Lonesome Rudy

Photo: Arry Busacca/Getty Images for Time Warner

Heralded by a shower of confetti, Rudy Giuliani bounded onstage at the Austin Convention Center to the strains of “Give My Regards to Broadway.” He wore a dark suit and a blue tie, with his remaining hair slick against the back of his skull. At least half a dozen truck-size screens projected his image around the cavernous hall. Acknowledging a round of applause, he opened with an anecdote about his first successful mayoral campaign, in 1993. By his account, one man had told him, “I wouldn’t vote for a Republican if hell were freezing over.” Later, he said, he learned that his first January in office had produced record snowfall (data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration throw some doubt on his claims). “I started to feel responsible for the snow,” Giuliani said. “Then I started to think about the man. Hell freezing over. A Republican mayor.” He ended this anecdote abruptly, but not before asserting that Republican policies can diminish snowfall, “and my theory is as scientifically valid as Al Gore’s.”

Officially, politics was not the order of the day. Giuliani was in town as headliner for the itinerant “Get Motivated!” business seminar, which promises to “ignite your motivation, accelerate your effectiveness and increase your income!” For months, his toothy grin had loomed from Austin billboards, while radio spots advertised his place in a daylong cast of “megawatt superstars,” including Colin Powell and Bill Cosby. Advance tickets cost $1.95. Giuliani, in recorded form, had placed telephone calls reminding buyers to attend.

“As mayor of New York City, I had to wake up every single day motivated and ready to meet challenges and overcome obstacles,” the message said, in a familiarly sharp and breathless tone.

“You,” it concluded, “don’t want to miss this life-changing event.”

At the convention center, after wrapping up his meteorological observations, Giuliani got down to business. “You all should have computers, and you should learn how to use your computers,” he said, beginning a theme he would press at length. Computers, he said, provide access to a wealth of information. He himself, he said, had used them to good effect against the crime rate in New York City. These days, he said, they come in surprisingly small sizes, including some that even fit inside your hand or pocketbook. In the future, he said, people will use them to run businesses and take college courses. “If you learn how to use a computer,” he said, “you then fit it into your life to figure out how you can be more effective.”

But, Giuliani cautioned, with all this information comes perils. “In my town, in New York, we have two daily newspapers, the Daily News and the New York Post, and they compete with each other,” he said. He described how that works: “When you come off the subway, you’re going to buy the newspaper with the most dramatic headline, so they exaggerate everything.” To counter this information overload, Giuliani suggested reading books, listening to others speak, writing, and thinking quietly by oneself.

“Thank you, Mr. Giuliani,” the emcee proclaimed as the mayor made his exit. “You are incredible.” Outside the hall, shuttle buses ferried away newly motivated Texans, clutching workbooks and star-spangled beach balls.

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Lonesome Rudy