Friday, September 21, 2007

Referring to Steve's Giuliani post upthread, I'd just like to expand a little on something he wrote about the suggestion that was made in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 to extend Giuliani's term as Mayor until the spring of 2002, so that he could continue to serve as a shining beacon and guide the shattered citizens home. This may not be a big deal--it probably comes down to either semantics or dueling memories--but as I recall it, the "suggestion" originated not with "Giuliani's supporters [who] were spreading it through the media" but with Giuliani himself, and though Rudy's Raiders did try to please the big man by getting out there and waving the flag for the media, I don't remember that it seemed reasonable to hardly anybody. In fact, I think the most important and revealing thing about the whole affair is that, in raising the issue, Giuliani single-handedly reversed the course of the mayoral election and torpedoed the chances of the Democratic front-runner, Mark Green. Green had been coasting to easy victory before 9/11; he was widely considered a shoe-in to roll over Fernando Ferrer in the primary and then take the mayor's crown in a walk. But when Giuliani began making rumblings about how he might deign to stick around if enough people wanted him to, Green cravenly rushed to say that it was a dandy idea--and Ferrer, seeing his chance, ridiculed the notion, thus clearly setting himself apart from those truckling to Giuliani in his moment of ego-tripping glory. That single move was enough to bring Ferrer back from the dead; he didn't beat Green in the primary, but he did force him to fight back, and the resulting tussle grew so ugly, and left Green looking so diminished, that things turned inside out and suddenly the election was Mike Bloomberg's to lose. Which he didn't.

I think that in the years since, Bloomberg has done about as good a job as anybody could have of demonstrating that it is possible to run the city at least as smoothly as it was run under Giuliani, without the hysterical drama, the self-promotion, the ratcheting up of racial hostility, the defensive circling of the wagons against any cop charged with crookedness or brutality, or the kneejerk baiting of civil libertarians, the economically disenfranchised, the sick, the homeless, and the ferret-owning. It's generally recognized that the city was good and sick of Giuliani before the 9/11 attacks reminded everyone that he had his uses. What isn't so often mentioned, because it screws up the redemption-narrative angle, is how much Giuliani's attempt to extend his term--or,more accurately, his attempt to get everyone to march in the streets begging him to extend his term--got the city to remember why it had been so frigging sick of him. So why did Mark Green put a cannonball through his own hull by rushing to embrace an idea that, it was perfectly obvious even at the time, made him want to puke? Why, after a long career of sometimes distinguished public service, at a time when he seemed to have the goal of a lifetime well in hand, did he make a decision, supporting something of which he did not approve, thus guaranteeing that he will be remembered, if he is remembered at all, as only a small, foul-smelling, cheese-eating thing?

The simple answer is that he thought the public was lame enough that we would embrace it ourselves. And where did he get that idea? Simple contempt for the electorate, I guess. As for the media's reaction to this particular brainstorm, it wasn't exactly an unqualified endorsement and it sure wasn't a fiery denunciation; the best way I can describe it would be to invite you to imagine how you might respond if a very, very rich relative whose final will and testament is still in the drafting stages and who you are sure will die within the week asks you to walk down Main Street dressed as Baby New Year. Knowing what the old boy is capable of, and given his own assurances that you'd only have to put up with him for so much longer, you might just opt to humor him. It seems relevant now, not just with relation to Giuliani but to the election year ahead, because so much of the mess we're in now can be traced back to both politicians and the media guessing that the American public is made up of infantile dumbasses and then trying to give them what they want. I'm convinced that the media hyped both the Clinton sex scandal and the buildup to the Iraq war largely because they believed that "the public" would thoroughly enjoy both and wouldn't stand for having its fun spoiled, and there's a case to be made that in 2000, the press presided over the cartooning of Al Gore because it believed that "the public" desperately wanted to be given reasons to justify its decision, which the media regarded as a foregone conclusion, to vote for "the candidate you'd most want to have a beer with." In every one of these instances, a considerable percentage of the public resisted to the end or initially protested only to finally break down under repeated hammering. Right now, a Democratic Congress that was elected to office by people pleading for change is in the process of Mark Greening itself to an early grave. One can only hope that in 2008, the election results will turn out to be more about the democratic process and less about self-fulfilling prophecy.

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