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by Michael Winship

Rudy, We Hardly Knew Ye

And so, as the sun slowly sets on Florida and its GOP primary, we bid adieu to Rudy Giuliani and sardonically begin the betting pool on when third wife Judith Nathan bids adieu to Rudy. Or vice versa.

Nothing so much distinguished Giuliani's presidential race as his leaving it. His concession speech Tuesday night was perhaps the most graceful of his campaign, his decision to endorse McCain best for all concerned. Both McCain and runner-up Mitt Romney trounced Rudy in the Sunshine State by more than two to one.

His failure once again affirms the presidential curse of City Hall -- no New York City mayor has ever made it to the Oval Office. In fact, John Lindsay, the last one to try, also was brought low by Florida, finishing fifth in its 1972 Democratic primary.

Last Saturday, in advance of the primary results, New York Times columnist Gail Collins recalled the early days of the Giuliani bid. "Those of us who live in New York found it rather peculiar that Giuliani was a front-runner at all, given his deeply mixed record running the city," she wrote. "Now, the idea that Florida might take him out of the race is somewhat disappointing. There's still so much about him we haven't yet had a chance to share with the national electorate." God knows, we tried. So many calumnies, so little time.

I was in Washington on Monday and the city was filled with big political news. Not only was it the final hours of Florida campaigning, there was Ted Kennedy's dramatic endorsement of Barack Obama, just a day after Caroline Kennedy's New York Times op ed said Obama had the potential to be "A President Like My Father," and two days after Obama's thumping win in the South Carolina primary.

And, oh yes, there was the State of the Union Address.

"This is not a talk to the nation," the Brooking Institution's Thomas Mann told USA Today, "because the nation's not going to be listening."

Not that there wasn't a lot to talk about. As the Washington Post's Dan Froomkin pointed out, the president needed to "lay out a plausible agenda for his final year in office, justify a war that the American people overwhelmingly oppose, stave off a recession and persuade the nation and the world that he's not been a colossal failure."

What we got was worn out, familiar rhetoric and a list of modest proposals -- trade deals with Colombia and Panama, scholarships for inner city kids to private schools, a meeting with the other North American leaders in New Orleans -- the kind of "small ball" President Bush used to scorn when Bill Clinton was in charge.

His promise to cut earmarks by half -- those pet pork projects so beloved by congressional incumbents -- was good, but of course he made it after the Republicans lost the majority -- and after approving spending bills with 55,000 earmarks worth $100 billion when his party ruled Capitol Hill. Not only that, his proposed cuts wouldn't go into effect until right before he leaves office.

You get the feeling that, along with a reported, whopping 80 percent of the American public, the GOP candidates would just like the president to slip gently into that long good night of multimillion dollar lecture tours, book deals and presidential library-building. Dubya's not an asset to the abbey.

But despite there being less than 51 weeks to go, it would be dangerous to forget that boy and write him off as the hapless lame duck he might appear. A president can do a lot of damage in his last year. Especially this one.

Take, for example, Bush's plans for Iraq. Watch out for that phrase in the State of the Union: "protective overwatch mission." You may be hearing it a lot in the months and years to come. It's code for, "We are never going to leave Iraq. Gotcha!"

The Boston Globe's Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Charlie Savage reported Friday, "President Bush's plan to forge a long-term agreement with the Iraqi government that could commit the U.S. military to defending Iraq's security would be the first time such a sweeping mutual defense compact has been enacted without congressional approval, according to legal specialists...

"There is... growing alarm about the constitutional issues raised by Bush's plan. Legal specialists and lawmakers of both parties are raising questions about whether it would be unconstitutional for Bush to complete such a sweeping deal on behalf of the United States without the consent of the legislative branch."

Then there's the continuing, massive investigation into the firing of nine United States attorneys -- remember that? Witness tampering, obstruction of justice, violations of the Hatch Act -- just the kind of revelations that might make life worth living if released during the heat of a presidential election.

And let's not forget the ongoing saga of the missing White House e-mails. In violation of court orders and statutes, millions of Bush Administration electronic messages have vanished, including documentation of the events that led to the Iraq war and the investigation into the leak of former CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity.

"So where are they?" presidential spokesman Tony Fratto was asked on January 17. He replied, "Where are what?"

Through January 20, 2009, and beyond, the Bush White House promises to be the gift that keeps on giving.

© 2008 Messenger Post Newspapers

Michael Winship, Writers Guild of America Award winner and former writer with Bill Moyers, writes for the Messenger Post Newspapers in upstate New York

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Albion Monitor   January 30, 2008   (

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