The EFM Feature

The doors in the back opened, and several people in dark business suits emerged through the door. There’s something kind of off-putting about these people that always surround candidates. They’re always young, attractive, and smug, like the people at the popular lunch table in high school. And there’s always one guy whose only job in life is to point at his watch at the right time to indicate it’s time to go. The candidate always makes a joke that he has to obey “the boss” and feigns reluctance as he practically sprints out of the room. Suddenly, Rudy emerged from the huddle and all eighty people in the room stood to their feet in applause. To my absolute delight, he came straight toward me.
Okay, so he was really just walking to the podium, but I was beside the podium. As is the custom, he greeted whoever is standing near the microphone with a handshake. He had no idea who I was, but I had a good seat and he greeted me as the applause gradually subsided. I couldn’t believe what was happening, that America’s Mayor had just strolled in the room and shaken my hand. I guess this is the kind of thing that happens in Columbia, South Carolina pretty frequently because people seemed nonplussed. I’d brought my camera, but was too close to take a photo without the shot being up his nostrils.
I couldn’t breathe and definitely couldn’t eat. All eyes were on the stage, and I didn’t want people’s photos to be of Rudy Giuliani speaking while a woman beside him chews on a chicken breast. The one bite I did take didn’t go down easily. As I struggled to swallow it, potential headlines filled my head: “Giuliani Saves Choking Republican: Popularity Soars.” He’d go on Oprah to give Heimlich tips and would explain in People magazine that he did “what any red blooded American would do: rise to the occasion.” Of course, this surfeit of good will would usher him easily into the White House, and I’d be a footnote in the encyclopedia. “Nancy French: obscure writer who choked on a chicken breast during a Rudy Giuliani speech in South Carolina, propelling him to front runner status and then to win the Presidency. Sometimes used as a verb (see “swiftboated”) to mean, “undercut by perceived heroicism.” As in, ‘John McCain was Nancied once again, when footage of Rudy’s heroic act was put on YouTube three days before the election.’” I drank my tea instead.
His speech was filled was fantastic, commonsense approaches to our nation’s problems. He mentioned Iraq, immigration, education, welfare reform, and taxes, before winding down. He was interrupted several times by applause, and received a healthy amount of “amens” from the room. “I’d love to allow you to ask any questions you may have,” he said. “You can ask about Iran… the fence…Or anything else you might want to know about.” The room was very quiet, and no one moved. “And, feel free to ask about my positions on social issues, since everyone else seems to be telling you what my positions are.”
Everyone laughed at that, and hands shot up across the room. First question was about immigration, second about dependence on foreign oil, third about education. I hoped against hope that someone would ask about abortion. I’d read in newspapers that people in South Carolina hadn’t brought up those social issues, causing reporters to speculate that perhaps they weren’t as important as people seem to think.
To be honest, however, I could easily see people refusing to bring up such issues to “America’s Mayor.” There’s no doubt that he was respected by everyone in the room, and to bring up such a controversial subject seemed a tad, well, impolite. Finally, one lady at a table near the front raised her hand. Meekly, she asked, “Would you consider yourself a pro-choice or pro-life candidate?” she asked. All the oxygen from the small room disappeared.
“Well, I’m against abortion,” he said. “I would advise anyone against getting an abortion. But I don’t want women who have abortions to be thrown into jail.”
Not a clap, not an amen, not a sound. A few people nodded across the room, as if to say, “Thanks for answering,” but I didn’t get the feel that it was in agreement. Perhaps to fill the silence, or maybe because he genuinely wanted to explain, Rudy began to speak. However, for just a few milliseconds, instead of words coming out, he stuttered.
It was a little like what a Saturday Night Live writer might jot down in a moment of surrender to cliché. People in real life don’t normally stutter, especially a seasoned leader like Rudy who faced down terrorists and bombs with fierce determination and resolve–surely he wasn’t intimidated by a bunch of South Carolina conservatives. The table in the corner, however, erupted into giggles and it spread briefly throughout the audience. A lady sitting on the podium to my left shushed the corner table who’d started it all, and Rudy had already called on another lady who had a question.
“Along those same lines,” she asked, “What kind of judges would you appoint?”
He went on to say that he’d appoint judges like the ones President Bush had appointed. Alito, Roberts.
“Mainly because they were colleagues of mine. I’d appoint strict constructionists,” he said, “But I wouldn’t apply an abortion litmus test to an appointee.”
The audience only asked a couple more question before the guy in the back pointed to his watch, and within seconds, he was gone. Afterwards, Katon Dawson, the chairman of the South Carolina GOP came in to speak. I couldn’t help but notice that he received more applause and cheers than Rudy did.
What an honor to have been able to hear him speak before I delivered the “keynote address.” Although for the rest of my life, I will forever refer to Rudy as “my opening act.”


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