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Greenfield Jeff Greenfield is senior analyst for CNN. He will provide weekly, Web-exclusive analysis during Election 2000.

Jeff Greenfield: The human factor

May 11, 2000
Web posted at: 3:45 p.m. EDT (1945 GMT)

(CNN) -- It's all over this town: Will New York Mayor Giuliani stay in the race? Will his battle with prostate cancer "humanize" him? Will his wife's public accusation of his prior "relationship" with a staff member hurt him? If he withdraws, will New York Gov. George Pataki replace him as a Senate candidate? Would Pataki run stronger against Hillary than Rudy would have?

Now let's stop for a moment.

A middle-aged man, the father of two children, with one of the most demanding jobs in the world and the prospect of an exhausting political campaign now has come face to face with, A) his own mortality and B) a very public airing of his troubled marriage. Either of these events, the experts say, would count as one of the most stressful that life has to offer. What it's like to face them within a week? I hope to God I never have to find out.

But Rudy Giuliani does. And whether you think of him a great mayor or a divisive tyrant; whether you see him as the last best hope to derail Hillary; or an obstacle to her political rise; whether you sympathize with his marriage woes or consider them his just desserts -- think for a moment of the mayor not as a politician, but as a human being.

We don't do that very often, you know -- especially those of us who cover politics for a living. We sometimes assume that political figures are nothing more than an amalgam of their voting records, speeches, and political slogans. Whatever they do, we think, must be because of a political calculation.

But, to paraphrase Shylock, hath not a politician feelings, emotions, personal burdens? Somewhere, right now, that senator or representative, or governor, or mayor whom we see as little more than a C-SPAN figure in a blue suit and power tie is worrying not about the next fund-raiser, but about his kid's math grades, or her daughter's choice of boyfriends. He's thinking out his aging mother, and whether she can still live on her own; she's wondering whether her marriage is showing signs of strain. He's got to tell his kid he's going to miss the school play again because of a late vote; she's got to miss her high school reunion. He's got to get his blood-pressure medication renewed; she's just felt a lump in her breast.

Is this obvious? Maybe it should be, but look at the way politics is covered in this country, and see how often you can spot any sign that these public figures are also human beings who have to respond to personal concerns and crises knowing that their personal afflictions could well be the source of public gossip -- and serious political costs. How many of us would like to try carrying that kind of burden in the middle of one of life's pitfalls?

Whatever Mayor Giuliani does, I hope we in the press remember that this is much more than a political matter -- it's about the torment of a fellow human being.



If you need to know who's up in 1999 or 2000 and what seats are open launch this quick guide.

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Thursday, May 11, 2000


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