The Giuliani Question

The anxiety of social conservatives over Rudy Giuliani has greatly shaped public discourse regarding his potential nomination and election. This narrative has left another begging for notice: that is, concern over Rudy's so-called "authoritarian" tendencies.

Unease about the mayor's strong-man rep proliferates across the political spectrum, alarming Democrats and Republicans alike. While this has been a favorite liberal meme, it's now being assumed by entities that fall significantly right-of-center.

The new issue of The American Conservative, for example, features Giuliani dressed in what can only be described as a fascist uniform (complete with flashy armband). The accompanying articles decry Rudy as a warmonger, a libertine, and, yes, an authoritarian.

It's difficult to disagree with the first couple of accusations. Indeed, the mayor is quick with the bellicose rhetoric (but is it Reaganesque huff-and-puff?), and his social stances are charmingly moderate. How many other GOP candidates are serial monogamists who've paraded about in dresses and lived with gay men in a Manhattan penthouse? Exactly...

However, I am bothered by the authoritarian claim, and I notice that author Glenn Greenwald (of Salon fame) fails to really substantiate his bold assertion. He uses next to no hard examples; the most damning evidence produced is a quote (taken out of context?) from 1994.
It reads:

"What we don’t see is that freedom is not a concept in which people can do anything they want, be anything they can be. Freedom is about authority. Freedom is about the willingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority a great deal of discretion about what you do. "

Granted, this is a garbled -- not to mention extraordinarily Catholic! -- articulation of "freedom." I doubt if he would stand by those words, particularly given his apparent admiration of "strict constitutionalist" judges.

Still, I am hard-pressed to figure out when (if ever) Giuliani actually imposed state power to the genuine detriment of liberty. Yes, he supports Bush's questionable surveillance and detention programs, but so do many Republicans, including nearly every one running for the nomination. As much as you may disagree with the operations (and I largely do), they aren't off limits until the Supreme Court says as much.

Plus, American history is loaded with over-bearing and over-reaching executives, some of which are fully canonized civic saints (Abraham Lincoln, FDR, even JFK).

Now, as mayor of NYC, was Giuliani a bully? Probably. Is this a bad thing? Hardly. Rudy's drive, muscle, and demand/ability to micro-manage helped turn NYC from an ungovernable, post-industrial waste to a thriving, 21st century metropolis.

"[Giuliani] crushed seemingly immovable bureaucracies, took control away from the most sacrosanct municipal fiefdoms, and forced the city’s powerful unions and political factions into submission," Greenwald strangely whines in The American Conservative.

That's just fine by me. If he can do the same to the federal government, more power to him (literally). So long as his exertions aren't aimed at rolling back civil liberties, he's free to be as aggressive as he pleases.

A president isn't a mayor. The federal Constitution cannot be as easily side-stepped as the "long-standing limits on mayoral [power]", which Greenwald bemoans Rudy for having violated. Particularly after Dubya, Congress (all Democrats and a lot of Republicans) are going to have a hawk-eye for executive power abuse. Similarly, one would like to think SCOTUS has learned something of a lesson.

In short, a mountain has been made out of a mole hill. Giuliani is a tough-fibered cosmopolitan, an able administrator and tireless manager, a tested enemy of public corruption. In his time, he has tackled squeegee-men, white collar crooks, and everyone in between. A hard Catholic upbringing instilled in him a sharp sense of justice, and a limitless capacity for work. Isn't this precisely what we want -- what we need -- in a national leader? After sixteen years of scandal, equivocation, and incompetence, we must say: enough is enough!

A bit of wisdom -- fitting, I think -- to leave you with. It brings the of-so-Roman mayor to mind, and offers revealing commentary on his character, and his potential.

At daybreak, when you loathe the idea of having to leave your bed, have this thought ready in your mind: I am rising for the work of man." Should I have misgivings about doing that for which I was born, and for the sake of which I came into this world? Is this the grand purpose of my existence-to lie here snug and warm underneath my blanket? Certainly it feels more pleasant. Was it for pleasure that you were made, and not for work, nor for effort?

Look at the plants, sparrows, ants, spiders, and bees, all working busily away, each doing its part in welding an orderly Universe. So who are you to go against the bidding of Nature? Who are you to refuse man his share of the work?

To live each day as though it were your last-never flustered, never lazy, never a false word: herein lies the perfection of character. --Marcus Aurelius, "Meditations"

1 comment:

Patrick Boyle said...

Growing up in Northern New Jersey, making frequent trips to New York City, you can see first-hand what a revival New York City has gone through since the 1990s. My Dad talks about the night-and-day difference between a trip to the city in the 1970s and 80s and one today. No doubt this is due in large part to Rudy Giuliani's tenure as Mayor, and Mayor Bloomberg's impressive successes in maintaining that legacy and building on it (all while fostering a better relationship with minorities in the city and enjoying way higher approval ratings).

That said, Rudy's strategy in New York City is not applicable on a national level. In the places where it is, we should be worried.

The problems of the country today -- chiefly health care, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the economy -- cannot be fixed with the "broken-glass" theory of urban renewal. There is no national equivalent of going after the squeegee men and turnstile jumpers.

This things worked (although civil libertarians would say it was at too high a cost) in New York City. There is no reason to believe they will work for America.

Meanwhile, the things that can be carried over from the Mayor's office to the Oval office -- leadership style, diplomatic efforts, vulnerability to scandal, lapses in judgment, an ability to unify -- are Rudy's great failures, or at least areas in which he would be a failure nationally. Witness Rudy's ejection of Arafat from a concert as Mayor, and his attempt to have the PLO offices removed from the City. That's fine for some good press in The Post, but can you imagine such a diplomatic approach on an international scale? This is not cowboy diplomacy, it's gangster diplomacy.

Rudy was incredible divisive in New York, alienating a new subset of New Yorkers seemingly every week. He had public spats with the police, endless agencies, neighborhoods. You seem to say, "Bring it on." Talk to a New Yorker who lived under Giuliani for a few minutes. Not as great as it sounds. Furthermore, it would be one thing if this take-no-bull approach at least meant that he surrounded himself with competent people and demanded much more from them than loyalty. Obviously, the opposite is true.