October 23, 2007

Surprising Myself With My Own Disappointment

I'm old enough, educated enough, and cynical enough that I ought to be proof against disappointment in politicians. I do not imagine that there was ever a time that politicians were honest and that they said what they meant all the time; I do not think that the profession of politics and government lends itself to a democratic process that can be freed from the vagaries of pandering to interest groups with which I have little common cause or sympathy or from making promises and statements that any intelligent person who gave the subject half a thought would know were utterly impossible to fulfill and irresponsible to make.

So I surprise myself by being disappointed in Rudy Giuliani's behavior over the past several weeks. He's moved further to the right on abortion. He's promised to back a Constitutional amendment against gay marriages. Some people, probably even some readers of this blog, will be pleased by these things. But I can't for the life of me think of why gay people should not be able to marry each other if they want to, because I don't see anything inherently morally wrong with being gay. I can't make myself pleased with the idea that President Giuliani would do things to make abortions harder to obtain, because I don't think the public or the government gets to participate in the decision about whether a woman terminates her pregnancy or not. No one should get a vote but her.

In short, Giuliani is moving to the right on issues where I was perfectly comfortable with his original, centrist to even left-of-center position. He felt like a good ideological fit for me, in a lot of ways, enough so that I could look past trends towards authoritarianism. But with less ideological congruence between his, um, evolving position on these social issues, and mine, I find myself simply less attracted to him.

What's a pro-choice, gun-rights-loving, balanced-budget-advocating, religiously skeptical, pro-gay rights, shrink-the-government, defense hawk who takes individual liberties very seriously supposed to do when a guy like Giuliani caters to the Christian big-government types? Join the Ron Paul Brigade? Ron Paul is f***ing nuts.* So "Despair" seems to be the only option.

I'd hoped that Giuliani would be the charismatic, strong, and hawkish leader that the Republicans need -- one who would stand up to the Christian right and say, "When I'm calling the shots, you'll have a place at the table, but I ain't gonna be your bitch." Nevertheless, he's assuming a very wide stance for these folks -- a segment of the GOP that will never like or trust him, who will never be enthusiastic about him, and who have managed to demand that he pander to them to such an extent that Rudy's core attractiveness -- "This is who I am, damnit, and you are either going to like me this way or you're going to have to find someone else" -- has been substantially tarnished.

Giuliani's not stepping up to lead the party; he's not describing or creating the kind of party he wants to lead. He's being led -- into territory that is ideologically unfamiliar to him but all too familiar to those of us who have had misgivings about the Kool-Aid drinkers who are pulling the strings now. My hope that defense hawks and Chamber-of-Commerce types would take the leadership role in the Republican party seems to have been misplaced; the GOP may yet turn into a grouping of people who dream of reforming the Constitution to create the Christian States of America.

And the guy I saw as one of the last, best hopes of preventing that from happening seems to be abdicating the job of crafting a political coalition in his own image rather than trying to uncomfortable squeeze himself into the mold of someone else, someone he just isn't ever going to be.

I shouldn't be disappointed that Giuliani is being, after all, a politician, and trying to appeal to a segment of voters that he thinks he needs to get the party's nomination. I'd thought he had found a strategy -- not a sure-fire one, but one with a reasonable chance of success -- to do that without making so many significant ideological compromises. But I guess, once again, I am surprised to find bits of idealism within myself despite the lessons of something like thirty years of watching politics.**

It's a moot point, I guess. Hillary Clinton looks unstoppable right about now. I'd still rather see Giuliani in charge than her, but let's be realistic. She'd pretty much have to club a baby harp seal to death during a live interview on the Dr. Phil show in order to alienate enough voters to throw the White House back to the Republicans next year.

* Imagine Ron Paul in a political Ultimate Fighting Championship deathmatch against Mike Gravel. Gravel would strike first blood by dropping a rock on Paul. Then, he'd grow distracted by an untied shoelace and drool silently in a corner of the Octagon. Meanwhile, Paul would get up and squawk about the gold standard and jury nullification for twenty minutes. "Yes," you'd sigh, "I guess it really has come to this."

One of my first cogent memories was watching President Nixon give a speech on TV, resigning his job. I knew something important was happening, and that the man in question apparently had the very odd first name of "President," but I didn't quite get it. My dad told me that this man didn't want to be President anymore, so he was retiring and letting someone else do the job. An accurate if incomplete explanation, but cut my dad some slack. How would you have explained Watergate to a kid who's only (almost) four years old?


Orange Phantom said...

yeah, well we don't have leaders in this country any more. I understand what you're saying. A rationale would be "I'm just doing what it takes to be elected, then I'll assert my beliefs." That's a load of crap too.

I agree with your points regarding abortion and prett much on gay marriage; It's none on the gov't business.

zzi said...

I can't make myself pleased with the idea that President Giuliani would do things to make abortions harder to obtain, . . .

That would mean you would want to make it easier?

Burt Likko said...