Can a cross-dresser win the White House?

Rudolph W. Giuliani is running for president, it would seem, and watching his interviews reminds you that it is quite a leap from City Hall to the White House, and that the lecture circuit is not the best preparation for higher office. Out there, Mr. Giuliani is saying the same applause lines night after night, but in a TV studio, even with the friendly folks at Fox, the lines sound over-practiced.

He purses his lips, furrows his brow, juts his chin, gives his teeth-baring grin, but there isn't much evidence of thoughtfulness, which is what people are keen to hear these days, not just that a man can hit his marks. We'd like to see that he's paying attention, reading the papers, getting around, listening to smart people who aren't running for office and who can tell him what he needs to know.


What the former mayor wants to talk about is 9/11 and standing tough against terror and how important it is to win the war in Iraq, but people are either opposed to the war or sick of hearing about it. Meanwhile, he has to dance around the subjects of abortion and gay rights as he adjusts a Manhattan point of view to something that will pass muster in South Carolina. It is never pretty, watching a politician revise himself in full view, and Mr. Giuliani is revising like mad. And then there is that video.

Back in 2000, for a City Hall roast, Mr. Giuliani got himself dolled up in drag and made a video in which Donald Trump flirts with him and kisses his breasts. It's included in a new movie, Giuliani Time, and you can see it on YouTube just by typing "Giuliani in drag" into the search box.


Say what you will about the Current Occupant, there is no video out there of him waltzing around in a long, lavender gown and a brassiere, and blond wig, while an aging tycoon nuzzles his chest. He may have sunk low back in his drinking days, but he managed to keep his adventures private. I doubt that former Gov. Mitt Romney or Sen. John McCain ever donned women's apparel for the cameras.

This is not a major issue. The Giuliani candidacy is going to bring up once again his record as mayor and his failure, having taken office not long after the World Trade Center bombing of 1993, to do much of anything to protect the city from another attack and to coordinate fire and police radio communications, a doable thing in the age of electronics that would have saved countless lives. His appointment of Bernard Kerik as police commissioner, his brass-knuckle style of politics that put him at loggerheads with the Port Authority and other bodies of government, his airy lack of interest in the New York public schools, his tolerance of police misbehavior, the cheesy way he split up with his wife. There are plenty of bigger issues.

But the video has a creepy fascination to it. The man in the lavender dress and the blond wig surely never contemplated running for president. It was the two planes hitting the towers a year later that made him a celebrity and then a candidate, nothing he had accomplished himself in public office.

Mr. Giuliani should put the issue behind him by answering a few questions: (1) How much did he have to drink that night, and what was he drinking? (2) Whose idea was it - his own or an aide's? If the latter, was there wagering involved, and how much was bet? (3) Were the garments new or used, and who picked them out? And was he wearing male or female underthings? (4) On a scale of 1 to 10, how good did he feel in that dress?

And why will Mr. Giuliani not pledge right now to abide by a White House dress code if elected? Trousers with legs and shoes without heels. No pantyhose. Makeup only for TV appearances. No earrings, no necklaces. A contract with America that he'll be gender-appropriate. Is this too much to ask?

We could make an exception for a nightshirt, and on St. Andrew's Day, he could put on a kilt, but otherwise, a male president should wear pants. Call me old-fashioned, but the leader of the free world shouldn't feel a need to cross-dress. Putting on a flight suit and helmet is as far as he should go into the realm of fantasy. Otherwise, a suit and tie.

Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" can be heard Saturday nights on public radio stations across the country.