Brief Lives September 2006

The Reverend

Rudolph Giuliani learns to speak “evangelese”—and tests the waters for a presidential bid

Peter Lowe started the “Get Motivated” seminars twenty-five years ago, and he prides himself on his talent scouting. He’s featured plenty of famous people—Mikhail Gorbachev, Colin Powell, Norman Schwarzkopf, Bill Clinton—but he says Giuliani is one of the best. “You can see from the audience how he connects,” says Lowe. “He has a special gift.” Lowe has never polled his audience members on their politics, but he guesses that most are Republicans; about 80 percent are businesspeople, he says, and a third are in sales. (In Des Moines one of the loudest applause lines was for Steve Forbes, when he called the tax code an “abomination and a beast.”) The seminars almost always sell out enormous stadiums; in Des Moines, that means about a tenth of the city’s voting population attended.

Giuliani’s advisers say these motivational seminars are not part of his campaign strategy. Yet if he does run, Giuliani should thank Lowe for helping him find his voice. Jeff Shesol, a former speechwriter for Bill Clinton who continues to write for other prominent Democrats, told me that George W. Bush’s campaigns

have alerted us all to the coded speech where lots of winking goes on to evangelicals, lots of loaded words that resonate with millions of people that the rest of us may not even notice. Some of our folks think they can quote some scripture they found on the Internet and reach these people. But there are some really seasoned professionals out there. Giuliani wants to be one of them.

And thanks to Lowe, he’s well on his way.

Forget about abortion and gay rights for a moment. In the “Get Motivated” world, it doesn’t matter what you’re selling; it matters who you are, and how you sell. It matters that people believe you, trust in you. Giuliani “is like Reagan, only more results- oriented,” says the Republican pollster Frank Luntz. “And people are willing to vote for people they don’t agree with if they see character. They are so desperate for someone to lift their spirits.”

In Iowa, Giuliani was up to principle No. 2 (“Follow your hopes and dreams”) when he was interrupted. From down in the audience, just beyond the stage, he heard a cell phone ring. He stopped in the middle of telling a story. “It’s okay, you can answer your cell phone,” he said. “You won’t interrupt me.” The woman whose phone had rung was mortified; he had just embarrassed her in front of 18,000 people. In the “town hall” meetings he used to conduct as mayor of New York, through a radio show, Giuliani was not known for his good-natured populism. He was known for making fun of constituents who called him with what he thought were petty problems. This is the dark Giuliani, and here he was, making an unwelcome appearance. He shifted to a long digression about the scene in Dr. Strangelove where General Buck Turgidson answers a call in the middle of a crisis and whispers sweet nothings to his girl on the phone, as the nation’s political and military leadership looks on impatiently. “Just tell him you love him so I can go on with my speech,” Giuliani said. No one was laughing. Giuliani actually waited for the woman to hang up. Then, after a painful minute or so, he was back in candidate mode, talking about Vince Lombardi and the mind of a champion.

Presented by

Hanna Rosin, an Atlantic contributing editor, is working on a book about young evangelicals.

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