The first woman. The first black man. The first Hispanic. The first Mormon.

Everyone’s so caught up salivating over all the ways that the 2008 presidential election might make history that they’ve overlooked the most exciting possibility of all – that if former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani prevails next November, America will have elected the first lisping president in its history.

Now, Rudy’s lisp isn’t really that pronounced. It’s masked to a considerable degree by his potent Brooklyn accent, and most listeners probably assume that the two are just part and parcel of the man’s irrepressible New Yorkness. But it’s there, people. Political satirist Mo Rocca, who also has a lisp, pored over the ramifications of a potential First Lisp on a recent episode of CBS’s “The Early Show.”

By the time my next column appears on this page, it’s quite possible that both parties will have chosen their presidential nominees. Rather than follow in the tradition of my predecessor with some wildly unscientific election predictions (and run the risk of establishing a track record as dismal as his), I’ll instead offer a few words of warning to the microscopic minority of you who will participate in the caucuses and primaries that every four years decide which two candidates are foisted upon the rest of us.

So, here’s my advice: Listen to the candidates. No, not to what they’re saying, which, more often than not, will be nothing at all. Listen to how they sound when they say it. And once you’ve done that, think about what it might mean for America if Rudy Giuliani and his lisp moved into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in 2009.

Presumably, we’d start noticing differences from the moment he put his hand on the Bible – “I tholemnly thwear that I shall faithfully egg-suh-cute the Consti-too-shun of the United Thtates” – but I would hardly expect the onslaught to stop there.

State of the Union addresses, press conferences, weekly radio addresses – most of us can’t go a full day without hearing the president’s voice at some point. What impact might it have on us, however subtle, if that omnipresent intonation is lisping its way over s’s and z’s for four to eight years? In other words, if Rudy really does manage to break through this new glass ceiling – excuse me, “glath theiling” – does it pose a risk to the rest of us?

Of course, on the speech criterion, America would probably welcome any change from the incumbent president, for whom speaking always appears to be a sort of strenuous mental exercise. But doesn’t that just prove the point? Beyond all the other damage he’s done, President Bush may have left a more sinister imprint on the English language itself, the worst example of which would have to be his promotion of “nucular” proliferation.

Perhaps we’ve forgotten after all these years in the linguistic wilderness, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Just think of some of the more inspiring voices we’ve heard emanating from the Oval Office. The eloquence of Franklin Roosevelt, broadcasting itself peacefully into a million living rooms. The versatile vocal talents of Ronald Reagan, alternating between crisply commanding and Mr. Rogers-esque warm and fuzzy.

That being said, even if Rudy’s voice isn’t perfect, it’s at least unique. And in this election season, that may prove to be worth more than perfect pronunciation. After all, the Republicans running for president this time around are all so similar that they even sound the same – and I’m not just talking about their tired talking points. Aside from the low rumblings that now and then escape from Fred Thompson, all of Rudy’s opponents pontificate in exactly the same tone – boring, stale and bereft of anything truly interesting. Kind of like the modern Republican Party itself.

Voices on the Democratic side are, like the candidates to whom they belong, more diverse. But none stands out as clearly superior. Oh sure, we all like John Edwards’ smooth trial-lawyer charm, but after two successive presidents with Southern accents, there’s nothing original about it anymore. Barack Obama’s plain Chicagoan style is a nice change of pace, but unless he lends it to the kind of great oratory that he delivered at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, it too fails to stand above the rest.

And then, of course, there’s the all-too-familiar voice belonging to the junior senator from New York. My God. What might it mean for the male population if the most authoritative voice in the nation suddenly belonged to a woman? Already when I hear Hillary slamming Bush on Iraq or health care or the latest of his heinous crimes, I flash back with an involuntary shudder to my childhood and my mom hectoring me for not making my bed.

In the end, you’ll all probably pay little attention to my advice when you go to vote, and instead decide this election on petty, parochial interests – “issues,” as I suppose they’re called.

But as you decide which message to stand behind, I hope you’ll consider the voice that’s communicating it, and the implications that voice has for us all. Rudy Giuliani might not always be fun to listen to. But electing a president with a slight speech defect might ultimately pay some unexpected dividends.

Whatever else you think of his issue positions, just imagine: The sight of a President Giuliani staring down evil terrorists – just as he did the mob bosses and squeegee men before them – might give a burst of confidence to every little kid who’s afraid to raise his hand and speak up in class because of a lisp or a stutter.

Oh, and one last thing: If Rudy ever did make it to the White House, he’d quickly strike up a fast friendship with José Luis Zapatero, who would probably be delighted to meet an American president who, when confronted with the Spanish president’s name, nailed it every time.

Stephen Santulli is a senior in the College and a former editor in chief of The Hoya. He can be reached at santullithehoya.com. Thoughtcrime appears every other Friday.

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Comments are closed.