Politics As Party

The Montecito home of Lee & Lori Mikles was the site for what is likely to become a familiar scene over the next year and a half: political candidates – announced and otherwise – raising money. There is plenty of money in Montecito, and anyone who believes there is little Republican strength in what many see as a decidedly Democrat-leaning community, some serious rethinking may be in order.

Co-chairs of this preliminary fundraiser to benefit “The Rudy Giuliani Presidential Exploratory Committee, Inc.,” were, in addition to the Mikles, Andy and Dolly Granatelli, Ralph and Melissa Iannelli, David Lack, Parker and Carolina Montgomery, and Tom and Mary Belle Snow. Among those who responded to the $2,300-per-person event were Montecito mainstays like Dennis and Joanie Franz, Peter and Dallas Clark, John Wilczak, Carolyn Amory, Gene Montesano, Perry and Suzanne Perkins, and, well, a veritable “Who’s Who” of local power brokers. Notably absent were Republican-leaning Hollywood types like Rob Lowe, Ivan Reitman, and Dennis Miller, among others, but it’s early in the presidential derby and they may have their money on a different horse at this point.

Rudy Giuliani, the personable and articulate former New York City Mayor and 2008 presidential hopeful (he has not announced officially yet) is the unlikely Republican frontrunner for the party’s nomination, in no small part because of what happened in his city during his watch on September 11, 2001. Before becoming mayor of New York City in 1992, Giuliani had made a name as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, with a strong record of prosecuting drug dealers, organized crime, and white-collar miscreants with equal fervor. He was reelected twice as mayor and was termed out of office in 2002, a few months after the radical Islamic attack of 9/11 that turned him into a national figure. By virtue of his calm and organized command of events and resources of that day and the days that followed, Rudy became America’s mayor. And now he may be well on his way to becoming America’s president.

This Montecito fundraiser was efficient and well-organized as these things go (handling more than 100 cars in the space of 15 minutes presented logistical problems of a different sort, but Jonathan’s valet service proved up to the task). Upon leaving their vehicles and entering the house, guests were shepherded into a small side room of the Mikles’ home for a photo op with the candidate. Because there were so many hoping to get their picture taken with Mr. Giuliani, barely 10 seconds were allotted for each snapshot. Photographer Priscilla’s quick professionalism, however, saw to it that everyone in line was accommodated. Rudy offered an inviting, slightly skewed trademark grin and a firm handshake (he has surprisingly large hands) to each likely supporter of his presidential bid before their photos were snapped. As one who has shaken the hand of many office seekers, Rudy’s resolute grip was a welcome departure from the limp fist usually proffered by candidates.

Developing A Stump Speech

He began his remarks at a podium set up on the rear patio facing the crowd of some 100 supporters after Matt James sang a soulful version of “America The Beautiful.” After thanking the Mikles for the use of their home and singling out Andy Granatelli for “bringing so many people here,” he praised Lee Mikles, a former PGA tour player, for giving him a 10-minute lesson on “how to hit out of the sand.” Rudy, Lee, and Tom Snow played 15 holes at Valley Club earlier in the day.

Before getting into the heart of what will surely become his stump campaign speech, Giuliani joked that as U.S. Attorney, he “was investigating the Sicilian Mafia,” and that during that time he couldn’t understand why he was never invited to dinner. Later, he says, he learned that news reports revealed there had been an $800,000 contract on his life and apparently neither his “friends” nor his enemies wanted to be around when and if someone tried to fulfill that contract. “Five years later,” Rudy cracked, “when I was just about to leave the U.S. Attorney’s office, another mafia guy put out a contract on me – Carmine Persico: we’d put him in jail for a hundred years and he took it personally – put out a contract to kill me and my assistant and the price was only four hundred thousand dollars. So, five years as U.S. Attorney and my value had been cut in half!”

The self-deprecating remarks drew loud laughter but served to indicate two things about the man: that he is not only accustomed to taking on the bad guys but he is also aware of, and comfortable with, the dangers involved; in other words: he can take the heat.

Rudy suggested that California’s decision to hold an early primary (in February 2008) was a good thing, in that California “reflects the breadth of America.” He said current polls reflect that 60 to 70% of the American people think the country is heading “in the wrong direction.” He compared that poll with one taken shortly before he became mayor of New York City that revealed nearly 66% of New Yorkers thought the city was headed in the wrong direction. He suggested they may have been right at the time: 2,000 murders a year on average, 1.1 million welfare recipients, over 10% unemployment, and a city budget deficit of $2.3 billion. “That’s headed in the wrong direction,” he said, but added, “We turned that around.”

Rudy’s message is that “America is not heading in the wrong direction,” that “people may feel that way, but that they are responding more to the media and the lack of leadership, and not to the reality of what is happening in this country. It has never been this good, for anybody,” he continued. “It doesn’t mean it’s perfect; it doesn’t mean we don’t have inequities; it doesn’t mean we don’t have big, big, big problems, but we are essentially a country where the fundamentals are correct.”

Selecting Campaign Issues

Expounding Reaganesque optimism, Rudy suggested that the country’s wisest course to take would be “solving our problems through the strengths that we have, not exaggerating the weaknesses that we have.”

He tackled health care and tort reform by suggesting those present ask themselves: “Who has the best healthcare in the world? Who has a better health care system? Is there one we should borrow from somewhere else? Do you want the health care system they have in England? Or Germany, or Canada, or anyplace else?”

He observed that when he discovered he had prostate cancer, he “never, ever, had anyone ask me to get into a treatment program in Germany. Or in England, France, or Italy.” He had, however, been asked by people outside the United States how they could get into a treatment program in the U.S.

He claimed the U.S. continues to offer the best health care in the world and outlined four main reasons why: it is private, competitive, free market, and profit-driven – “all of which creates a level of competition and a level of excellence.” He claimed that “Democrats want to turn it into the kind of system that nobody goes to, and where the government is in charge.” He asserted that their proposed system would lead to two things: a deterioration in the quality of health care, and a dramatic rise in its costs.

“If you think healthcare is expensive now, you can’t imagine how expensive it’s going to become when it’s for free!” he quipped. His approach includes “health vouchers” for people too poor to afford insurance and other free-market devices.

Figuring The Election Math

During a short question and answer session, he sidestepped an answer as to whom he would rather run against, Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, by saying he had to run against somebody, but added John Edwards and Al Gore as two likely candidates he’d be facing. He didn’t believe “the electoral arithmetic changes” with any of the candidates.

The math suggests that his nomination – and his alone – would allow Republicans to enter the next election with a real possibility of taking big states like California, New York, and the states that surround them. “Giving away these big, big states means you have to get every [other] state right… If sixty-one thousand people in Ohio had decided to vote for Kerry rather than Bush, Kerry would now be president. If two hundred thirty-one people in Florida had decided to vote for Gore instead of Bush, Al Gore would be president. We can’t go into another election like that. We’re not always going to win that one last state.” He believes he’s the only Republican able to put the big states in play, and he may be right.

Fighting Islamic Fascism

As for terrorism and America’s fight against it: “Democrats want to go back to the way we were acting before September 11,” he charged. “Because of our lack of response [to a series of attacks like the 1993 WTC bombing and the U.S.S. Cole], the terrorists believed we were weak… The lesson of September 11 is simple: we have to be on offense.” Tracing the beginning of modern Islamic terrorism to the attack on the Israeli Olympic team in Munich in 1972 and the mild Western reaction to it, he stressed that, “If you negotiate with terrorists you demonstrate to them that you’re afraid of them and you empower them. It’s a terrible mistake not to be strong in the face of evil.”

On Iraq: “We don’t have a choice. We don’t leave there until we put it in a position that it will act as a buffer against terrorism.” He believes “we’ve got to get the Iraqis involved in rebuilding their country,” and notes that there is 60% unemployment in Iraq. “If we could get it down to thirty percent unemployment, we’re going to start to have stability,” he said.

Giuliani asserts that Iran is more dangerous than Iraq. “[Iranian President] Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is either an irrational person or is giving a good imitation of one,” he observes.

“Terrorism is a multi-headed organization,” Giuliani continues, advising that “we should not let them become a nuclear power… It would be terrible to have to use military force against Iran, but it would be even more terrible if Iran had nuclear weapons.”

Giuliani says comparing the present situation to Vietnam or the Cold War is misguided: “The Russians and the Chinese, as far as we can tell, were never planning to come here and kill us. They weren’t organizing squads of people to come to the United States and blow up the World Trade Center, the Brooklyn Bridge, or the Stock Exchange, or to blow up American ships. These people are planning that. These people have done it. This is a different kind of enemy. Maybe it doesn’t have the massive kind of power the Russians or the Chinese had, but in many ways it is more aggressive. If you don’t show strength to this enemy, this is going to go on much, much longer and we are going to lose many, many more lives.”

On illegal immigration, he seems not to have codified a plan yet, but says the goal should be to know who is here and why, and offered up a “tamperproof ID card” as something that could be accomplished quickly. He seemed in favor of a technological rather than a physical wall or barrier. As mayor of New York City, he tried to concentrate on throwing out drug dealers that were here illegally, he says, but had difficulty doing so because there was no priority at the Immigration Services office. “We need a rational set of laws and to concentrate resources on those who aren’t productive or are a problem” he says.

A Short Private Interview

After the general Q & A, he gave me a couple of minutes for a brief taped interview, so I asked:

Q. As New York City mayor, you reduced crime in minority communities dramatically, yet have received little credit for it, particularly from some of the residents of those communities. Why do you think that is?

A. I reduced crime in New York for everybody. I ran with the idea that it is one city, one standard for everyone. We reduced crime in all the different neighborhoods in New York City almost by an equal percentage and I actually have gotten a lot of credit for it, and a lot of other people deserve credit for it [like former Police Commissioners] Bill Bratton and Bernie Kerik, all my police commissioners, all the cops. There is a certain amount of politics involved in everything and some people give you too much credit and others give you too little credit, but that’s politics.

How can you or any Republican candidate appeal to minority communities?

You appeal to all different communities the same way. When I ran for mayor of New York I said we’ll reduce crime; we’ll reduce welfare; we’ll help put more people to work. We’ll reduce unemployment; we will reduce the deficit and try to create a surplus; that helps everybody. The same thing is true in this country. Everybody in this country is at risk of being harmed by terrorists. When the terrorists attacked the World Trade Center, poor people were killed, rich people were killed, middle-class people were killed. People of all religions, races, backgrounds, so if you protect this country against terrorism you’re protecting everybody. If you lower taxes and improve the economy, more people go to work. You’ve got to look for solutions that reach out to everybody and not solutions that put people in little boxes.

(According to Andy Granatelli, the $290,000 raised by potential presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani is reportedly the largest amount ever drawn by a single candidate at a single event in Santa Barbara county; the guessing, however, is that figure will be surpassed as the 2008 election season progresses.)