EXPLOITING 9-11: It's to be expected that presidential candidate and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani would give more than passing mention to the terrorist attacks that shook his city and the nation. But he and supporters have crossed the line between citing Sept. 11, 2001, as a defining personal moment and milking the tragedy for personal gain.

Presidential candidates spend a lot of time crafting campaign slogans. Sen. Barack Obama's is "Countdown to Change." Actor Fred Thompson's is "Security, Unity, Prosperity." Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, however, seems to prefer numbers over words, and three in particular: 9-11.


Oh, it's to be expected that Giuliani would give more than passing mention on the stump to the terrorist attacks that shook his city and the nation. Giuliani was an iconic figure on that day: rolling up his shirt sleeves, standing with soot-covered rescuers, saying all the right things from a bullhorn at Ground Zero.


But lately Giuliani's been saying all the wrong things. He and his supporters have crossed the line between citing 9-11 as a defining personal moment and milking the tragedy for blatant personal gain.


The most egregious example was a September fund-raiser — called "$9.11 for Rudy" — which encouraged Californians to donate $9.11 to his campaign. The word exploitative doesn't begin to cover this ploy. After a group of New York firefighters protested, Giuliani distanced himself, claiming that organizers acted alone.


If so, it's not surprising that grass-roots backers behaved as they did. Their candidate weaves 9-11 into the conversation whenever possible. Witness his Sept. 21 appearance before the National Rifle Association, during which he interrupted his speech to take a call from his wife. "I'll call you as soon as I'm finished," he cooed. "Have a safe trip. Talk to you later. I love you." In justifying this faux pas, Giuliani later explained, "Quite honestly, since Sept. 11, most of the time when we get on a plane, we talk to each other and just reaffirm the fact that we love each other."


Sweet, but still a canny tactic to get his audience thinking about the attacks and the fear they spawned.


If "America's Mayor" wants to become America's president, he'd do well to back off. It's tacky, it's shameless, and it tells voters little about his plans for the future. As multiple Pulitzer Prize-winner and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman recently wrote, "We need a president who will unite us around a common purpose, not a common enemy. Al Qaeda is about 9/11. We are about 9/12."


Indeed, there's far more to 9-11 than Rudy Giuliani. Is there more to him than 9-11?