Worry Warts For Rudy

In his Wall Street Journal column, Dan Henninger reveals what’s really behind Rudy Giuliani’s appeal:

…Rethinking political management amid deep partisan division would be a dandy avocation if we lived in normal times, say Sept. 10, 2001. But we don’t. Last weekend, the forces of civilization foiled planned barbarian bombings and mass death for innocent civilians in London and Glasgow. One month ago, they foiled a plot to blow up the gasoline fuel pipeline at JFK airport. A month before that they arrested six men, enraptured by jihadist videos, who concluded it was their life’s goal to blow up soldiers at Fort Dix, N.J. Before that they foiled a well-advanced plot to demolish U.S.-bound airliners over the Atlantic. This week Spain completed its trial of 28 people charged with the 2004 Madrid train bombing that killed 191.

I haven’t conducted a poll, but my guess is this is the real reason many in the U.S. feel the country is on the wrong track. The possibility of mass, mortal risk is the one constant in life today; it’s always floating beneath the changing surface of stock prices, gasoline prices or Sen. Obama’s blueprints for universal health care.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Journal’s editorial board last week at our offices in lower Manhattan, Rudy Giuliani talked a lot about terrorism. It may well be that 9/11 made the Giuliani presidential run possible, but I think the better political comparison isn’t New York in September 2001 but New York in 1993, when Mr. Giuliani unseated Mayor David Dinkins. He described it to us:

“I was elected to reduce crime. That was the rationale for my being mayor of New York. They weren’t going to elect a Republican prosecutor in New York unless they were desperate. And they were desperate: It was, ‘We’ll even give him a chance to do it.’ ”

This was the period of screwing stacks of deadbolt locks onto apartment doors in New York. Amid this, Republican Giuliani defeated Democrat Dinkins by 49% to 46%. This means that a lot of New York liberals, beset by the loss of physical well-being, went into the voting booth, pulled the lever for Giuliani, and walked out to tell their friends, “I voted for Dinkins.”

This isn’t an endorsement for Rudy Giuliani. It’s an explanation for why this candidate, despite the presumed baggage, has polled strongly for months. In his meeting with us, Mr. Giuliani said something else unexpected: “George Bush’s speech on September 20, 2001is still the best road map for what to do about terrorism.”

That’s right. It’s not the economy this time, stupid. It’s terrorism. No matter how low George Bush falls in the polls the next 18 months, “what to do about terrorism” is going to be the No. 1 voting issue in November 2008 because the Glasgow/JFK/Fort Dix/Heathrow/Madrid bombers are still going to be at play in November 2008.

This may well be the election decided by the Worry Wart Independents. But don’t be surprised if a lot of them walk out of the voting booth that day and say with a straight face, “I voted to solve the health-care crisis.” Right. They also voted for Dinkins.

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