet to be decided.
Update: Mike Allen of Politico drives home the “I’m not Romney!” interpretation of Rudy’s speech. If that narrative catches hold among evangelicals, it will counter Rudy’s attempt to remove the pall of suspicion that hangs over him pretty effectively.