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A winning strategy for both Hillary, Rudy

Observer Viewpoint | Thursday, February 15, 2007

Americans have become as outrageously fickle with political specifics as they are forgetful of generalities. This primary presidential election cycle is rampant with negativity. More often voters cling onto insignificant impressions of candidates while ignoring the overall breadth of a candidate’s character and background. Pollsters call this the beer choice – which candidate would you prefer to be with to drink a beer.

Ironically, the primary system is as fickle. Retired General Wesley Clark lost the Democratic nomination in 2004, simply by entering the campaign late and missing the Iowa caucuses. Conflicted Iowa Democrats sought a nominee with strong military credentials to combat terrorists, but also wanted someone who opposed the invasion of Iraq. Before Iowa, Senator John Kerry’s campaign floundered on virtual life support while former Governor Howard Dean had yet to implode. As the nation’s first contest, Iowa voted for the only military choice on the ballot which gave great momentum to Kerry’s lifeless campaign. The rest is history.

As the U.S. House of Representatives concludes its debate today with a vote to disagree with President Bush’s new military “surge” tactic, Senator Hillary Clinton finds herself on the defensive against hard-core antiwar Democrats. Similarly, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani fends off Republican conservatives who oppose his co-called “liberal” stands regarding abortion and gay rights. Coincidentally, both Clinton and Giuliani have an identical yet perfectly legitimate answer – they are New Yorkers.

New Hampshire Democrats recently peppered Clinton in search of an apology. They wanted her to admit that her vote in favor of authorizing the president to go to war with Iraq was a mistake. Clinton replies that she “regrets” her vote and “takes responsibility for her vote,” but that the president “misled and mismanaged” the war effort. She further proclaims that if she was president at the time, she “would not have gone to war.”

Clinton’s firsthand experience in the White House gives her a view of presidential reality from the other side of the looking glass. In her mind, a president needs and deserves the authority to fight aggression. She is correct to assert that as president she would not have marched to war because she would have no neo-conservatives massaging intelligence to invade Iraq. However, to the dismay of staunchly antiwar Democrats who fixate on nothing less than an apology, she will not admit that her vote was a mistake.

Clinton need not apologize. Other senators whose votes reek of cowardly personal political expediency fell prey to the patriotic orgy whipped up by the White House. Clinton, on the other hand, had no choice but to rally New York with her vote. None could criticize her when she represented the land which cradled the World Trade Center’s human remains and smoldering wreckage.

Giuliani faces a similar Republican onslaught of criticism and cynicism, but over his domestic stands on gay rights and a woman’s right to choose an abortion. His critics come primarily from the Jerry Falwell self-proclaimed social conservative wing of the party who high jacked the party a quarter century ago by defining “conservatism” with a Baptist-twisted political bent. Yet Giuliani is not the only Republican in their cross hairs. They also distrust Senator John McCain’s motives and harbor negative feelings that stem from his 2000 campaign.

Interestingly, the godfather of modern conservatism, the late Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater whose seat ironically McCain currently holds, never ascribed to Falwell’s type of conservatism. Rather, Goldwater’s sensible beliefs lie in limited government – so limited that it recognizes everyone’s personal equality and freedom, including gay rights and a woman’s right to an abortion.

Giuliani, however, can use Clinton’s exact response. Giuliani is a New Yorker who presided over an inclusive and tolerant city. He became America’s mayor when his city and our nation survived a tragedy. Republican voters should not ignore Giuliani’s evenhanded administration, nor the immense breadth of his skills by foolishly following Falwell’s narrow rhetorical red herrings.

No candidate, nor anyone in this nation who advocates equality, will force Falwell to marry same sex couples. Luckily, today’s generation of college students will within 20 years ultimately squash the narrow-minded tactics of the Falwells in this country. Students today accept domestic rights for gays as well as interracial dating and marriage. Moreover, they flock to Senator Barack Obama’s presidential campaign because they hold little of the prejudices of older generations.

New Yorkers Clinton and Giuliani need never apologize for representing a progressive constituency who cherish freedom, tolerance and acceptance. Democrats should focus on Clinton’s experience and ability to sidestep on-the-job training. Republicans should weigh their candidates’ experiences without patronizing the fringes of their party. It is true that if you make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. Clinton and Giuliani both have the right stuff.

Gary Caruso, Notre Dame ’73, is a political strategist who served as a legislative and public affairs director in President Clinton’s administration. His column appears every other Friday. He can be contacted at hottline@aol.com

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.