In 1957, Stanford University psychologist Leon Festinger came up with a theory which says that the anxiety or inner conflict between a person’s beliefs and their behavior will cause that person to change their beliefs to fit their behavior, rather than change their behavior to match what they believe. He called it “cognitive dissonance,” but there are a lot of different metaphors for it. Talking the talk without walking the walk, faking the funk, kidding yourself, being a hypocrite, selling out — take your pick, they all work. It’s a condition everyone suffers from on occasion; but for politicians, artists, and entertainers, it can be terminal. It tells the voters who support you or the fans who appreciate your work that you don’t actually believe in anything any more — and then you’re dunzo.
Last week, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s political career suffered a fatal bout of cognitive dissonance when he spoke out against the decision to try the man who masterminded the hijackings of Sept. 11, 2001, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, in federal court in lower Manhattan; despite the fact that Giuliani himself used to prosecute cases in that same court. It’s hard to say what was more horrifying: the events of that day or Rudy’s exploiting those events as his personal political springboard, but the fact that he went there (and stayed there for eight years) means I have no problem rejoicing in the demise of his delusional aspirations of ascending within the ranks of the Republican Party.
In his first campaign for New York City mayor in 1989, he won the Republican primary, but not the support of the Conservative Party, and lost to David Dinkins. His next two campaigns for mayor prove the point that in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man can be king. Running as a liberal and a Republican for a second and third time, Giuliani was elected on a promise to clean up the city — then re-elected because he kind of did. In fairness, he could have handed out surgical masks and campaigned as the guy who got rid of the urine smell in the subway and it would have worked.
He was a few months away from political obscurity when those planes were hijacked, thrusting the potential for greatness upon him in the form of the opportunity to take the helm of New York City’s disaster response infrastructure and lead his city in a time of crisis. Unfortunately, he made the decision to locate the city’s Office of Emergency Management headquarters into the World Trade Center complex four years earlier — and four years after the first WTC bombing — so it was inaccessible. The director of Emergency Management suggested a site in Brooklyn and was overruled by Mayor Giuliani.
Despite that disastrous decision (among many others he made in the weeks that followed), Giuliani cast himself as an expert on terrorism response. He was considered for secretary of Homeland Security in 2004, but dropped when it became clear the scandal surrounding his three marriages might make Senate confirmation difficult. Rudy recommended his former driver, Bernie Kerik, who has since pled guilty to lying to White House officials while being vetted for the job.
Along the way he blew off doing actual work with the Iraq study group so he could make $11 million on the speaking tour (because nothing shows leadership like helping yourself when you could be helping your country), and ran the most inept presidential campaign anyone had seen until John and Sarah’s wild ride last fall.
His legal career began when he worked for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York and ended with him as the U.S. Attorney for that District. It’s poetically ironic that his political career ends with him going on three talk shows this past Sunday to say that as long as an alternative exists, the prosecution of the mastermind of the worst crime to take place in the history of New York City should not be handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.
When the “20th hijacker” was sentenced to life in prison in 2006, Giuliani said it “demonstrate(s) that we can give people a fair trial, that we are exactly what we say we are. We are a nation of law.” Now he says it’s a “mistake” to try KSM in the exact same way. The big difference between 2006 and 2009 is a Democratic administration is in power now, and Rudy has shown he’s a hypocrite willing to change his beliefs to fit his behavior.
I hope Rudy’s career can rest in peace with the knowledge that as the pro-choice, pro-gun control, anti-school prayer, liberal, Italian former mayor of New York who cheated on his first wife with his second wife, then cheated on his second wife with his third wife, lived with a gay couple while finalizing his second divorce — and once performed in drag as Marilyn Monroe — he was never going to win another election anyway.
Kenny Mack is a multi-platform content provider with four-quadrant crossover appeal who is happy he’ll never see “Giuliani” on another campaign poster. His past columns are archived at www.ifyoumissedit.com and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org