New York Postcolumn
Many things made you a formidable mayor. They include the accomplishment known the country over--the 60 percent crime drop that turned a city in seemingly irreversible decline into something closer to an urban playground than Beirut. Far less well-known--almost forgotten even here in New York--is that you governed New York City by knowing New York City better than anyone else in New York City. It wasn't just the tireless energy you displayed, being present at seemingly every single fire, crime scene and trouble spot no matter the hour or day. Your command of detail was astonishing... Every January, your State of the City Address run 60 to 90 minutes, and you spoke walking freely around the room with a lavalier microphone--not reading a text, but giving a talk. With all the numbers and supporting data in the right place, all unimpeachably correct. Clearly, you developed this capacity for inhaling knowledge and retaining it from your years as a courtroom lawyer. The State of the City performances were a stunt, in a way--but a stunt that enhanced the general sense that nobody could hold a candle to you when it came to the details of governance. You combined two essential qualities of executive leadership. ... And I haven't even yet mentioned your magnificent leadership on and after 9/11, which also combined both the visionary and the practical in a truly stirring way.
The vision seems to be there. But not the competence. As a presidential candidate, you seem to be winging it these days--giving off-the-cuff, ill-considered answers to delicate questions. If you keep winging it this way, you're going to fly off a cliff. For example, the answer to your pro-choice difficulty with social conservatives on the matter of abortion isn't to blather about how much you "hate it" and then ruminate on whether the government should be responsible for helping pay for one. That's what you did last week, and you must never, ever do anything like it again--if, that is, you actually want to become president.
SMITHERS: Permission to speak frankly, sir?--Jonathan Chait
BURNS: Permission granted.
SMITHERS: Well, you are quite wealthy ...
BURNS: Thank you, Smithers. Your candor is most refreshing.