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Gotham's Megalomaniacs

What business do Giuliani and Bloomberg have running for president?

Congratulations to New York City Mayor Michael Boomberg! This week, by changing his party affiliation from Republican to Independent and touching off a storm of speculation about his possible plans to mount a third-party bid for president, the diminutive multibillionaire entrepreneur turned self-financed pol officially knocked off Rudy Giuliani as the reigning king of New York provincialist chutzpah.

It has been bad enough lo these many months watching Rudy strut around arguing that he is qualified to run the greatest nation on the planet by simple dint of the fact that he was mayor when New York suffered its most horrifying catastrophe of modern times. We get it: He lived through September 11. He rallied the troops and denounced the bad guys and generally supplied a strong, strident Daddy figure at a time when the Big Apple was scared and bleeding. Of course, there are those who've suggested that Rudy showed a shocking lack of foresight by headquartering the city's emergency response center in the one landmark already known to be a terrorist target. Or that he could have been more on the ball about preparing the city's emergency responders to handle catastrophes by seeing to it that, say, their communications equipment was up to snuff. But why split hairs?

Also in the interest of fairness, I suppose we could go back and parse Rudy's entire record to determine if, on the whole, his pugilistic, divisive, f-you approach to leadership was worth whatever concrete gains he made in cleaning up the city. But, let's face it. He's not running on his overall record. (And who can blame him: Pro gun control? Pro illegal immigrant? Pro choice? Pro gay rights? That kind of platform is more likely to get him stoned by the base than nominated.) He's running as the tough-guy candidate, the man who, when anyone dares question his bomb-'em-all foreign policy impulses, begins quivering with self-righteous outrage and demands a retraction based on the fact that, on September 11, He Was There!

In fact, Rudy's fundamental New Yorkness seems to be his answer to pretty much everything. When asked at a recent candidate debate about the economic challenges facing the nation, he responded with some glib remark about how if he could tame New York's budget troubles, he could handle Washington. Get it, everybody? "If I can make it there! I'll make it anywhere!" As for getting Democrats to back him in the generals, despite his increasingly creepy authoritarian tendencies and antagonistic personality: No problem, he did it in oh-so-blue New York! (Forget that, as New Yorkers so often remind us, they tend to like their pols edgier and more belligerent than the rest of the country.) What about getting Republicans to back him despite his heresy on such issues as abortion and gun control? No problem. As America's Mayor, he's proved himself so tough on terror that they'll overlook his other flaws!

But he hasn't really proved himself, has he? I mean, not to be a nooge about it, but September 11 was a long time ago, and, other than give high-priced speeches and nearly get us saddled with Bernard Kerick as Homeland Security adviser, what has Rudy really done for the war on terrorism lately? Hell, as we learned this week, the one chance he really had to contribute was by serving on the Iraq Study Group, and he quit after a couple of months because the meetings were interfering with his speaking gigs. Hmmmm. Try to contribute to national security or rake in millions yapping about what a tough guy he is? Clearly, option B was more in Hizzoner's wheelhouse.

No matter what Rudy tells himself every morning as he scrapes the shaving cream off his face with a rusty meat cleaver, testosterone does not equal experience. And while it may have been acceptable for Americans to elect a clueless, swaggering Texas governor with zero foreign policy credentials back in the silly season of 2000, electing a clueless, swaggering New York mayor with zero foreign policy credentials today would be criminally insane.

Then again, it wouldn't be any more insane than electing a non-swaggering, megarich New York mayor with zero foreign policy credentials whose rich friends have somehow convinced him that his bland, middle-of-the-roadness and utter lack of political distinction qualify him to be leader of the free world. Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against Michael Bloomberg. During his first mayoral race, I watched him do a little retail campaigning and found him to be an affable, unobjectionable fellow--despite his own creepy, Big Brotherish tendencies. (More on this here.)

But president? Come on. Based on what? His national security vision? His deep understanding of the nation's (rather than the five boroughs') domestic problems? His stewardship of New York seems to have been fine (he's certainly impressed The New York Times), but not exactly the stuff of which dynamic national campaigns are made. Hell, he doesn't even have a charismatic public persona like Fred "Who's your Daddy?" Thompson to woo the masses. (And presidential politics, more than any other kind, is about persona over substance.) He's not a demagogue like Ralph Nader or a quirky little nutter like Ross Perot. He's successful, clever, socially liberal, low-key, and eye-poppingly rich--which makes him the perfect presidential candidate to win the Vanity Fair primary. But, with all due respect to the polls showing that millions of Americans crave an alternative to the usual Republican v. Democrat dichotomy, it's almost inconceivable that a competent but unexceptional, uninspiring, and wildly underqualified national nonentity like Mayor Mike is going to set the electorate on fire. New York may be the center of the universe. But, September 11 notwithstanding, it's still several light years away from the heart of America.