In the long-running testosterone contest better known as the '08 Republican presidential race, it's worth checking in on Rudy Giuliani and John McCain, each of whom is endeavoring, at the expense of the other, to scale new heights of machismo.
Rudy essentially says: I support torture, and not only that, I tortured Mafia tough guys in New York, and that makes me a tough guy too.
And McCain essentially says: If that guy thinks he tortured Mafia tough guys, it proves he doesn't know jack about torture, whereas I was really tortured and he wasn't, which makes me tougher than him, and means I can lead the military and he can't.
And Rudy essentially says: I don't know why anybody would object to sleep deprivation as a form of torture, because I'm sleep deprived as a candidate, so what's the big deal?
And McCain essentially says: That's a mockery and a sham and he should apologize to all insulted American solidiers who have been truly tortured, as opposed to this guy who has never even been a soldier, and therefore is not tough.
This has been going on for a number of days now, and it's symptomatic of a changing dynamic within the GOP race. John McCain is apparently back from the dead after his recent organizational implosion; he has made gains in two new national polls (at Fred Thompson's expense), and while he may never regain full political health, he is sufficiently ambulatory to poach on Rudy in the early primaries.
With Mitt Romney looking strong in Iowa and New Hampshire, Rudy dearly wants to score as a respectable runner-up in both locales on the eve of the big-state contests. But McCain is complicating Rudy's plans, particularly in New Hampshire, where the war hero peaked during the 2000 race.
Hence the macho jousting, some of which I find amusing. Giuliani is a guy who enjoyed multiple draft deferments during the Vietnam war - one author has quipped that he received one deferment for each year that McCain was stuck in captivity - and he has ever set foot in Iraq, nor has he visited Guantanamo. As for supposedly torturing Mafia guys, it appears that his vigilance did not extend to his close buddy and police commissioner, Bernard Kerik, who was mobbed up for years right under Rudy's nose, and who now faces possible indictment.
As for McCain's POW history, he needs to invoke it with great frequency only because he has so few weapons in his arsenal anymore. After pandering for months to the religious right, and feeling little love in return, and after being stiffed by the GOP base because of his support for path-to-citizenship immigration reform, and after alienating many independents by going to Iraq and wearing rose-colored glasses, MCain's war hero status is all he has left - particularly as a potential trump card against Rudy.
So which tough guy scores heaviest on the macho/torture scale? They may need to call in Jack Bauer to referee.