Thursday, January 31, 2008

Rudy's Victorian Accommodation

Rudy Giuliani should have read James Bowman's "Honour, a History", or at least the chapter entitled the "The Victorian Accommodation". It may have served as a blueprint through which he might have succeeded in restoring the Reagan coalition, instead of giving what sounded very much like a swan song Tuesday night after his crushing blow in the winner take all Florida Caucus. As Mr. Bowman puts it, "Victorian honour itself rested on a comprimise between traditional aristocratic standards and the new spirit of democracy and equality that was always and inherently unstable". Unlike the Victorians of their day, Mr Giuliani - high off the fumes of his seemingly untouchable poll numbers at the start of the race - seemed unable or unwilling to strike any sort of accommodation with traditional social conservatives, not understanding that the socially liberal or "moderate" wing of the Republican party that Giuliani is part and parcel with was not the formidable movement that perhaps he believed it to be.

Now, granted, this is a tenuous analogy, but I can't help plugging Mr. Bowman's invaluable book "Honour, a History" (buy it today! Impress your friends!).

Many have speculated on the reasons that a campaign flying so high could have come crashing down to earth with all the subtlety of an Indonesian train wreck. Some would argue that his snubbing of the early caucuses cost him dearly by dropping off the radar screen, allowing some virtually unknown folksy populist from Arkansas to suck up all the media attention. They're partially right. Some would say that Rudy's social liberalism doomed him from the start. They're not altogether wrong either. But Stanley Kurtz, writing on NRO online, gives a far more intriguing and in-depth analysis of the Giuliani melt down than most of the pop-up pundits have offered - his ultimate undoing was his unwillingness to compromise.

Giuliani's first misstep was ignoring the early caucuses. Many socially conservative Republicans were more than willing to support a Giuliani candidacy - as Kurtz provides evidence of - they only asked to be met halfway. Rudy may have ventured that the early primaries weren't the best place to hedge his bets, but this was a miscalculation that cost him dearly amongst this same group, who claim they have a history of being slighted and used by the establishment. This was the first in a chain of events that led to the catastrophe that was beginning to unfold.

But perhaps the most devastating aspect of his decline, as mentioned above, was his unwillingness to compromise. Social conservatives, as Kurtz asserted, are "far less doctrinaire than the usual stereotypes hold". They were perfectly willing to negotiate with Giuliani, but he seemed unable or unwilling to reciprocate. Had Giuliani had the foresight to extend the olive branch to them and give a little more ground on abortion or gay marriage, he could have stuck to his "Strict Constitionalist" shtick, and that in and of itself would probably have been enough to placate a large portion of the party. Instead, he chose to try and woo religious conservatives by repeatedly telling them "I'm not going to lie to you, I'm not budging on abortion. But at least I'm honest." Well, he certianly may have been, but it was hardly a profile in courage. His honesty was admired, but not rewarded. Asking people to turn their heads the other way when dealing with such a deeply engrained conviction as right to life requires much more than a wink, a flashy smile, and some tub thumping about rounding up porn merchants.

In the end, the no-nonsense mayor who guided New York city through the worst domestic terror attack in American history, plotted out an unorthodox strategy for victory, and being propeled by the inertia of his front runner status, ditched New Hampshire and Iowa, alienated a crucial wing of the party, and when all was said and done, stood at a podium speaking of his campaign in the past tense wondering what the hell had happened.

Perhaps if he had brushed up on his James Bowman, he may have been able to find his own kind of Victorian Accommodation.



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