There's a controversial theory historians have named the "great men" theory of history. As opposed to Marxist historians, who believe that class struggle is the great mover of history, or their lefty cousins who believe that "groups" -- women, gays, minorities -- and their struggles dominate human affairs, some historians hold to the idea that certain individuals have been the real engines of great change. From Winthrop to Washington, FDR to Reagan, the great man emerges when circumstances suddenly demand a leader. In 2008, that man will be Rudy Giuliani.
While it is far too early and presumptuous to call Giuliani a "man of destiny" or some such, it is wholly appropriate to wonder if not Giuliani's popularity might owe something to the notion that the man has met the moment. . . .
Of course to be a "great man" in the historical sense, there has to be more than an event and a man. Not just any mayor would have responded like Giuliani did on September 11, when, let's remember, he nearly lost his life. Recall the July 1977 New York blackout, when riots spread throughout the city, or the looting in New Orleans following Katrina, and ask why nothing remotely similar occurred in New York on 9/11. There has to be an intrinsic, intuitive, instinctual ability of the "great man" to cultivate trust, to communicate effectively, so that the public and even his opponents willingly defer to his judgment. On September 11, was there any politician who would have dared question Giuliani?
In the current crop of hopefuls, no one but the POW McCain has anything approaching Rudy's Great Man resume, and McCain has managed to tarnish that with the debacle of campaign finance reform. As the campaign continues, the difference between Our Great Man and the also-rans will be apparent to at least 51% of voters.