Brief Lives September 2006

The Reverend

Rudolph Giuliani learns to speak “evangelese”—and tests the waters for a presidential bid
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Now put Giuliani in an entirely different context. Inside the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, the mood is like a tent revival, with a particular focus on the prosperity gospel. Speakers of greater and lesser fame tell their stories of success and urge the crowd of mid-level managers and salespeople to: Go the extra mile! Have all you want! Double your savings in six months! The speeches run the gamut from the practical (investment advice) to the purely inspirational. They are patriotic and, in a majority of cases, deeply religious. Foreman’s speech crescendos as he recalls the day he found himself in a “deep dark yard,” feeling like he was “about to die,” when a big hand pulled him up. “I became an evangelist for the Lord Jesus Christ,” he says, and the crowd goes wild. Zig Ziglar has been on the circuit for eighteen years and is a marvel to behold, a sweating caged animal of a preacher who takes the crowd back to "Joo-ly the Fourth, 1972, the day I committed my life to Jesus Christ and my entire life changed.” Two decades of American motivational jargon flow through him, from folksy slang to self-help to management-speak to megachurch preaching.

Giuliani can’t do southern preacher. Yet there’s a current of spirituality running through his speech on the subject of 9/11, and how much that day shattered and then changed him. The crowd has waited eight hours to see him, so he is greeted as the star act. When the roaring dies down, he begins by poking fun at his own reputation for being controversial,” telling a joke that features Pope John Paul II as the hero. Then he masters a trick all good politicians pull off: making his own success—and thus himself—seem accessible to anyone in the audience. “Are leaders born or made?” he asks. And of course he concludes they are made—self-made—by anyone with the will.

His speech continues as a list of “leadership principles” the political culture now considers close cousins to a conservative God-fearing temperament. “You’ve got to have a set of convictions,” he says, and praises Ronald Reagan’s belief that the Berlin Wall could not hold. “You have to be an optimist,” he says, and encourages the members of the audience to “follow your hopes and dreams.” You’ve got to have “courage, and be able to deal with fear,” he says. When he gets to principle No. 4—“Be prepared"—he veers into what could almost pass for a religious testimonial. The morning of September 11, 2001, he says, was the “worst experience of my life … You prepare for everything you can think of, but you can’t prepare for this.” He says he stood watching debris fall from the Twin Towers and realized that it was, in fact, people jumping. He was lost, without a plan. Yet somehow he found sources of inspiration and strength. He remembered what he’d always known: the “value of teamwork,” the need to “be there when the going gets tough.” This is when people in the front rows of the audience begin to take out their cell-phone cameras and snap pictures of him. For a few moments the business seminar has taken on shades of something deeper, more meaningful—a great political speech, church, Oprah.

He ends on a note of hope, telling a story about one of the New York City firefighters giving a bear hug to President Bush. Giuliani does not mention God except once, in a joke. But his speech is infused with the kind of uplifting message that, these days, shares boundaries with preaching: “You’ve got to care about people,” he says. “In fact, you have to love them.”

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Hanna Rosin, an Atlantic national correspondent, is the author of the book The End of Men based on her story in the July/August 2010 Atlantic.

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