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Aug 31, 2004 11:11 pm

Giuliani's Big Lie Speech

Former NY Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's speech to the Republican National Convention [Text from NYTimes, CNN, NPR audio] last night was one of the most disturbing pieces of political theater I've ever seen. It was vicious, maudlin, manipulative, and immensely effective.

His paeans to bipartisanship were backhanded slaps at Democrats. His use of the September 11 attacks to highlight the President's 'courage' and 'love' and common touch were precisely what everyone feared about the RNC's decision to be in NY: using the shock and horror of that catastrophe, and the unity of fear and fellowship of rage and community of sympathy and mutual aid that it created, to gloss over the ways in which the administration has bungled even the decent things they've attempted. [For more on this, I recommend Arthur Silber's comments on Juan Cole] I was reminded of the line from Man of La Mancha about the"sentimentality of truly brutal men." His invocation of decisiveness and courage and constancy and strength ignored the fundamental question of intelligent effectiveness. His direct attacks on Kerry were barely worthy of Rush Limbaugh's shock-jock punditry. I could be wrong, but I swear his reference"It would not be the first time that John Kerry changed his mind about matters of war and peace" was a thinly veiled attack on Kerry's anti-Vietnam War activism.

My nominee for low irony, though, came towards the end:

But the reasons for removing Saddam Hussein were based on issues even broader than just the presence of weapons of mass destruction. To liberate people, to give them a chance for accountable, decent government and to rid the world of a pillar of support for global terrorism is nothing to be defensive about. It’s something for which all those involved from President Bush to the brave men of our armed forces should be proud.
Well, he's right. So, it was an humanitarian intervention from the start? And saying 'presence' of WMD reinforces the false perception that any were found. And what he's not saying is that 'a chance' is actually 'a very slim chance, given our lack of foresight and commitment'. What he's not saying is that 'a pillar of support for global terrorism' was a marginal figure, at best, with regards to terrorism, and a paper tiger which we overwhelmingly defeated twice. He went on,
The hatred and the anger in the Middle East arises from the lack of accountable governments. Rather than trying to grant more freedom, or create more income, or improve education and basic health care, these governments deflect their own failures by pointing to America and to Israel and to other external scapegoats.
That is precisely what the RNC is doing by having the convention where and when it is, by highlighting otherwise marginal figures like Giuliani and McCain (and my own moderate Republican governor, Linda Lingle), by touting our ability to bomb as if it were some sort of policy success, by hyping fear through visa denials and terror alerts, leaked information and excessive classification.

It's hard to describe exactly how I felt at the end of Giuliani's speech. This was raw politics, low politics, the politics of muscle and gut. I felt raw, low, mildly nauseous. I recognize the rhetorical effectiveness of what he did, the classic propaganda strategies of taking good things and real facts and making connections that aren't really there to gloss over the bad things and real facts that complicate the situation. He never lied, directly or clearly, but there was very little truth there, either.

The other featured speaker of the night was John McCain, and I highly recommend Tim Burke's rebuke to the Honorable Senator.

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More Comments:

Stephen Thomas - 10/29/2004

I actually live in NYC. I witnessed the incredible triumph of the resurrection of this city under Rudi Giuliani. This man is a huge figure in U.S. history. Mr. Dresner, a very silly man, should refrain from discussing men who can actually do something.

I wish that I could find something substantive in Mr. Dresner's writings. But, I can't.

Mr. Giuliani is anything but a "marginal figure." Mr. Dresner doesn't even quite measure up to that. Mr. Giuliani stood up to the race hustlers in NYC, and turned this city back into a place where people can live normal lives.

From reading Mr. Dresner's other comments, I can well image where he stands. He would put this city back into thrall to the Al Sharpton's.

Mr. Giuliani is a masterful politician who knows how to make things better in the real world. Mr. Dresner, you should really be quiet.

Jonathan Dresner - 9/7/2004

Mr. Giuliani may indeed have been a good mayor. That does not give him license for hypocrisy, lies or low sentimental manipulation.

Al Sharpton is a frightening figure in his own right, and the only excuse for having him speak at the DNC is that he was a candidate for the nomination, and all the candidates were given a chance to speak.

And when Mr. Giuliani speaks on matters that concern me, I reserve the right to speak back. In fact, I reserve the right to speak back even when he is entirely irrelevant to my life. You are no arbiter of civility or credentials, Mr. Thomas.

W. Caleb McDaniel - 9/1/2004

I also found Giuliani's speech chilling. Especially this passage ...

"The president announced the Bush doctrine when he said: 'Our war on terror begins with Al Qaeda, but it doesn’t end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated. Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.'"

The last sentence of the "Bush doctrine" is a classic case of what philosophers of language call "indexical ambiguity," which happens often with indexicals like "I," "here," and "now" that depend upon the context of their utterance for meaning. By "us," did he mean Americans, or (the more natural referent) his Republican audience in the room? By "you," did he mean the "axis of evil," or the axis of Kerry-Edwards?

Yes, yes, he intended the first in each of these sentences, but clever uses of ambiguous indexicals is a tool of the trade for low politics. You can deliver a clearly multivalent punchline, and then claim later, "But I didn't mean THAT..."

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