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Why Giuliani is the Top Candidate

By Robert Tracinski

Yes, I know it is very, very early to begin thinking about the 2008 election, but there are two good reasons why the campaign is already under way and why it's worth paying a little attention early on.

First, 2008 will be an unusual election year. Because President Bush can't run for office again, and because Dick Cheney won't run, this is a rare election in which there is no presumptive candidate for either party--which raises the stakes and means an earlier contest on both sides. The candidates are already trying to hone their message and image, and it is worth paying attention now--before some of these candidates have successfully re-written their history and re-packaged themselves for the voters.

The more important reason we should be paying attention to the candidates is that the next president may well have to be the one to confront and defeat Iran. I have held out some hope that President Bush will attempt to do so before he leaves office. That is still possible--but it is looking less and less likely, as the Bush administration seems to have settled into a policy of "containment" whose goal is to manage the problem of Iran until it can be handed over to a new administration.

Even if Bush wanted to act against Iran, he may not be able to do so given the constraints of a hostile Congress and his own personal unpopularity. I do not think that Bush's low approval ratings have discredited a vigorous war policy. I think the American people have simply concluded that this particular leader is not capable of fighting the war successfully. Bush could reverse this conclusion by taking serious action and showing success on the ground; I believe this is what he intends to do with the "surge" in Baghdad. But we may have to wait for a new pro-war leader to come forward and regain Americans' confidence that victory is possible.

So who are the candidates that have emerged so far, and what do they stand for?

I will gloss over the top Democratic candidates very quickly, because I regard all of them as obviously unacceptable. By now, they have all adopted an anti-war line in order to appease the hard left--even Hillary Clinton, who had shrewdly hedged her bets before last November's election. By anti-war, I mean that they are not just opposed to the Iraq War; they are also advocating negotiations with Iran and opposing the use of force against the mullah's regime.

And the candidates have negatives beyond their stance on the war. Hillary Clinton is the embodiment of the "it all depends on what the meaning of 'is' is" approach to politics. She represents the idea that there are no fixed facts that require leaders to take a definite stand and stick to unwavering principles. Instead, there are only words to be manipulated in order to appease various constituencies. James Taranto makes some perceptive observations about the cold calculation behind Clinton's shifting stance on the war and the complacency with which the left-leaning mainstream media takes her cynicism for granted.

The main alternative to Hillary Clinton is Barack Obama, whose main purpose is to use his clean-cut, wholesome, telegenic image to sell us on corrupt old leftist ideas. Thomas Sowell hit the nail on the head recently when he explained, "Senator Obama is being hailed as the newest and freshest face on the American political scene. But he is advocating some of the oldest fallacies, just as if it was the 1960s again, or as if he has learned nothing and forgotten nothing since then."

The only good news about the Democratic candidates is that they are already sniping at each other. If you haven't seen it already, don't miss this delightful story about their dust-up, particularly former supporter David Geffen's perfect summation of the Clintons: "Everybody in politics lies, but they do it with such ease, it's troubling." (See also a good Cox & Forum cartoon on this.)

The worst news about the Democratic candidates is that there is now a movement to draft Al Gore to run for president on a platform of shutting down industrial civilization.

Over on the Republican side, the big news is something I've been expecting for a while: the failure of the religious right to field a major candidate. They haven't done it so far, and I don't think they will manage to do so. If there were such a candidate, I think we would know by now who he is.

That story was recently covered in the New York Times, which inaccurately attributes the trend partly to the recent mid-term election loss. That's not true: the current roster of leading Republican candidates was already established before last November. The fact is that this is still a predominantly secular country, and secular issues (such as the war) carry more political weight than the cultural agenda of the religious right, which is still a small minority.

The top three Republican candidates--and I don't expect another strong Republican contender to challenge them--are former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, Senator John McCain, and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Mitt Romney is a man who truly deserves the description "empty suit." As far as I can tell, he has no firm convictions and a record of swinging with the swing voters. The best description of Romney is from a writer at The Politico: "Mitt Romney is Bill Clinton with his pants up." He wants to be all things to all people.

The worst example is his position on abortion. In the past, he has swung from being anti-abortion (to appeal to Mormons back in Utah), to being pro-abortion (to appeal to voters in Massachusetts), and back to being anti-abortion again now that he's seeking the Republican nomination. (Go here for more description of the flip-flops on abortion by Romney and John McCain.)

McCain is not an empty suit. He stands for something. Unfortunately, he stands for the worst kind of political altruism. He has repeatedly preached about the need for the individual to "sacrifice for something greater than yourself," and he's built up a pretty good list of what he thinks you should sacrifice. He think you should sacrifice the right to free speech; the campaign finance law he championed imposes limits on the ability of independent political groups to criticize politicians during an election. And he also thinks you should sacrifice your prosperity: he opposed President Bush's tax cuts, and more recently he has vigorously promoted the global warming hysteria.

Two of the most critical legislative attacks on liberty in recent decades may end up being named after him: McCain-Feingold, the campaign finance law that launched this nation's first direct assault on the freedom of political speech, and McCain-Lieberman, a proposed bill to choke off power production by capping America's carbon dioxide emissions.

Of course, McCain has been relatively good on the war, but my line on that (which you may have noticed) is that if John McCain saves us, who will save us from McCain?

That leaves Rudy Giuliani, who is emerging as far and away the best Republican candidate. Giuliani is, of course, most associated with the September 11 attacks on New York City; since then, he has been a strong supporter of the War on Terrorism. And while other candidates have attempted to alter their views on abortion, "gay marriage," and other parts of the agenda of the religious right, Giuliani has not done so--which has actually worked to endear him more to conservative voters. The article I linked to above, about Romney's and McCain's meanderings on abortion, ends with this observation: "Meanwhile, Giuliani soars [in the polls] despite offering social conservatives few concessions. Perhaps the moral of the story is this: If you can't respect life, at least try to respect pro-lifers' intelligence." Giuliani is earning points just for taking a stand and sticking to it.

Even more interesting is a speech he delivered this week outlining his domestic agenda. According to a report in the New York Sun, Giuliani "call[ed] on the Republican Party to redefine itself as 'the party of freedom,' focusing on lower taxes, school choice, and a health care system rooted in free market principles." In particular, Giuliani defined the difference between Democrats and Republicans in this way. "He said that while Republicans believe that the American economy is 'essentially a private economy,' Democrats 'really believe, honest, that it is essentially a government economy.'"

I do not want to exaggerate Giuliani's virtues. He first made his name as an over-zealous US attorney persecuting Wall Street figures like Michael Milkin, he has no real record as a defender of economic liberty, and even his strong stance on terrorism can be exaggerated. I remember back in the mid-1990s that he made headlines by refusing to admit Yasser Arafat into a New York City event--but at about the same time, he hosted a city event for Gerry Adams, the political front man for the IRA. I suggested at the time that one could explain these two contradictory actions by his need to appease two different constituencies: Jewish and Irish voters. Giuliani is, after all, a politician.

So far, however, Giuliani looks like he is the best candidate for advocates of the "secular right": that is, for those of us who favor free markets and a vigorous war against totalitarian Islam overseas--while opposing the intrusion of religion into politics here at home. And fortunately, he's now decisively in the lead.

These are my preliminary observations, but I want to stress that they are only preliminary. As the election contest continues, we will be inundated with a flood of new information about the ideology, platform, and personal character of all of the candidates--and I will have plenty of opportunities to comment on this new information in the more than 600 days still left before the election.

Robert Tracinski writes daily commentary at He is the editor of The Intellectual Activist and

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