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Follow the Leader

BY ALEXANDER ZAITCHIK
05.26.2006 | POLITICS

John Podhoretz, generally and correctly considered the mental slug of the mini-cons, is the biggest Rudy booster around. His Hillary book "Can She Be Stopped?" argues that, yes, she can--by Rudy. But there's no need to buy the book, just skim the recent New York Post Op-Ed version of the book.

Podhoretz's case for Giuliani comes down to one word, of course. It's the same word that appears more than any other in the six-figure speeches Giuliani has been giving since the day he left office. To quote Podhoretz, "One word: leadership."

Ah, leadership. Here at Freezerbox we know all about Giuliani and leadership. We know because last year we were present at the ex-mayor's controversial Middlebury College commencement speech, reproduced below.

[APPLAUSE, BOOS]

Thank you so much for that kind introduction, President Liebowitz.

Distinguished graduates, faculty, family members, and guests:

It is an honor to be with you here on this beautiful morning in May, on such a lovely campus. Just look at all these trees. On the way up from New York, I turned to my driver and said to him, Bernie, I said, Vermont is a one helluva great state. So green, so crime- and broken-window-free, so close to the wonderful state of New Hampshire. I always get a good, clean feeling from this place. I really do. Lots of leaders in this state. I'm talking, of course, about people who lead.

I know there has been some good old-fashioned debate on campus about my appearance here this morning. Let me just say right off the bat that I have reduced my usual fee to be with you all here today. I may even donate a few grand to a Middlebury criminal justice department, should you choose to start one. I was also speaking with President Liebowitz earlier about endowing Manhattan Institute chairs in the economics and sociology departments.

Graduates of the class of 2005--especially those of you standing with your backs to me--listen up: even if you think I'm only half of a heroic leader, or just a quarter or a fifth of a heroic leader, you're still getting a bargain here today. No matter what you think of me, I'm still a TIME "Person of the Year." Think about that. I do, all the time. How many graduates get to say that a TIME "Person of the Year" spoke at their graduation? Some of you may have preferred Gorbachev or someone like that, sure. But are they going to be president one day? No, class of 2005, they aren't. I am.

But that's not why I'm here today. I don't need or expect Vermont in 2008, frankly. Pat Robertson ignoring my cross-dressing habit is worth more to me than ten Vermonts. No, I'm here to share with you all some of what I know about leadership. About being a leader and how to become one yourselves.

First, you'll notice that there is an "I" in L-E-A-D-E-R-S-H-I-P, as in R-E-P-U-B-L-I-C-A-N. But there's no "I" in D-E-M-O-C-R-A-T. You'll also notice that the letter serves a very important function. Without the "I", the word "leadership" just kind of falls apart, doesn't make any sense. It looks like a typo. "Leadership" without the "I" is like a security consulting firm without a CEO, or an African immigrant without a night stick up his ass. Put the "I" back in there, though--and bang!--it's a word again, a glorious word if ever there was one. I even wrote a book about it. Leadership, by Rudolph W. Giuliaini. Miramax books. Check it out on audio, too.

To illustrate the importance of the "I" in "leadership" let me tell you a little story. On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Islamic terrorists attacked New York City. I know, folks, because I was there. I was actually in Manhattan that morning, unlike some New York senators I could name. I remember thinking, "Good Lord! We're being attacked by Islamic terrorists!" I think I even said that out loud, but not in a scared kind of way, just very determined-like. James Woods really captures it in the movie, which I recommend to you all.

I also remember turning to Bernie Kerik--who, incidentally, drove me here this morning, and isn't really very involved in my company anymore, and never really was, not at any high level, anyway--I remember saying, "Bernie, am I glad that George W. Bush is president!" Because if any other president was in office, the attacks may not have happened , and I may not have been on the way to becoming named TIME "Person of the Year." Then I wouldn't be standing here today. You'd all be listening to Gloria Steinem or something.

What is leadership, class of 2005? Leadership is knowing when to listen, and when not to. Let me give you an example. Everybody was telling me not to put the city's emergency management center in WTC 7, owned by my buddy and big-time supporter Larry Silverstein. The Towers could get attacked again, they said. What's wrong with the old location? They asked. Well, whaddya know, the Towers were attacked again, and the emergency management center was useless on 9/11. But you know what turned out to be more important than any fancy emergency mangament center that morning? Leadership. Good old fashioned leadership.

L-E-A-D-E-R-S-H-I-P. And with Bernie by my side, I led. Period.

What does it mean to lead? To be a leader? Simple. To lead is not follow, but to be out in front of those who might otherwise lead. As mayor, it was my job to be in front. And I was. In front of the cameras, in front of the podiums--I was in front of all kinds of things in the days and weeks that followed that terrible, horrible, career-saving day of unprecedented leadership.

One more example, class of 2005. During the 1993 attacks on the Towers, it became clear that the radios used by the police and fire departments did not work properly. Now, some people might blame me for not fixing the problem in the seven years between the '93 attack and 9/11. But even after so many of Manhattan's finest and bravest perished on 9/11 in part because of radio equipment malfunction, one thing is clear: Leadership skills--those intangibles that allow some to prepare, inspire and get the best out of those around them--are more important than technology. As those towers burned on that horrible morning--radios, shmadios--leadership is what made the difference. It was a leadership-filled morning that people will remember in 100 years, not those who died so that others may run for president.

What is leadership? Leadership is the quality that separates those who lead from those who follow. It also rhymes with "readership," but is different. If you can remember that for the rest of your lives, class of 2005, you'll be on the way to a TIME "Person of the Year" award. Just like me.

Thank you graduates, and God Bless.

About the Author
Alexander Zaitchik co-founded Freezerbox in 1998. He has reported from more than a dozen countries for publications such as the International Herald Tribune, Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Wired, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Believer, and many others. He lives in New York City.
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