Giuliani's prank was just what we needed

August 03, 1999|By Tom Teepen

NEW YORK City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani is not, you could say, famously whimsical. His stabs at humor are awkward and his jokes sink out of sight without even a ripple of laughter. This is a man who, unless properly prompted, instinctively, by his very nature, laughs in all the wrong places.

So credit Mr. Giuliani all the more for pulling off the best political practical joke in recent memory, welcome comic relief from the kind of gunslinger politics that is never played for anything less than keeps and measures its successes equally by elections won and by the body count at the end of them.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, gearing up to run for the U.S. Senate as a newly minted New Yorker, if any kind of New Yorker at all, recently barnstormed upstate New York on what was billed as a "listening tour."

So everyone could tell she really was listening, Mrs. Clinton was repeatedly shown on TV making locked eye contact with assorted actual people and nodding endlessly like one of those little stuffed dogs you can still sometimes see in the back windows of rundown old cars.

By way of a parry to this first Clinton thrust, Mr. Giuliani, Ms. Clinton's likely Republican opponent, could have settled for the tedious commonplace of fulminating about her as a cheeky outsider poaching on political turf to which she has no natural claim and on which, as yet, she has earned none.

Instead, the mayor flew off to Arkansas for two days of reciprocal photo-opping, fund-raising and general political foolery.

Arkansas' Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee, tongue in cheek, vouched for Mr. Giuliani's legitimacy in Arkansas on the grounds that "he's never been here before, he's never worked here, he's never lived here."

Locals waved "Razorbacks for Rudy" signs, and reporters found themselves stashed under a magnolia tree and fed chocolate cookies and lemonade. You couldn't get an egg cream or an Orange Julius for the life of you.

Meanwhile, back in New York, the mayor had the Arkansas flag flying over City Hall -- and had state and local Democrats fuming and claiming that his willingness even to be in such a throwback state showed he's not the moderate Republican he says he is and proves he will dance to the tune of the GOP's far right.

Even for politics, that is a non sequitur of breathtaking audacity.

It is widely held that New York politics is uncommonly rough and that a contest between Ms. Clinton, whom conservatives believe actually to be in league with the Devil, and Mr. Giuliani, whom liberals believe actually to be the Devil, is bound to set new records for sustained sulfurousness.

If so, too bad, though a really dirty campaign with unrelenting mutual slander can have a certain Christians-and-lions charm.

In any event, Clinton vs. Giuliani won't be a joke fest and Mr. Giuliani himself is still one unfunny guy, but at least the race has started with a better than average political stunt, time out from the era's dreadnought partisanship.

Thanks, Rudy. We needed that.

Tom Teepen is national correspondent for Cox Newspapers. His e-mail address:

Pub Date: 8/03/99

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