When I visit New York I always sip my morning coffee before a window giving onto a view of the skyline that once included the Twin Towers. The ghostly presence of those two buildings no longer there continues to haunt the city. Everyone here knows someone who was touched by 9/11. No matter the politics, one public name still calls up the city's pride. Rudy Giuliani stood tall on that terrible day and the days that followed, and remains the commanding presence. It's the commanding presence that gives him his shot at the White House.
He's a big man with flaws, the old-fashioned pol who earned his bones the way cops and firemen do, men who do their best when it's tough to be the best, who do right when heroic duty calls. Sometimes they flunk the smaller tests of domesticity. John McCain returned from six years of hell in Vietnam with that kind of stature, a hero who spurned a chance to leave because he wouldn't abandon his fellow prisoners. He seemed to have gone a little stale for a while, but he's now regaining stature with forceful argument in support of the aims of an unpopular but necessary war -- supporting aims, not necessarily means.
Both Rudy Giuliani and John McCain are men who respond from the gut with an authenticity in their voices that makes them sound bigger than their vulnerabilities. Both have behaved with less than sterling consistency in their private lives, but, sadly, we've been inured to the slovenly private lives of public men, and maybe these times require attention to survival at the expense of dignity and decorum. The crucial test for a president is the test of whether the nation's interests can be preserved and protected.
Authenticity of voice was once prized above all in presidential politics. But that was before either of the Bushes, and either of the Clintons, took center stage. We've had to trust the Bushes, No. 41 and No. 43, in spite of their voices. It's always been more important to watch their actions than to hear them explain why they did what they did -- a lack of "the vision thing," as No. 41 famously put it. The Clintons present a different kind of problem. He's glib and she's canned, and neither has had to deal with anything really, really big.