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American Idol

From lame-duck mayor to GOP superstar, Rudy Giuliani has in the past year become "the hottest political property" in the country. The question is not whether he will run again -- but how far he can go.

By CHRIS SMITH
In silent prayer: Giuliani has attended hundreds of funerals. He isn't a grand orator, but his presence and humble phrases bring genuine comfort to the families.

The spotlight can't keep up with him. Rudy Giuliani, to a standing ovation, has just taken the stage in a Montreal concert hall, and as he begins a lecture titled "Leadership in Difficult Times," he seems determined to take the entire stage. Giuliani paces rapidly from extreme left wing to right and back again, audible through a wireless microphone clipped to one lapel of his natty gray suit. For several long minutes, though, he is invisible. Except for the few seconds when he strides through the glowing circle of white light at center stage, Giuliani is a voice from the darkness. Either no one warned the spotlight operator about Giuliani's mobility, or the poor guy has been fooled by the former mayor's three introducers: They gushed about the evening's star guest in both French and English while standing stock-still behind a wood-paneled lectern.

Rudy is on the move. Rudy is vital. Finally, the follow-spot operator gets with the symbolism, and Rudy is illuminated. For the next hour, he strides nonstop from side to side. Two huge TV screens behind Giuliani magnify his face for the cheap seats -- well, the distant seats, since prices start at $100. For an extra $750, you got appetizers and a pre-speech snapshot with America's Mayor. The 2,700-seat Place des Arts is sold out.

Giuliani opens with wit -- a self-deprecating anecdote about his boyhood failure to make the church choir: "The nun told me I had a particular kind of voice . . . a monotone voice" -- but quickly moves on to wisdom. His "six principles for getting through a crisis" are a Cliffs Notes version of his forthcoming book, Leadership. Sun Tzu, Anthony Robbins, and the author of Who Moved My Cheese? have nothing to fear from Giuliani's management insights. "The first lesson," he says, "is that you have to have a set of beliefs." Next come "have courage," "stand up to bullies," "relentless preparation," "teamwork," and "communication." Not surprisingly, Giuliani is in favor of all of them.

Yet as the crowd files out, into a subterranean marble-floored lobby that leads to a shopping mall, the electricity is overflowing. "That was soooo inspirational!" swoons a woman in a black velvet evening gown.

"Fantastic!" shouts a man in a business suit, high-fiving a friend emerging from the opposite gate. "He was totally down-to-earth! Rudy was soooo much better than Bill Clinton!"

Rudy Giuliani is the official road company of 9/11. Since departing City Hall on December 31, he has traveled from Baden-Baden to Vancouver, from Salt Lake City to Charlotte to Shanksville, charging $100,000 for some speeches. In some places, he plugs his book and his beliefs, and adds to the $185 million he's raised for the Twin Towers Fund. In others, he promotes the Republican candidate for whom he is the fund-raising attraction. But what he actually says matters -- as Giuliani would put it -- very, very little.

People yearn to experience his presence. And it goes far deeper than celebrity. Giuliani is an authentic American hero, a man whose days of sadness and glory were felt in real time by tens of millions in a shared cultural moment of overwhelming emotional power. On September 11 and in the awful days that followed, Giuliani acted as we all want to believe we would in the face of danger -- and as we all fear we wouldn't. One year later, people flock to give thanks to Giuliani for his strength and moral clarity. But he has also become an icon in which people invest their civic spirit.

This has made him an unprecedented character in American politics -- someone whose appeal is extrapolitical. "People call him a mythical figure? He's a magical figure," says GOP pollster Frank Luntz. "He transcends politics, he transcends ideology, he transcends all the traditional barriers that cause people to be disliked."

So extreme right-wingers who previously castigated Giuliani for his abortion liberalism, like New Hampshire Republican senator Bob Smith, now plead with the former mayor to cut a campaign commercial. Democrats are reduced to praising Giuliani while demurring, very mildly, about his voting-booth coattails.

"He is the hottest political property in America today," says Virginia congressman Tom Davis. As head of the Republican House Campaign Committee, Davis has dispatched Giuliani to dozens of districts to help GOP candidates. "He comes into a district and you get instant media coverage, earned media, for our candidates. You can send him to the Bible Belt, you can send him to the Southwest, and people will drive 100 miles to see him," Davis says. "Among Republicans, even though on a lot of the cultural-cutting-edge issues -- guns, abortion -- he's on the wrong side, he still basically shares values in terms of trying to instill self-esteem in people, like taking welfare away."

 

         
   
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