Experienced litigators, and other close observers of human conduct, know that if a person really wants to say something, he or she will say it. This is the main insight of the film “A Few Good Men.” The Tom Cruise character figures out that the Jack Nicholson character wants to defend the harsh discipline he ordered for two of his troops rather than deny giving the order. When Nicholson says what he’s itching to say, he gives away the case against Cruise’s clients and is placed under arrest.
Rudy Giuliani really wants to say that he cleaned up New York. Here are some, but not all, of the examples from last week’s debate in New Hampshire:
I reduced shootings by 75 percent.
I turned over a city that was the safest city in American, just about.
I lowered the personal income tax 25 percent, and I was collecting 40 percent more in revenues.
I came into office with a fiscal crisis, a crime crisis, a welfare crisis. I turned all those things around.
I removed 640,000 people from the welfare rolls.
They thought is was impossible to reduce crime; I did [it].
Giuliani, of course, has a right to be proud of his record as mayor of New York. And it makes sense that this record would be the centerpiece of his campaign for president. But there are several problems with constantly bragging in the first person about his tenure as mayor.
First, when a candidate keeps hitting the same note over and over, people quicky tire of hearing it. Moreover, it makes the candidate an easy target for ridicule.
Second, by talking so much about New York, Rudy is playing into the stereotype of New Yorkers as people who think that the rest of the country is basically a suburb of that city. That’s not a stereotype that’s likely to enhance Giuliani’s popularity in places like New Hampshire, where voters like to hear about themselves and their state. Nor is it likely to play well generally. Giuliani needs to talk more about his solutions for national problems and less about past successes dealing with New York’s.
Third, voters don’t like non-stop bragging. And Giuliani’s constant use of the first person singular is not only grating, it overstates his case. The crime reduction in New York city wasn’t all down to Rudy. The city was the beneficiary of positive demographic and other trends and, in any event, surely its citizens deserve some of the credit. It would be better if Rudy would say, for example, that under his leadership “we reduced shootings by 75 percent.
But perhaps Giuliani wants to say “I.”
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