Thursday, October 11, 2007

Rudy is rudey (or, the cell phone user from hell)

One of the questions that has often been asked about Rudy Giuliani is whether what works in the Big Apple is going to play in Peoria. Sure, all of us enjoy some of that New York "in your face" stuff from time to time -- it's bracing, kind of like a slap of aftershave on a face that's been scraped by a dull razor.

The New York political and cultural cognoscenti that hates Giuliani has been perplexed by just how well the man has played on the national stage. In a recent New Yorker article, the plaintive question is asked: "Is what New York never liked about Rudy Giuliani exactly what the heartland loves?"

Maybe. But what is bracing when experienced occasionally is simply abrasive when one has a steady supply of it.

John Fund recently did a fascinating piece in the Wall Street Journal about Giuliani's incredibly rude habit of fielding phone calls from his wife in the middle of meetings:

Consider a spring incident in Oklahoma City. Mr. Giuliani spoke twice at the Oklahoma History Center, first at a small private roundtable for $2,300 donors and then to 150 people who donated $500 apiece. Ten minutes into the roundtable, Mr. Giuliani's phone rang. He left the room to take the call, apparently from Mrs. Giuliani, and never returned. The snubbed donors received no explanation. "The people there viewed it as disrespectful and cheesy," says Pat McGuigan, a local newspaper editor who was asked by the Giuliani campaign to moderate the roundtable.

An hour or so later, Mr. Giuliani was speaking to the bigger group of donors when his phone rang again. While he spoke with his wife, he invited her to say hello to the assembled crowd. "It was remarkable, and was not viewed by the audience in a positive way," public relations executive Brenda Jones told me.

Giuliani jokes that since this is his third wife, he "can't afford to lose another one."

Ha Ha.

If it is that much of a priority for Giuliani, there is a simple solution: don't submit her to the demands of running for President. God help us all if this attitude is translated into the setting of the Oval Office: "Um, sorry Vladimir... we'll talk about those missing nukes of yours another time -- the wifey is calling on the other line from Saks and wants to chat about what dress to buy. I'll get back with you later."

Fund also points out that Giuliani has a different attitude on the subject when the shoe is on the other foot, referring to an article done in the Atlantic Monthly a year ago about a bizarre episode in Iowa. While Montana Headlines will support whatever Republican nominee the GOP produces in 2008, there are definitely some that are harder to get excited about than others, and things like this are part of the "intangibles" about Giuliani that go beyond his pro-choice beliefs and what seems to be his authoritarian bent:

...Giuliani was up to principle No. 2 (“Follow your hopes and dreams”) when he was interrupted. From down in the audience, just beyond the stage, he heard a cell phone ring.

He stopped in the middle of telling a story. “It’s okay, you can answer your cell phone,” he said. “You won’t interrupt me.”

The woman whose phone had rung was mortified; he had just embarrassed her in front of 18,000 people.

In the “town hall” meetings he used to conduct as mayor of New York, through a radio show, Giuliani was not known for his good-natured populism. He was known for making fun of constituents who called him with what he thought were petty problems.

This is the dark Giuliani, and here he was, making an unwelcome appearance.

He shifted to a long digression about the scene in Dr. Strangelove where General Buck Turgidson answers a call in the middle of a crisis and whispers sweet nothings to his girl on the phone, as the nation’s political and military leadership looks on impatiently.

“Just tell him you love him so I can go on with my speech,” Giuliani said. No one was laughing.

Giuliani actually waited for the woman to hang up. Then, after a painful minute or so, he was back in candidate mode, talking about Vince Lombardi and the mind of a champion.

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