Thursday, October 11, 2007
CNN offers this gentle report on Rudy Giuliani's visit to Philly:
It's almost a necessity for any presidential candidate who swings through Philadelphia — making a stop at one of the city's famous cheesesteak shops.
But the landmark Philly restaurant former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani plans to stop at later Monday is also famous for another reason: its controversial 'Please speak English' sign.
Joe Vento, the owner of Geno's Steaks, sparked controversy last year when he put up a sign at his store proclaiming, "This is America. When Ordering Please Speak English."
That's a pretty sanitized version of the Vento controversy (though not as santized as the Washington Post's polite headline that "Giuliani visits cheesesteak stand". Some more background on Vento:
He told a reporter that Mexicans carry disease into the U.S. because they "play and drink out of the same water." He defended himself against critics with a quick recourse to that last refuge of the demagogue: "I say what everybody's thinking but is afraid to say." When the cameras finally left his restaurant, he took his show on the road, traveling to a rally in the northeast Pennsylvania town of Hazleton, where GOP mayor Lou Barletta championed anti-immigrant ordinances that have since been struck down in federal court.
...A little staff work, though, ought to have demonstrated that Vento was more than just another simple restaurateur with his mind helpfully focused on integrating non-English speaking immigrants into the modern U.S. economy. They might, for instance, have simply checked out his arm, which has a tattoo of the confederate flag. Vento says it's an homage to the old cartoon character Johnny Yuma, the rebel. He must have liked that show a lot, because he also had the flag on several of the Harley-Davidsons he keeps across the street from his restaurant.
To me, this is part of a bigger narrative. I know Rudy is pesonally pro-choice and that's a big liability for him; but I still think he's winning at the game of not-so-stealth pandering to the worst aspects of the GOP base. The point he seems to understand is that it's always better to pander than not. On the one hand, look at the contortions erstwhile conservative saviour Fred Thompson had to go through after declining to endorse the federal ban on gay marriage outright. On the other hand, the candidates benefit from the fact that the mainstream press is really loathe to point out just how noxious GOP base politics is. Conseqently, candidates have to be really direct in their appeals to bigottry (i.e have some kind of real "macaca moment") to cause a stir. Their task is to bash Mexicans, Muslems and gays, but not so brashly that the mainstream press (as opposed to the occasional liberal magazine) will actually report on it. This isn't particularly hard, but Giuliani really seems willing to go the extra mile. He panders right up to the limit. If the polls are to be believed, the GOP faithful appreciate his efforts.