WASHINGTON — The first big scandal confronting Rudy Giuliani in his presidential quest has nothing to do with his personal life, his governing style in New York City, or his associations with people such as Bernie Kerik, his police commissioner now under criminal investigation.

No, it has to do with Rudy’s heresy as a Yankees fan: In hot pursuit of votes in next January’s New Hampshire primary, Giuliani declared that, because of his preference for the American League, he was rooting for the Red Sox in the World Series. No doubt he will now claim credit for their sweep against the Colorado Rockies, which we giddy Sox fans will deny him.

When Rudy came out for Boston, you’d have thought he had announced that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would be his running mate. The New York tabloids greeted the news with something less than tranquility.

“Traitor,” shouted the New York Daily News. “Red Coat,” opined the New York Post.

National Public Radio’s normally serene Scott Simon felt Giuliani’s move crossed all bounds of decency. “Now, I don’t feel I have the right or sense to judge another man or woman’s religious faith, sexual orientation or family relations,” Simon said. “But I’m sorry: Yankee fans don’t root for the Red Sox. It’s like Sylvester rooting for Tweety Pie. It would be like Napoleon shaking hands with the Duke of Wellington after Waterloo and saying, you won, we lost, my bad. Now, we root for you. Tally ho.”

And members of Giuliani’s target audience — New Hampshire fans of the Red Sox — were not persuaded. “True Red Sox fans (and we know many, of course) don’t want Rudy Giuliani or any Yankee fan rooting for the Red Sox,” wrote John DiStaso, senior political reporter for the Manchester Union Leader, as loyal a conservative paper as you’ll find. “Not now, not tomorrow, not ever.”

On top of all this, Rudy seems to have flip-flopped. Last July, The Providence Journal asked Giuliani what he’d do if the devil made pulling for the Red Sox a condition for his election as president. “Probably that’s a deal I could not make,” he said. Then.

Of course, it is ungracious for a lifelong Red Sox loyalist to taunt Giuliani like this so soon after a triumph proving that if the last century belonged to his guys, this one belongs to us. But Red Sox fans are supposed to jeer followers of George Steinbrenner’s evil empire — a phrase invented by the perceptive Larry Lucchino, the Red Sox president and CEO who happens to be a Hillary Clinton campaign contributor.

But there’s another point: Many non-sports people think team loyalties are irrational, trivial and a waste of time. Loyalty itself is an uneasy virtue for my fellow liberals who rightly prize equal justice without favoritism and view tribalism (that’s what sports loyalties are) with disdain.

In fact, loyalty is a greatly underrated virtue. That’s why I honestly respected Giuliani’s stubborn and unwavering faithfulness to his New York Yankees, and appreciated the generous words he spoke upon Joe Torre’s departure earlier this month as the Yankees’ manager.

George P. Fletcher, a Columbia University law professor, wrote a brilliant book called “Loyalty” in 1993 and once argued in a radio interview that loyalty “creates a certain stability in personal relationships, and I think that it creates, in the people who are loyal, a sense of integrity and continuity.” Or, as he put it in the book, “In the way we draw the lines of our loyalties, we define ourselves as persons.”

“People bring their histories to their loyalties,” Fletcher argues, “which implies that the reasons for attachment to a friend, family or country” — I’d add sports team — “invariably transcend the particular characteristics of the object of loyalty.” No kidding. I was a Red Sox fan in the days of Frank Malzone, Chuck Schilling and Bill Monbouquette when often the Washington Senators were the only team between us and the cellar. I loved those guys.

My Red Sox loyalty is, in part, to family (my dad raised me a Red Sox fan) and to place (my native New England) and is thus very much about Fletcher’s sense of “integrity and continuity.”

Yes, yes, this is way too grand. But please remember that I’m trying to persuade those people who see us sports loyalists as dangerous idiots. Mostly, I’ll just be irrationally happy for the next several months. And Rudy, please go back to despising the Red Sox, as you’re supposed to. In sports, an honest hatred is always better than a convenient dalliance.

E.J. Dionne’s e-mail address is postchat(at)aol.com.

© 2007, Washington Post Writers Group

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