There is something untrustworthy about a man who can’t conduct a decent affair. Rudy Giuliani never could. He flaunted his girlfriend Judi Nathan (now a proper lady with a proper lady’s name, Mrs. Judith Giuliani) at public events while he was mayor and married to Donna Hanover, with whom he had no understanding about elective affinities. He used his son Andrew as his beard, claiming he was teaching the boy golf those many weekends when he was cavorting with Judi in Southampton. He announced his new love, and concomitant dumping of the old, at a 2001 press conference, thus informing Donna their marriage was over at the precise moment that any New Yorker listening to 1010 WINS learned of it. Then he tried to push her and the children out of Gracie Mansion so he could get on with his life.
In the return whiff of scandal around Rudy and Judi the hoary details of their crass courtship are said to be of no consequence. Let’s not get into his private life, commentators quickly warned, eager to steer political discussion clear of anything that might actually rub up against realities of life experienced by the common horde. Let’s talk about the issues, the “new” ones here being hardly newer than what any New Yorker had long known: that the NYPD accompanied the pair on their trysts; that, hark!, these police escorts were paid for from the public purse and involved some finagled accounting. The parched details and dollar amounts in the latest revelations are nowhere nearly as telling as the rough picture of things sketched in Newsday by Jimmy Breslin back in 2000, when he wrote about a cop nicknamed Wrong Way because once while pulling into Gracie Mansion with Judi in the backseat he almost collided with the cop pulling out of the mansion with Donna.
Wrong Way was later part of a five-car police detail assembled simply to get the king and his court to the ballgame: one car for Rudy, one for Judi, one for Andrew, one for Donna and one for the Other Girl he’s said to have kept on the side, the two girlfriends given separate corporate seats at Yankee Stadium. The only evocative tidbits among the latest are news that someone from the NYPD walked Judi’s dog and accompanied her on a shopping trip when she selected her sapphire and diamond engagement ring–in Atlanta, while business in post-9/11 New York bordered on the berserk insisting that Love NY meant Shop NY. At least the cops didn’t torture or kill the dog, a practice that in an earlier life was part of young Judi’s job. That would have twinned Giuliani’s personal and political deficits, probably irreparably.
In the main, the huff and puff over “taxpayer expense” is not likely to blow down much to obstruct Rudy Giuliani’s presidential campaign. Once we collectively concede that some maximum leader requires maximum protection, and so too his loved ones–either for the sake of his happiness or as a hedge against ransom threats–then there’s really not much difference between the wife, the kids, the dog, the girlfriend. The reporters at Politico didn’t sift through those FOIA documents out of a passion for fiscal probity. Sex is the story that sells here, so why not talk about sex?
Granted it was more fun–the last time adultery and presidential ambitions coincided so publicly–to imagine Governor Clinton bound to a bedstead with silken ties, maddened by the big-haired blonde with her animal prints and scented light bulbs, a woman who claimed he was never so happy as when he could bury his face in her muff, than it is to contemplate Mayor Giuliani panting over his soon-to-be-new-missus, the “princess,” according to Vanity Fair, who’s always longed to be “a queen.” To toss around the subject of adultery and politics now is to raise that specter of Saturday Night Bill, and of the other big-haired girl, the frisky Monica, with her kneepads and cigar tricks and oral-anal games in the Oval Office. And no one much wants to do that: not partisans of Hillary Clinton; not her opponents, who may have to support her come November or ask for the Clintons’ support; not conservatives, who may find themselves having to back their own philanderer down the road.
Already, this is a repression election. Rumors are afloat that Rudy needs a short leash, his eyes wandering toward a former rhythmic twirler with eclectic tastes, a fan of The Lonely Crowd, The Indispensable Chomsky and Leadership, by Rudolph Giuliani. Democratic bloggers bleat pathetically, “At least he [Bill] stayed married.” Although Hillary’s great asset, she sometimes wears it like a cross. Rudy is said to be similarly chafing now that Judith is his wedded wife. Christians take heart in Mike Huckabee and, maybe, the knowledge that if Giuliani does turn out to be the chosen one, his sins won’t matter anyway. David got away with Bathsheba, after all, and with dispatching her husband, Uriah the Hittite, to the enemy’s spears. The rest of us can take heart that at least Rudy doesn’t hold the power of life and death over anyone. Bill executed a man as the Gennifer Flowers story swirled in 1992. He bombed Iraq as the Senate considered removing him from office over Monica Lewinsky. Nothing beats death for distraction.
The trouble, in fact, is in treating sex as a distraction. Usually it isn’t. Usually it’s just life, like the mortgage and the bad school and the checkbook that’s balanced or not, the dinner that’s sublime or not. Adultery may thrillingly divert from one reality, but in the form practiced by Bill and Rudy and millions of others it tends to create its own parallel universe, with its own set of mores and unwritten rules. Rudy broke them all. One doesn’t bring the paramour to the marriage bed (unless it’s a threesome), or involve the children, or deliberately humiliate the spouse. Bohemians, hippies, gay people, adventurers in polyamory have all experimented with different levels of truth-telling, and have all decided, at one time or another, when a lie or reticence is the kindest act of all. But they’ve also understood, at some deep level, why the English called adultery a “criminal conversation”: the criminal part could be jettisoned, as it was by English law in the nineteenth century, but the conversation, measured physically, emotionally, intellectually, could not.
Only a madman or a monk would count it a moral failure to converse with more than one person for a lifetime, yet most Americans call adultery just that, even when they’re involved in it. And most married people probably are involved in it, or have been. Poll numbers are as schizoid as the culture, with overwhelming majorities telling surveyors they “know someone” who’s not monogamous while only a minority own up to it. A politics that’s similarly evasive–that counts as irrelevant the ways in which people arrange their lives, their joys, needs and sorrows; that cares nothing for how and why they converse–is no politics at all. It doesn’t matter that Rudy had sex with Judi or anyone else, or that he had that police escort, frankly. What matters is that Rudy was a prick. Rudy made it cruel.
JoANN WYPIJEWSKI writes for CounterPunch, Mother Jones, Harpers and the Nation where this article first appeared. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org