The Gumby Politics of Rudy Giuliani
I got home this evening to find that I'm not the only one who's bothered by the Giuliani run for President. Michael Tomasky's cover story for the latest dead-tree edition of The American Prospect magazine is titled: "If You Knew Rudy Like I Know Rudy…" Ever since I decided to follow Giuliani's campaign, exposés about the "real" Rudy Giuliani have been leaping out at me. Some favorable (Newsweek, anything from Faux Noise), some not so much (Mother Jones, The American Prospect). The fact of the matter is, the rest of the country thinks they know "America's Mayor", but in truth, what they're seeing is the latest incarnation of the bendy doll that is Giuliani's political career.
A bit of an historical perspective is necessary, if you want to get at the heart of why a Giuliani presidency would be nothing short of disastrous. By historical, I mean before September 11, 2001, the day Giuliani was hoisted up on that pedestal for not running away from his job (unlike some leaders we know). Before 9/11, when he ran a scandal-ridden campaign against Hillary Clinton for the Senate, when he was shown to be a philandering and heartless sonofabitch to his family, when he praised the policemen who riddled Amadou Diallo's body with bullets, and oh, yes, when, in an effort to boost his flagging Senate campaign, he broke state laws by releasing the sealed juvenile delinquency records of Patrick Dorismond, another victim of trigger-happy cops. Why? In order to defame a corpse.
Rudy Giuliani has always relied on political opportunism . . . I mean, flexibility . . . to stay alive in the bloody-knuckled world of New York politics. Learning all he needed to know about the malleability of truth from his wiseguy ex-con father, Giuliani switched political affilations three times in ten years until he decided that "Republican" was the best description he could find for his personal ethos. He was certainly ambitious; he made it through law school and wound up as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Yes, he worked through his unsubtle Oedipal complex by defrocking 5 mob bosses. He also pantsed Ivan Boesky and pulled the toupee off Michael Milken. So when the time came for his inevitable run for mayor, he already had the "tough on crime" part of his platform certified. It was the squishy social issues he struggled with.
As Tomasky notes in his article,
When Giuliani was mayor, did he really believe in abortion rights and gay rights and strict gun control laws and very liberal immigration policy? "That's a very, very tough question," says David Garth, the legendary New York political consultant who handled Giuliani's 1993 and '97 mayoral races. "My feeling was, the positions he took, he felt them. Whether he really felt them, I mean . . . I don't know."
Giuliani wanted to brand himself as a "social liberal," even if his feelings for gay rights or women's reproductive freedom were lukewarm, at best. Assuming that position got him what he wanted: votes. Unfortunately for the rest of us, he was setting up an internal tug-of-war when he tried to make those two ideas co-exist. Eventually, one side was going to win out. We New Yorkers know all about which side that was. JoAnn Wypijewski writes in the latest edition of Mother Jones [not yet available on line]:
[Rudy Giuliani] compares President Bush's escalation of the war in Iraq to his own big-fisted approach to New York, and suffers no harm for the implication of that admission: that he pursued a war on part of the city's population while the rest of us became inured to punishment, to brakes on free expression and policing as a way of life.
"Socially Liberal" Giuliani eventually created a near-police state, starting with the "Broken Windows" criminal justice theory that espouses cracking down on "quality of life" or "gateway" crimes. Sure, we were overjoyed that we didn't step out of our buildings in the morning to find men urinating on the steps or our front doors tagged with graffiti. But at what cost? Again, Mother Jones' Ms. Wypijewski:
Civil libertarians used to joke darkly that under Giuliani, New York became "a First Amendment-free zone." His policing fetish didn't just purge gang tags and porn houses; it closed public spaces to protest and led to a host of other efforts to quash dissent. Most of the latter were reversed in court, but the chill was on.
New Yorkers weren't particularly pleased that Giuliani had managed to alienate everyone except the "moneyed class" with his Big Brother approach to free speech or his ham-fisted handling of race relations. The Giuliani years were certainly disastrous for minorities, who, when they weren't taking 41 bullets the hard way or being sodomized with broomsticks, were blamed for everything from the existence of those ubiquitous squeegee men to the grindhouses and porn shops on the Deuce (aka 42nd St.).
Polls showed that while New York City residents did applaud the goals Rudy reached, majorities were decidedly opposed to his tactics. A New York Times poll in April of 2000, in the wake of the police shooting of Patrick Dorismond, found that 50% disapproved of Rudy's handling of crime, his signature issue, and concluded that "New York City residents have a decidedly negative view of Mr. Giuliani's handling of race relations." . . . . The discomfort New Yorkers felt with Rudy's tactics, as opposed to his results, go directly to the heart of questions about the man's character.
So you can understand why New Yorkers were a bit dubious about this "America's Mayor" horse turd when it sprang up. Yes, congratulations may have been in order because Giuliani held his shit together long enough to communicate important information to the general public. Many of us, however, saw Giuliani in the harsh light of day, not through the vaseline-smeared lens of a post-9/11 world. We jumped up and down and yelled, "No, no, no!" whenever somebody praised Rudy for how he turned Times Square into a haven of brightly-lit banality, because cleanliness came at the cost of personal liberties and freedom of speech.
Yesterday marked another morphing in Giuliani's campaign. Asked for his thoughts on the Supreme Court decision on "partial birth" abortions, Giuliani responded, "The Supreme Court reached the correct conclusion in upholding the congressional ban on partial birth abortion. I agree with it."
(Note the choice of words. "Correct." Not "right", but "correct". This is so that when he finds himself sinking in the polls amongst likely voters, he can point to this statement and say, "I was merely asserting that I thought the Supreme Court followed procedure correctly." Because Rudy is nothing if not morally, um, agile.)
As Media Matters points out,
in 2000, Giuliani said he agreed with President Clinton's veto of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 1997, saying then — in response to a question about whether if he, as a senator, would have "vote[d] with the president or against the president" — that he would have "vote[d] to preserve the option for women." On the February 5 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, when Giuliani expressed support for the current law banning "partial-birth abortion," co-host Sean Hannity pressed him about the apparent reversal. Giuliani attempted to reconcile his two positions by stating that he supports such bans only when they contain a "provision for the life of the mother."
(Kombiz Lavasany at The Right's Field has some lovely video footage, as well, of Rudy Giuliani in contortions that would make an acrobat blush.)
Even the New York Times has called Giuliani out on his "flexibility."
In 2007, Mr. Giuliani simply looks as if he wants to convince voters that no matter what his beliefs are, they should vote for him anyway because he’s prepared to put them aside.
He said he believes in the right to own guns, but he would let the states decide how to regulate them. The other day he said he was for abortion rights and preened about his political courage. Then he refused to say whether states should spend public money on abortions or require a woman to view an ultrasound picture of her fetus before an abortion.
Giuliani isn't interested in protecting constitutional rights. Giuliani is interested getting the presidency by any means necessary, in remaking the world in his own image — a place with onion-thin skin, razor thin lips, authoritarian demeanor, and a leviathan of an ego. And we should all be very, very afraid of his candidacy.