Newsweek's Fineman Wastes Space Puffing Rudy Giuliani's Religious "Energy"

March 7th, 2006 4:33 PM

This week's hands-down winner in the Worthless Piece of Air category is Howard Fineman's page in Newsweek puffing up the presidential prospects of Rudy Giuliani. Any political reporter worth his salt knows that pro-gay, pro-abortion Rudy is this cycle's Republican Don Quixote. (Fineman, do you forget Arlen Specter for President? Or Pete Wilson for President? Aren't experienced political reporters supposed to reflect their experience?)

Fineman knows the score: "There are those who think the presence of a pro-choice, pro-gay rights New Yorker would help McCain by making him seem to be a comparative godsend to evangelicals." But then it's more ridiculous (not to mention more than a month old) to hype his January appearance before evangelical pastors in Florida:

A few weeks ago in Florida, he did the drop-by of all drop-bys as the "surprise guest" at the annual convention of the Global Pastors Network. He wowed them with his energy and his revival-style witness to his faith in Jesus. Ralph Reed, a godfather of religious conservatives, thinks Giuliani's charisma may help him overcome his social-issues liberalism in the Bible belt. "He can take control of a room better than any politician I've seen," said Reed. The key moment with the pastors was in the private holding room, where he spent quality time among their leaders.

It's like Fineman is cutting and pasting from a Time article from January by Hillary Hylton:

The Catholic mayor is also busy burnishing his ties to Christian conservatives. Pat Robertson has said Rudy would make "a good president" and the mayor was a headliner for a fundraising committee supporting former Christian Coalition executive Ralph Reed in his bid to be Georgia's lieutenant governor. Last week, Giuliani dropped by an Orlando meeting of the Global Pastors Network and told the Evangelical leaders that "only God knows" if he will run for president. The group offered their prayers for him and he responded in kind, showing an openly devout side not many people had seen before: "I can't tell you from my heart how much I appreciate what you are doing—saving people, telling them about Jesus Christ and bringing them to God."

At least Hylton quotes an expert making the obvious point that "He has too much baggage to get through the southern primaries." Perhaps the main effect of these how-about-Rudy valentines is to telegraph to social conservatives that Pat Robertson and Ralph Reed care more about "a seat at the table" than in insisting that candidates commit to a conservative position on anything.

Secular reporters look silly when they call someone "openly devout" for mouthing some religious words and taking the same old socially liberal stands. This rehash of Giuliani's address makes it sound like Giuliani tweaked his boilerplate "leadership" speech with a few love-you-preachers lines. If Rudy really wanted to be president, he wouldn't do a little lip service to help Ralph Reed or help a few preachers have a very high-profile (and apparently free) speaker for their leadership conference. He would tell conservative evangelicals and Catholics that he was wrong on abortion and wrong on homosexuality, and that now was the time to convert to a more orthodox religious position. (Fineman also avoids that conservatives aren't wild about the adultery-and-bitter-divorce storyline he had as Mayor. That's some credential against Hillary.) He's not even making phony rhetorical moves to the "center" on abortion like Hillary. 

Why would Fineman assume that the Republican Party today would be more fluid and flexible than the Democrats, who've made every Democratic presidential pretender from Gephardt to Jackson to Kucinich renounce his pro-life stand to be considered half-serious?