Rudolph Giuliani

The Washington Post ran a story today about the frequency with which backtracking has become the rule and not the exception this campaign season.

Say what? The 2008 presidential campaign theme could be “Oops! What I meant was …”

Just about every Republican and Democrat has flubbed an answer to a question or made a borderline inappropriate comment _ some so uncomfortable they make you cringe _ only to take back the remarks or seek to clarify them later when under fire.

This month alone, Republican Mitt Romney backtracked from a comment about his sons’ lack of military service. Rival Rudy Giuliani retreated from his suggestion that he spent as much time as Sept. 11 rescue workers at the ground zero site and was exposed to the same health risks. Democrat Bill Richardson stumbled over a question about whether homosexuality was a choice. All sought to skirt controversy by quickly explaining themselves.

It is happening so often, “you’d think it’s deliberate!” quipped G. Terry Madonna, a pollster at Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania.

Joking aside, he said: “I don’t think you can go through this grueling ordeal and not find even the most seasoned politician who isn’t susceptible to misspeaking or a malaprop here or there. We’re seeing some genuinely real moments as these candidates are in the pressure cooker.”

Chalk up the glut of apologies and clarifications to changing times.

Candidates of all stripes have become extremely sensitive to the Internet era and painfully aware of video-sharing Web sites such as YouTube that allow images and audio to be posted online immediately.



Many observers of the 2008 run for the White House view John McCain’s support of the Iraq War as the Senator’s biggest liability and why he could likely lose the Republican presidential nomination. However, in response to criticism that he was one of the war’s biggest supporters, McCain recently told Kiran Chetry, host of CNN’s American Morning, that, 

“…I was the greatest critic of the initial four years, three and a half years. I came back from my first trip to Iraq and said, ‘This is going to fail. We’ve got to change the strategy to the one we’re using now.'”

In the early stages of the war, however, McCain painted a fairly different picture on numerous occasions.

He told then Today Show host Katie Couric on March 20, 2003, “But I believe, Katie, that the Iraqi people will greet us as liberators.” Earlier that month on March 7th, he told ABC’s This Week, “I’m confident we’re on the right course. … I am confident that an imperfect democracy is what we’ll get out of Iraq will be vastly superior to what the people of Iraq had prior to this.” Eight months later on October 31, McCain told CBS News, “I think the initial phases of it [the war] were so spectacularly successful that it took us all by surprise.”  On the September 21, 2004, McCain further asserted on MSNBC’s Hardball, “Have mistakes been made? Yes. But the necessity of winning, I believe, is overwhelming. And I think that President Bush is presenting a clear picture of the benefits of success and the consequences of failure.” And on December 8, 2005, McCain told The Hill, “I do think that progress is being made in a lot of Iraq. Overall, I think a year from now, we will have made a fair amount of progress if we stay the course. If I thought we weren’t making progress, I’d be despondent.”

Senator McCain has claimed for some time that he was initially critical of President Bush. A February 22, 2007 Los Angeles Times article discussed that, “McCain said his criticism started three years ago ‘when I saw that this train wreck was taking place, and that we needed more troops, and we needed a different strategy.'” Click to read the full text of the article. (more…)

Given Rudy Giuliani’s 9/11 connection and his departures (past and/or present) from G.O.P. dogma on issues like abortion and gun control, terrorism has been the central issue of his campaign so far.  Giuliani has so far largely neutralized questions about his actions in the hours and days following the World Trade Center attacks by repeatedly calling for aggressive offensive action against terrorist groups in order to head off more national tragedies.

 Until recently, Giuliani appeared determined to keep the issue of terrorism above the vicious political fray, rejecting attacks on President Clinton’s record of fighting terrorism as distracting and unhelpful.

[Last September] Giuliani defended Clinton’s record amid political bickering over which president — Clinton or George W. Bush — missed more opportunities to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks.

“The idea of trying to cast blame on President Clinton is just wrong for many, many reasons, not the least of which is I don’t think he deserves it,” Giuliani said during a stop in Florida. “I don’t think President Bush deserves it. The people who deserve blame for Sept. 11, I think we should remind ourselves, are the terrorists — the Islamic fanatics — who came here and killed us and want to come here again and do it.”

Giuliani’s rhetoric was markedly different Tuesday in comments delivered at Pat Robertson’s conservative christian Regent University, however, suggesting that former President Clinton failed to respond adequately to the 1993 WTC attack.

“Islamic terrorists killed more than 500 Americans before Sept. 11. Many people think the first attack on America was on Sept. 11, 2001. It was not. It was in 1993,” said the former New York mayor.

Giuliani argued that Clinton treated the World Trade Center bombing as a criminal act instead of a terrorist attack, calling it “a big mistake” that emboldened other strikes on the Khobar Towers housing complex in Saudi Arabia, in Kenya and Tanzania and later on the USS Cole while docked in Yemen in 2000.

“The United States government, then President Clinton, did not respond,” Giuliani said. “(Osama) bin Laden declared war on us. We didn’t hear it.”

In hindsight, Giuliani said, maybe it’s all clearer now, “but now is now, and there is no reason to go back into denial, and that is essentially what the Democratic candidates for president want to do: they want to go back, to put the country in reverse to the 1990s.”

Certainly Giuliani has every right to change his mind about Clinton’s record, but he conveniently failed to note that as Mayor of New York he may have underestimated the warning of the 1993 attack by locating his emergency command center  on the 23rd floor of a building in the WTC complex just across the street from the towers — a building that subsequently collapsed following the 9/11 attacks.

If a candidate wants to flip-flop and assign blame to somebody else, it pays to make sure one’s own record doesn’t invite charges of hypocrisy.

Reality Check recently posted an entry regarding some of the inconsistencies in Rudy Giuliani’s security record and his rhetoric out on the campaign trail.  Flip-Flops are not limited merely to shifts in rhetoric, after all, but can also emerge when candidates’ past actions do not match their campaign positions.  Since 9/11 looms so large in Giuliani’s campaign, scrutiny of his record is bound to intensify as the primaries approach.

Over the weekend the New York Times published an article that highlights the dispute of at least some firefighters with Giuliani’s rhetoric regarding national security and emergency response.

Their images are permanently etched in photographs after the fall of the World Trade Center towers, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and firefighters cloaked in the same gray dust. For months afterward, they stood together at funerals. Mr. Giuliani, in his eulogy, always asked for a round of applause to celebrate the dead firefighter’s life.

It would be easy to assume, then, that Mr. Giuliani can count on the support of the 11,000 men and women of the New York City Fire Department as he runs for president. But that would not be entirely true.

Interviews with more than 50 firefighters and department officers show a mix of admiration and disdain for the former mayor. Many firefighters praise his years in office, citing his success in reducing crime and his leadership after the terrorist attacks. Others harbor a deep resentment for what they describe as his poor treatment of the department before and after Sept. 11.

Some still speak bitterly about a contract that left firefighters without a raise for two years. Some also say Mr. Giuliani has exaggerated the role he played after the terrorist attacks, casting himself as a hero for political gain. The harshest sentiments stem from Mr. Giuliani’s decision nearly two months after 9/11 to reduce the number of firefighters who were allowed to search for colleagues in the rubble — a move that he partially reversed but that still infuriates many firefighters. […]

“I think they assume that we all love him,” said Robert Keys, 48, a battalion chief and 25-year department veteran, referring to people outside New York. “He wound up with this ‘America’s Mayor’ image. Those of us who had to deal with him before and after 9/11 don’t share that same sentiment.” […]

On the campaign trail, Mr. Giuliani frequently invokes the Sept. 11 heroism of “my firefighters,” as he often calls them, as emblematic of American patriotism and resolve. But some firefighters have begun organizing efforts to dispel the notion that they are in his corner.

The International Association of Fire Fighters, an umbrella union based in Washington, spoke out against Mr. Giuliani in March. The group is also preparing a short DVD outlining its grievances that it plans to send to fire departments across the country. Meanwhile, a small group of Sept. 11 family members and firefighters has been protesting outside many of Mr. Giuliani’s campaign appearances.

One of those protesters, Deputy Chief Jim Riches, who lost his firefighter son that day, said Mr. Giuliani did nothing on Sept. 11 to warrant hero status. “He’s making a million dollars a month with his speeches,” said Chief Riches, 55. “It’s blood money.”

Though no one actually uses the word “flip-flop,” these groups and protestors are essentially claiming that the Giuliani campaign’s solidarity with and support from firefighters is overstated — that his rhetoric does not match his record.  It seems comparable to when some black commentators emphasize that Barack Obama is not “the blacks’ candidate” but rather a black candidate that some blacks support.  In this case, though, 9/11 ratchets up the intensity of the feelings involved.


Concerning the recent vote on funding for the war in Iraq, Giuliani has lobbed the dreaded f-word over in Obama’s direction. Giuliani contends that Obama made, in his words, “quite a significant flip flop” when it came to Obama’s stance on the Iraq funding bill. With Giuliani’s flip-flop accusation, the other Republican candidates have taken the opportunity join in the Obama criticism:

McCain calls Obama’s stance “the policy of surrender”

Romney has called Obama’s actions “abandon[ing] principle in favor of political positioning”

And Giuliani continued about Obama and his fellow Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, “They’ve gone from an anti-war position to an anti-military, anti-troops position”

So it’s worth examining: is this vote by Obama a flip flop? Was a vote against the funding bill incompatible with a position in favor of supporting the troops and his previous votes for war appropriations bills? That’s the allegation that the Republican candidates have laid down. Let’s see if it’s a valid and legitimate point or a baseless and partisan attack.


If there’s one issue upon which Rudy Giuliani hasn’t really been accused of flip-flopping or distorting his record, it’s terrorism and national security — though some critics have suggested that Giuliani’s shifts on immigration represent waffling on a national security issue.  Considering that Rudy’s reputation as the tough and decisive ‘America’s Mayor’ following the events of 9/11 is the foundation of his presidential campaign, the Giuliani camp has been more than willing to aggressively play the terrorism card.

In the first Republican debate, for instance, Giuliani tore into fellow candidate Ron Paul (R-Tx) for suggesting the U.S. claim a portion of the ultimate responsibility for 9/11.

Ron Paul: ‘”Have you ever read the reasons they attacked us?  They attack us because we’ve been over there; we’ve been bombing Iraq for 10 years and we’ve been in the Middle East.  I think Reagan was right: we don’t understand the irrationality of middle eastern politics… We need to look at what we do from the perspective from the perspective of what would happen if somebody else did it to us.”

Moderator: “Are you suggesting we brought on the 9/11 attacks, sir?”

Ron Paul: “I’m suggesting that we listen to the people that attacked us and the reason they did it, and they are delighted that we’re over there because Osama Bin Laden has said ‘I am glad you’re over on our sand because we can target you so much easier.’  They’ve already now since that time have killed 3400 of our men and I don’t think it was necessary.”

Giuliani: “Would you allow me to comment on that?  That’s an extraordinary statement, as someone who lived though the attack of September 11, that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard that before and I’ve heard some pretty absurd explanations for September 11th.”


Giuliani: “And I would ask the Congressman to withdraw that comment and tell us that he didn’t really mean that.”

Moderator: “Congressman?”

Ron Paul: “I believe very sincerely that the CIA is correct when they teach and talk about ‘blowback.’  When we went into Iran in 1953 and installed the Shah, yes there was blowback.  The reaction to that was the taking of our hostages.  And that persists.  And if we ignore that, we ignore that at our own risk.  If we think that we can do what we want around the world and not incite hatred, then we have a problem.  They don’t come here to attack us because we’re rich and we’re free, they attack us because we’re over there.  I mean, what would we think if other countries were doing that to us?”

According to most media pundits, Giuliani won the debate, though Ron Paul’s popularity on the internet and conservative talk radio skyrocketed.  The Giuliani campaign has reiterated its position again recently in response to John Edwards’ characterization of the ‘War on Terror’ as a “bumper sticker” term with no real content.  Like Hillary Clinton, Rudy out of conviction or determination to appear tough has decided to maintain that the ‘War on Terror’ has been at least philosophically successful so far, with problems emerging purely from logistics.  Clinton and Giuliani’s gamble assumes that not very many voters in either party have decided otherwise.

So Giuliani is endorsing a stance of steely offensive resolve and swift and decisive forceful action against terrorists over seeking to understand the enemy and their grievances.  If candidate consistency were only based on their rhetoric, then Rudy would be in the clear.  But is his rhetoric consistent with fact?


Candidate authenticity was the subject of New York Times columnist Frank Krugman’s piece this morning. Krugman writes,

“…What does authenticity mean? Supposedly it means not pretending to be who you aren’t. But that definition doesn’t seem to fit the way the term is actually used in political reporting.

For example, the case of F.D.R. shows that there’s nothing inauthentic, in the normal sense of the word, about calling for higher taxes on the rich while being rich yourself. If anything, it’s to your credit if you advocate policies that will hurt your own financial position. But the news media seem to find it deeply disturbing that John Edwards talks about fighting poverty while living in a big house.

On the other hand, consider the case of Fred Thompson. He spent 18 years working as a highly paid lobbyist, wore well-tailored suits and drove a black Lincoln Continental. When he ran for the Senate, however, his campaign reinvented him as a good old boy: it leased a used red pickup truck for him to drive, dressed up in jeans and a work shirt, with a can of Red Man chewing tobacco on the front seat.

But Mr. Thompson’s strength, says Lanny Davis in The Hill, is that he’s ‘authentic….’

Oh, and as a candidate George W. Bush was praised as being more authentic than Al Gore. As late as November 2005, MSNBC’s chief political correspondent declared that Mr. Bush’s authenticity was his remaining source of strength. But now The A.P. says that Mr. Bush’s lack of credibility is the reason his would-be successors need to seem, yes, authentic.”

Next Page »