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Foreign Correspondent
by international syndicated columnist & broadcaster Eric Margolis


13 August 2007

NEW YORK - The Big Apple is always a treat in the summer. Last week, I returned to my beloved hometown just in time for a tornado that hit Brooklyn, the first in over 150 years.

Monsoon-strength rains flooded New York’s antiquated subways, knocking out public transport and leaving millions of sodden, confused commuters struggling to get to work on foot in the 95F heat and rain. As always, when it rains in the city, thoughtful drivers went out of their way to splash pedestrians.

On top of all this, the giant casino known as New York’s financial markets went into a panic after a giant Ponzi fraud known as sub-prime mortgages suddenly ran out of steam.

The city’s great and good long ago decamped to the Hamptons, where if you don’t have a $35 million `beach cottage’ you are considered needy. However, the Wall Street panic did pretty much ruin their idyllic brunches and candle-lit soirees. Meanwhile, much of the city was left to Dominicans, Hondurans, European visitors who somehow managed to get a visa to Fortress America, and alarmingly overweight Midwestern tourists in short pants and dangerously over-stretched t-shirts.

But I love New York any time of year. When I was growing up here, a worldly friend of my mother advised me, `there are only three civilized cities in North America: New York, San Francisco, and Montreal. All the rest is darkness!’ Half a century later, I still can’t say he was wrong.

For the first time in my memory, two New York state residents are running for president, former mayor Rudi Giuliani and Hillary Clinton.

Those who liked Bush, will love Rudy.

This week, he blasted Democrats as `ready to embrace defeat’ in Iraq.

Giuliani modestly claimed he alone can save America by a. `continuing the offensive against Islamism,’ and b. stopping Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. He left unclear which of these scourges was worse.

It seems Rudy Giuliani is going to run to the right of George W. Bush. As a sword-waver for the hard right, Giuliani has left his hapless rival, not very bright, bumbling John McCain, way back in the dust.

Voters here are ambivalent about Giuliani. Many New Yorkers are Jewish or Catholic liberal Democrats. They look at Bush, the southern hicks and holy rollers who form his core support, and the rest of the Republican Party’s hard right as a religious bigots, cross burners, or goose-steppers.

The other day, a New York bookstore owner spontaneously exclaimed to me, quite out of the blue, `Bush makes me ashamed to be an American.’ Her feeling is shared by many here in America’s least American, most cosmopolitan city. They can’t wait to see the backs of Bush and Cheney, but are unhappy about the choices to replace them.

Giuliani was an effective mayor and, in spite of one very embarrassing scandal regarding a security aid, an honest politician in a city notorious for political sleaze and payoffs. He ran a tight ship, restored city finances wrecked by the inept, corrupt Democratic party machine, cleaned up city streets, and sharply reduced crime by allowing police to do their job.

The Big Apple roared back to life under Giuliani. But Giuliani’s real claim to fame was 9/11, which brought him to national prominence by projecting take-charge competence that contrasted sharply with President Bush’s dazed, initial response.

Giuliani emerged the hero of 9/11, and has been living off this lucky moment ever since. However, many New Yorkers, including the powerful firefighters union, had a very different view of His Honor, accusing him of being unprepared for 9/11, responding poorly, grandstanding and endangering the health of rescue workers by failing to provide proper breathing equipment.

Many other New Yorkers don’t like their former hero-mayor, either. He is seen as arrogant, impatient, and notoriously ill-tempered. His Catholic faith and personal life, fraught with divorces and angry children – an estranged daughter briefly claimed last week she supported Barak Obama – won’t appeal to Bible Belt voters.

After eight years of Bush, the last thing most New Yorkers want is more blundering machismo and stupid wars. Giuliani is much smarter than Bush, but he shares many of the president’s perceived faults. Many think him unstable. Besides, who can trust an Italian who finds it painful to smile? Italians were put on this earth to make life more enjoyable for all of us, not to wage jihad against Islam.

If New Yorker’s are not crazy about Rudy, their feelings for Hillary Clinton are hardly warmer. New Yorkers don’t like or trust southerners, a feeling southerners and westerners heartily reciprocate. Hillary has shape-shifted into a New York resident, but she is having trouble escaping her dark roots in smelly Arkansas politics.

Bill Clinton, the 800-lb gorilla behind Hillary, was not liked either in New York. But after eight years of Bush, he seems almost saintly. Still, people here don’t trust the Clintons, are turned off by their naked power lust, and see Hillary as unprincipled opportunist who is all make-up and no substance.

The presidential candidate I suspect most New Yorkers would really like to see is their current capable mayor and self-made billionaire, native son Michael Bloomberg. He’s cool, intelligent, and gets things done in a New York minute.

But favorite-son Bloomberg is simply too New York for the nether parts of the country: intelligent, well-read, Jewish, divorced, rich, a switch-hitter between parties. This writer dined with him a few years back and found him quite charming, easy-going and witty, a man, as my mother used to say, of character and substance. In short, not your usual two-dimensional politician.

Bloomberg suffers from the same old problem that bedeviled the late Nelson Rockefeller who should have been president, but was unelectable. The enormously wealthy, powerful Rockefeller was just too New York, too East Coast for the rest of the country. Ironically, when foreign heads of state visited the US, their first stop was often to the Rockefeller estate, and then to the White House.

Bloomberg is also too New York. I just pray he does not start wearing cowboy clothing, spitting on the ground, and affecting a Texas drawl.

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2007.

Published at since 1995 with permission, as a courtesy and in appreciation.

To read previous columns by Mr. Margolis: Click here

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