Monday, December 20, 2004

Kerik and Giuliani: Bluenosed Red-Staters versus red-faced Blue Staters

Bernie Kerik was given the catchy pseudo-honorific “America’s Top Cop” back in the days following the September 11 attacks. Mr. Kerik did have the ugly job of helping to mop up after that mess, though credit was generally given to Mayor Giuliani. Rudy Giuliani, reviled by New Yorkers in that special way that they revile their mayors (plus that special way they revile Republicans,) spent the last few months of his anointed by the press as “America’s Mayor,” frequently lauded as a “hero” and, for a while, as something that could almost be classed as a saint.

Kerik, on the other hand, kept to the shadows, leaving the glory to Giuliani. While Giuliani made the rounds on TV talk shows, giving interviews and singing George W. Bush’s praises, Kerik stuck to police work—or so it seems. He must have been doing something to exploit his position as a September 11 celebrity, because he landed a prominent stage appearance at the Republican Convention, helping the Bush campaign sell its message of imminent threats from within and without. It was synergy, certainly: Kerik helped Bush as much as he helped himself, if not more. “Terrorists are everywhere!” the Bush chorus warned, with Kerik joining, “Doom! DOOOOOOMMM!”

It seems that Kerik tried cashing in his chips by applying for Tom Ridge’s job. Ridge, the current Homeland Security Secretary, is stepping down so he can work in the private sector, saying that he needs to, because he can’t afford to send his kids to college in his current financial state. (Hey, Tom! I’m still paying off student loans, and I voted for you in 1994! As one of your former constituents, might I recommend you try subjecting your own kids to this? As such a strong Bush supporter, you obviously don’t think it’s so bad spending your twenties and thirties in debt…) Kerik’s problem, though, was that he apparently hired a nanny under the table, and now it’s coming back to haunt him. And now Kerik is radioactive—Bush wants nothing to do with him, Giuliani wants nothing to do with him, and Bernie Kerik is descending deeper and deeper into scandal. Besides this nanny issue, he has also been shown to have invested in companies that are directly involved with New York police business, and he’s also been found to have been dealing with the Mafia. What to do? What to do?

It’s hard to say what the Bush administration was thinking. They did, after all, seem to think that Kerik had been fully vetted. Did they think that Kerik’s Hero of September 11™ status would render him impervious to criticism? Did they figure that since there were no known sexual improprieties in his background that no one would give a damn? Or is the White House just plain incompetent? I’d say it’s probably all three, but it’s a sure bet that at least one of those applies.

I don’t know who’s going to get Ridge’s job. (I don’t see the wisdom in having a Homeland Security Secretary in the first place—isn’t that the job of the National Security Advisor?) What I do know is that it’s not going to be Bernie Kerik. If Kerik were smart, he’d have followed Giuliani’s lead and basked in the limelight without going through the messy business that holding public office holds you to. Seriously: Giuliani isn’t going to run for president, though you keep hearing his name tossed around as a likely candidate. Though he’s got the national stature, he’s got scandals of his own in his past. Giuliani’s scandals involve a mistress, though—not the sort of thing that will bring you down when running for Mayor of New York. If you’re running for President of the United States, it matters a little more, but it’s something you can overcome, if you’ve got enough charisma—and if you’re a Democrat. The Republican Party is too concerned with what people do in their bedrooms to allow Mayor Giuliani to even think about the presidency. (And Rudy’s support for gay rights won’t help him much with his party, either.)

Kerik is a victim of the Bush administration believing its own press. It kept telling us that it was beyond reproach because it was in charge of the country during the worst terrorist attack in the country’s history (even worse than Custer’s attack at Wounded Knee.) Kerik clearly didn’t see this coming, and neither did the Bush administration. Could we be returning to what President Harding termed “normalcy”? Are we once again be concerning ourselves with our officials using their offices for selfish purposes, with corruption connected to their offices rather than just with their personal lives? I’m not ready to say that the winds have shifted, but we can hope.

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