Tuesday, October 30, 2007
My column in today's Il Foglio, untranslated into Italian:
The first political campaign on which I ever worked was a Canadian provincial election, more than three decades ago. We won, little thanks to me. (And since the candidate was a socialist, no thanks are due.)
It was a small operation: a half dozen volunteers, some pamphlet literature, lawn signs, door knocking. We had no polls, no consultants, no radio or television commercials, none of the technology of modern electioneering.
The campaign office on in a Polish neighborhood in western Toronto was choked with the smell of cigarettes and bad takeaway food. The desks were topped with half-empty Styrofoam coffee cups, butts stubbed out in the milky residue. To this day, the smell of coffee-soaked cigarette butts is to me the smell of politics.
I was 14. The bus-subway-bus ride from my parents' home to the campaign took an hour. Each hour there, and each hour back, I read a book my mother had given me: the newly published paperback edition of “Gulag Archipelago.” My campaign colleagues jeered at the book – and by the end of the campaign, any lingering interest I might have had in the political left had vanished like yesterday’s smoke.
There are of course no cigarette butts at the headquarters of the Rudy Giuliani campaign in lower Manhattan: Mayor Bloomberg’s ban on smoking in all interior places has seen to that. The Giuliani campaign spends more in an hour than that campaign in 1974 spent in total – and that’s before winning the nomination. Blackberries, videoconferencing, and the 24-hour news cycle have transformed politics.
For me too something more personal has changed. For most of my life, politics was for me half-cause, half-sport. The sheer game of it fascinated me: the assemblage of coalitions, the testing of themes, the black art of the negative campaign ad. When I was invited to write speeches for George W. Bush in December 2000, I accepted not because I was so enthusiastic about the new president – I’d preferred John McCain during the primaries – but largely out of curiosity.
Since 9/11, though, the game has lost it charm. Politics has taken on a new, deadly seriousness. And I’ve found myself engaged with a new level of intensity. Last month I signed as a foreign policy adviser to the Rudy Giuliani campaign.
The core work of the Giuliani foreign policy advisers is to thrash out a coherent new foreign policy for the post-Bush era. That’s the same work I do in most of my other hours of the week: on this page, in other media, and in the book I’ve just finished after three years work. We try to analyze problems and propose solutions.
Rudy Giuliani has proven himself the most successful public-sector executive of our time. In 1993, the year before he took office in New York, the city suffered 1,995 homicides. In 2001, his last year, the city suffered only 626, apart of course from the 9/11 terror attacks.
New York City is home to only about 2 ½ % of all Americans. Yet New York accounted for 15% of all the reductions in murder in the United States in the 1990s.
Giuliani accepted a public problem thought to be unsolveable – and solved it. Then it was crime; now it is terrorism, war, and the many domestic problems of the United States besides. In an era when most politicians cannot bring themselves even to say the phrase, “Islamic terrorism,” the Italian-American who named – and then broke – the New York Mafia exemplifies the courage to identify and destroy the nation’s enemies.
This is not a campaign ad. Rather, I felt I owed readers of this paper an explanation of what I am doing, and why, so that they can read this column – as they should read any column – in the full knowledge of the writer’s loyalties and commitments.
10/30 06:15 AM