DISTINGUISHING

I have to believe Frank Rich knows better than this:

Even leaving aside the Giuliani record in New York (where his judicial appointees were mostly Democrats), the more Democratic Senate likely to emerge after 2008 is a poor bet to confirm a Scalia or Alito even should a Republican president nominate one. No matter how you slice it, the Giuliani positions on abortion, gay rights and gun control remain indistinguishable from Hillary Clinton’s.

Look, I like to gloat as much as the next guy, but let’s not do it at the expense of reality. And Rudy Giuliani has indeed gotten more traction than many (myself included) thought he ever could, despite James Dobson et al’s significant discomfort with him. But he’s not a pro-choice candidate (he’s not a pro-gay rights or pro-gun control candidate either). He believes abortion is immoral, and he’s made it clear to anyone who’s paying attention that he’ll appoint judges who will make abortion illegal. The intermediate question of whether he has nice things to say about laws banning abortion is a detail (he’s also reversing himself on laws that make it more difficult for women to access the right to choose). While the Senate on a good day can hold back particularly crazy nominees, the only people who come their way for confirmation are the ones the president sends over. And in case you haven’t noticed, drafting strategies on how to overturn Roe isn’t enough to deny you confirmation votes from Democrats.

THEY LIKE US, THEY REALLY LIKE US

In today’s GOP debate, Giuliani touts his mom’s membership in ILGWU (UNITE), and Mike Huckabee declares his sympathy for hotel workers (HERE).

Mitt Romney, on the other hand, praises the Carpenters.

MEMO FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES ET AL

Rudy Giuliani: not a moderate:

“It’s a no-risk society,” Giuliani went on. “If we continue with this idea of collective responsibility, we’ll become a society that deteriorates. And it’s a battle that has to be fought now.”

Even if he does seem to recognize a measure of collective responsibility for making it possible for poor women to make their own choice about abortion.

SAM BROWNBACK, CALL YOUR PUBLICIST

I’m not much one for “Great Man” theories of our political history – that is, I think most of the writing on twists and turns in American political history overstates the importance of the sensibilities and psychology of individual politicians and understates social movements, cultural trends, demographic shifts, and so forth – but I’ll readily acknowledge that when it comes to, say, the Republican presidential primary for 2008, there are only so many apparent contenders. And an act of hubris or poor strategery that pulls one out of contention can seriously shift the playing field for everybody else.

That’s why Democrats may come to reconsider their glee over George Allen’s “macaca” muck-up of two months ago if it turns out to have indeed taken Allen out of serious contention for the GOP presidential nomination. Because not long ago, George Allen was well-placed to bear the mantle of “Un-McCain,” a charismatic candidate with the right combination of sterling conservative credentials and cultural compatability (however affected) to excite folks from the GOP base, particularly Christian conservatives, either nonplussed or turned off by a McCain candidacy. The evidence of racial animus on his part could have been just enough to let him take the primary but not the general election.

Now, not so much.

And just as Hillary Clinton’s best chance of taking her party’s nomination is the scenario in which a single charismatic, consenus “Un-Hillary” never quite materializes, for the GOP nod to go to McCain, whose otherwise right-wing record is marred by opposition to global warming, hard money, and torture, and by some carefully chosen symbolic snubs to the base, is the absence of a single viable “Un-McCain.”

Maybe what’s most striking in all this is the lack of a strong McCain alternative to gather in all the GOP activists under one placard. First it was supposed to be Bill Frist. Then he got outplayed by the “Gang of 14” over judicial nominations. And his impressive conversion on the road to Iowa into a religious right zealot was undercut by his betrayal on stem cells.

Rick Santorum, one of the most telegenic elected Republicans out there, from one of the states the party is trying hardest to bring back into its column, is now on track to get kicked out of office by Keystone State voters.

Mike Huckabee has so far failed to make a name for himself for more than losing weight – except with the Club for Growth and the economic right-wingers in its orbit, who hate his guts more than most non-McCain GOPers’.

Mitt Romney, though he pulled off an impressive ground game in the SRLC straw poll six months ago, is still going to have a hard time as the Mormon Governor of Massachusetts exciting the base enough to avert a marriage of convenience to McCain.

Newt Gingrich, like Gary Hart in the lead-up to ’04, seems to have underestimated the staying power of his scandals and overestimated the yearning of the American people for a wonk.

Rudy Giuliani believes in the right to choose.

So it’s not clear who is left to stop the steady flow of strategists, fund-raisers, and activists to John McCain, who is by far the most popular advocate of right-wing politics in the United States. After Macacagate, McCain has at least a passable shot at benefiting from the kind of dynamic that played a key role in elevating Bill Clinton in ’92: the absence of a primary candidate beloved by the party’s base.

And while McCain is beatable, he has the benefit of years of praise not only from starstruck journalists but from short-sighted Democrats who’ve boosted his claims to speak for the center of America.

Meanwhile, you’ve gotta wonder what’s going through the head of Sam Brownback, as staunch a social conservative as you’ll find in the Senate, with no bruising re-election fight in sight, no awkward position in the Republican leadership, and no scandal-ridden press clippings to buck.

A few thoughts on the McCain and Giuliani speeches last night:

How exactly has John McCain determined that Al Qaeda was weakened by the War in Iraq? Does he know something the rest of us don’t? Because there’s plenty to indicate that Al Qaeda’s been strengthened by the diversion of resources to Iraq and the gestures towards religious crusade. If McCain can prove the contrary, that would seem to be the kind of information we’d be hearing about at the Convention. I mean, it’s not as if the Bush Administration has been shy about leaking classified information for electoral gain.

It’s always been impressive how Republicans manage to contend on the one hand that they represent decent, faithful, virgin America and defend it against the coarse and the obscene, and on the other hand that they represent common, hard-working, tough America against the lilly-livered elite (Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter With Kansas? has an engaging the discussion of the need for the myth of the liberal elite as an explanatory tool for conservatives to exempt the smut they condemn from the explanations of laissez-faire capitalism they enshrine). But it takes truly stunning rhetorical gymnastics to elide both charges in a few sentences, as Giuliani does in celebrating Bush both for being comfortable with the vulgar language of the common man construction workers and for eschewing the vulgarity of the Democrats.

So Giuliani is opposed to undemocratically elected governments which use external enemies to try to distract their citizens instead of improving healthcare. Who knew?

I was all revved up to respond to this paragraph from Keith Urbahn on The Passion:

Charges of ?anti-Semitism? have been conveniently tossed around by those who object to the film?s portraying of Jews in a negative light. Ironically, many of these guardians of religious sensitivity are the same who defended the desecration of the Virgin Mary in elephant dung at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in the name of freedom of expression, and now with the tables turned, condemn the film as rabidly anti-Semitic and a breach of the norms of decency.

But it turns out James Kirchick, with whom I agree on few things, has beat me to it:

First off, there is a major difference in defending an art museum’s first amendment right to display whatever art it chooses, and advocating that the museum be forced to close the exhibit altogether. I defy Keith to find a statement from Abraham Foxman or any of the other major Jewish leaders he accuses, demanding that the government prevent Gibson from displaying his art, which is what Catholic leaders urged, and ultimately convinced, Mayor Giuliani to do in the “Sensation” episode. Second, as I remember, the “Sensation” exhibit was essentially an elephant-dung stained portrait of Mary, created by a Catholic. However tasteless that piece of “artwork” may be, it does not compare to a Catholic defaming a people of different faith.

Jamie makes the central point: that protesting the nature of a piece of art is not a parallel activity to protesting the freedom of an independant artist to create it or of a publically-funded institution to display it. Intentionally obscuring this line allowed conservative commentators to have a heyday claiming that the Ofili episode was yet another demonstration that liberals hate religion except when it’s aberrant and/or un-Christian. Keith risks echoing that line in the graph above – what exactly does it mean to say “now that the tables are turned”? Now that Jews rather than Christians are allegedly impugned? I trust that Keith doesn’t intend the nastier readings of that line – but it’s an unfortunate turn of phrase.

I do disagree with Jamie, however, on two points. The first, which is incidental, is that I agree with Jack Newfield’s account in this book that Giuliani’s stand against Ofili’s painting was much less about his bowing to pressure from the “Catholic leaders” Jamie references and much more about his ill-conceived gambit to pick up suburban votes for his senate run by sparking a controversy. Second, while I agree with Jamie that the Museum had the right to display “tasteless” art, I think to describe Ofili’s work as “tasteless” is an unfortunate mischaracterization of the piece – a mischaracterization which went largely unchallenged in the press at the time. Ofili was a Nigerian altar boy who set out to create a work to reconcile his African heritage and his Christian identity. The elephant dung was a traditional sign of respect which he incorporated into portraits of other figures as well. “The Holy Virgin Mary” was, in Ofili’s words, “a hip hop version.” I wrote more about this in the early days of this site in a post here (scroll all the way down), on a strangely fitting coda to the whole episode.

In related news, Drudge is reporting that Mel Gibson declined to appear in tonight’s Oscars because he was afraid he’d be booed. So much for redemption in suffering.

Zhou Tiehai has created what seems a fitting tribute to one of Giuliani’s more ridiculous actions as Mayor of New York(although certainly not his most destructive, when compared to summarily jailing the homeless or turning a blind eye to police brutalitiy):

It was only a shade less than four years ago that New York flew into a frenzy over Rudolph Giuliani’s short-lived effort to shut down the Brooklyn Museum of Art for exhibiting Chris Ofili’s dung-ornamented painting “The Holy Virgin Mary.” Last week dung returned for an encore, ceremonially clumped on a portrait of the former mayor himself that appears in a new show at the Whitney Museum. The Daily News reflexively slapped the picture, by the Shanghai-born artist Zhou Tiehai, on Page 1 (“New Rudy Art Flap”), the local television newscasters duly cluck-clucked . . . and no one cared. Even Mr. Giuliani didn’t rise to the bait. “Well, I’m really not an art critic,” he said. “If it was an opera, I’d be able to comment on it.”

Maybe this shows take from this is that being in the right place at the right time (and, to be fair, making a couple admirable moves, like having hate crimes against Arabs tracked) has caused his popularity to so skyrocket that he no longer sees a need to take potshots at free expression. Equally likely, he simply realizes that it’s more difficult to take the moral high ground when you, rather than the Holy Virgin Mary are the subject of the offending painting.

The irony of Tiehai’s work, and the reason that it strikes me as perversely appropriate, is that Tiehai’s work uses dung for the purpose of smearing (so to speak) the image of Giuliani, while Ofili, despite Giuliani’s accusations that he was smearing the Holy Virgin Mary, was using dung to honor her. As I wrote in a piece in my high school newspaper at the time,

The dung in Ofili’s painting, as well as in his other art, is not a sign of disrespect. Rather, it is a sign of reverence. “It’s a way,” he explained, “of raising the paintings up from the ground and giving them a feeling that they’ve come from the earth rather than simply being hung on a wall.” Ofili pointed to the sexual undertones of many traditional artistic depictions of the Virgin Mary as the inspiration for the sexual imagery in his own work. “Mine is just a hip-hop version.”
“Ofili,” writes Inquirer art critic Edward J. Sozanski, “is imagining a Virgin Mary far different, but no less legitimate in devotional terms, from the one that the Roman Catholic Giuliani encountered in his catechetical youth.” Viewed in its proper context, how can “The Holy Virgin Mary” possibly be seen as anything other than what it is – the alternative vision of an observant Catholic, a bold attempt to mesh his Western upbringing with his Nigerian heritage?

And so while I would generally consider dung-throwing, literal or figurative, to be a low form of political expression, the cleverness of Tiehai’s work is that it reflects back on Giuliani precisely what he falsely projected onto Ofili’s work. Giuliani’s phantom offense has come back to haunt him. Tiehai offers Giuliani the disrespect that Ofili, an alter boy in his youth, never intended (another former alter boy to haunt the former mayor would be Patrick Dorismond, whose point-blank shooting by an undercover cop Giuliani defended with the bizarre allegation that Dorismond – based on sealed juvenile court records – was no “alter boy”).

My high school op-ed on the topic was accompanied by a photo of the painting in question, captioned “The Holy Virgin Mary.” At the last minute my editor switched that for a picture of Giuliani because we couldn’t find a good non-copyrighted shot of the painting, but he almost forgot to change the caption.

Poetic justice?