New York, N.Y.–I am in Madison Square Garden, the first night of the Republican convention, as an act of homage to Rudy Giuliani. Double homage, really: He saved my city; and when it couldn’t be saved, he succored it.
The hall is filled with people who think they will president in 2008. Governors of square states; senators from states with smaller populations than the five boroughs; permanent wannabes; future has-beens. Alan Keyes is also forever available. Standing out from the pack is Giuliani, who has more negatives and more potent positives than any other Republican.
Giuliani’s big-time career started when he was U.S. Attorney for the southern District of New York in the mid-Eighties. He went after drug dealers, mobsters, and the crooked outer-borough Democratic machines. He put Stanley Friedman, boss of the Bronx, behind bars, and drove Donald Manes, boss of Queens, to suicide. He counted on a 1989 run against Ed Koch, the fading Democratic mayor and jester, and he had the support of all the political malcontents in New York City, from the Village Voice to the tiny GOP. But then Koch lost the primary to Manhattan borough president David Dinkins, who, if he won, would be the city’s first black mayor. In the Dinkins/Giuliani matchup, Giuliani was suddenly running against History.
The Dinkins years were a disaster, a feral carnival only dimly foreseen by Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities. Now Giuliani had an issue straight up his strike zone as a prosecutor: crime. Enough terrorized white liberals switched their votes to put him in office in the 1993 rematch, and Rudy went to work.
Giuliani’s victory in the war on crime was partly the triumph of an idea. Conservatives always had a simple approach to crime: Get tough. Two academics, George Kelling and James Q. Wilson, told them they also had to get smart. Their theory, called “broken windows,” held that the key to murder, robbery and rape, was moving against the little offenses: drunkenness, turnstile jumping, panhandling. The flecks of small scale disorder, like unrepaired broken windows, created the perception that no one was in charge, and that no one cared. Fix the irritations, and good people would be heartened, bad guys would be put on notice. A cadre of cops–William Bratton, Jack Maple, John Timoney–bought the broken-windows model, and Giuliani, when he won, gave them their head.
But Giuliani’s victory was also a matter of temperament: his own. He defined crime as a problem; he set his face against distractions; and he shrugged off attacks. For years politicians and intellectuals had wrung their hands over crime and its root causes. Giuliani was determined to do something about it. The Italian writer, Luigi Barzini, said that, among his countrymen, there was always a handful of incorruptible men, who defied the go-along, get-along atmosphere of Italian culture. Other Italians called them fessi, or damn fools. But they did their jobs (often they were carabineri). Giuliani was clearly such a person. Perhaps the example of Giuliani’s father was crucial here. The senior Giuliani, it turns out, engaged in petty crime. All this son could think to do was to be better. That is no bad response.
People who have moved to New York City in the last ten years have no idea how bad it was before Giuliani came along. Large tracts were given over to filth and danger. A block from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the fusillades of the drug dealers were like a nightly rifle range. Going into the subways was like entering a mugger’s unconscious. Sophisticates complain about the Disneyfication of Times Square. They miss their crack hos.
Giuliani won a smashing reelection in 1997. Higher things seemed to beckon. Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s Senate seat became vacant in 2000, and Giuliani, the most unsenatorial person in the world, sought it.
Suddenly, everything went wrong. Giuliani’s second marriage, to Donna Hanover, an ambitious harridan, blew up. Giuliani paraded his mistress, Judith Nathan (now his third wife). Hillary began her Anschluss. Giuliani got prostate cancer, the disease that felled his father. He pulled the plug on his own race.
Everyone knows Giuliani’s second act. Here was no question of saving New York. The damage was done—three thousand of us murdered, our tallest buildings destroyed. First we went numb, then we shuddered.
Giuliani’s performance over the following weeks was honest. He told everything he knew, including that he didn’t know. He gave us no frills, no false hopes. He spoke simply and earnestly.
He showed what Alexander Hamilton called “energy in the executive”–acting, directing, supervising. It was not the time to write laws, or to adjudicate them; it was the time to do. Giuliani was a textbook of doing.
Most important, he was there. Woody Allen once said that 80 percent of celebrity was showing up. Giuliani’s presence gave New Yorkers heart, and then he praised us for our courage. For two days, he was also President of the United States, as far as anyone could tell. While George W. Bush was flying in and out of Barksdale AFB, Giuliani was walking the mean streets–far meaner than anything Raymond Chandler ever imagined.
Giuliani came at the climax of the evening, after an ideal build-up–a grave and sober speech by John McCain; testimony from relatives of two pilots and one fireman who died on 9/11.
Giuliani does not have obvious advantages as a speaker. His bald head, and small glasses recall Werner Klemperer as Col. Klink; his numerous New York hand gestures are stiff and jerky. Do not be deceived: He plays an audience like a maestro, shifting emotions, building climaxes, and not letting applause derail him.
He was funny. “I’ve never seen so many Republicans in New York City,” he cracked. “I finally feel at home.” He gave a Gotham shrug to John Kerry’s flip flops. “Maybe this explains John Edwards’s need for two Americas–one where John Kerry can vote for something, and another where he votes against the same thing.”
He was optimistic. “New York City and America are open for business, and we are stronger than ever.” (Open for business–somewhere the dead Dutch are smiling.) He was inclusive, denying that either party had a monopoly on virtue or ideas, only insisting that war and danger were particularly suited to the GOP’s ideas. He conveyed the shock of 9/11, describing his first sight of a New Yorker jumping from the 101st floor of the North Tower.
He gave a historical and geopolitical outline of the problem of terror, tracing it from the attack at the Munich Olympics in 1972, through the murder of Leon Klinghoffer on the Achille Lauro in 1985, to Yasser Arafat’s winning of a Nobel Prize. The lesson that terrorists learned, he said, was that they would not be punished; sometimes, they would even be rewarded.
He offered a solution–the program of President Bush, though it also sounded like a self-portrait. Going on the offensive, without caring how one is “demonized” or “ridiculed.” “Some call it stubbornness. I call it principled leadership.”
He ended with inspiration. “Have faith in the power of freedom.” He became briefly intoxicated, saying that it always wins (always?). But freedom is certainly absent in the most troubled parts of the Moslem world. Either it will prevail, or jihad will take permanent root.
When he was done, the convention played a tape of Old Blue Eyes singing “New York, New York,” and the delegates went off into the night.
What is Giuliani’s baggage as a would-be Republican nominee? You’d need a supertanker to hold it. Begin with the social issues: He would hold the chuppa at gay marriages, and abort late term fetuses himself. David Frum recently suggested in the Wall Street Journal that Giuliani promise to appoint anti-Roe judges to the court. He will never make that promise. He likes abortion, and he is uninterested in legalities.
Giuliani has the New York cops’ attitude towards guns: Only cops should have them. If you want a .22 to hunt deer, you must be a made man. He also has a New York textbook view of immigration. Let a billion Chinese come. Giuliani wouldn’t even teach them English.
On economics, he is not positively bad, only unconcerned. His line as mayor was that he would spend term one handling crime, and term two handling taxes and spending. Fred Siegel, the intelligent urbanist, said that was like trying to cross a chasm in two jumps. Good Giuliani economic policies would be random events.
Then there is the personal baggage. The last presidential candidate to have had cancer was Paul Tsongas, who lied about being cancer-free in 1992, and who has since died. We know the worst about Giuliani, but how much better is that?
Finally there is his ego. Giuliani is a publicity hound, and a bully. He must be on camera, and he must be right. He also has his weird edges, which he cannot conceal (guile is not his strong suit). Get ready for drag acts at the Gridiron Dinner.
What then are the man’s advantages? First is his ego. When he settles on a course, he will stay it. The praise of friends and the wrath of enemies are alike indifferent to him. The most famous lines of George Washington’s favorite play, Joseph Addison’s Cato, are
’Tis not in mortals to command success,
But we’ll do more, Sempronius: we’ll deserve it.
Giuliani believes he deserves success, and that he can command it.
His second advantage is cancer. The shadow of the Angel of Death passed over him, and humanized him a bit. It helped him immeasurably in dealing with the grief-stricken after 9/11. The prospect of the end of all things may have unlocked deeper springs in his nature.
Finally, there is leadership. In every presidential cycle, we sift the clues of candidates’ lives–Purple Hearts, draft dodging, drunken fathers, twitching skirts–to try to figure out how they would lead. In most elections, we are looking for leadership in the scrum of domestic politics. But now we are looking for a commander-in-chief; bets are we still will be in 2008. With Giuliani we don’t have to imagine. We have his record. Not since Dwight Eisenhower has there been a clearer one. Eisenhower invaded Europe. Giuliani responded to an attack on the United States.
Giuliani presents conservatives with an unusual phenomenon–the politician who is both extremely liberal and extremely conservative. This is a very different thing from being a “moderate” (which is almost always code for trending liberal). On social issues he stands with Barney Frank. On security issues he stands with Douglas MacArthur.
As a New York voter, I resisted this combination early in Giuliani’s career. In 1993, the conservative alternative was my friend, George Marlin, 6′5″ of Jesuitical wit and banker’s rectitude. Speaking as the John James Audobon of that mythical creature, the Catholic voter, Marlin pointed out all the ways in which Rudy was wrong. Marlin was right about all of it. But a Dinkins victory in 1993 would have been catastrophic. A Mayor Dinkins on 9/11 would be unimaginable.
I owe Giuliani my vote, whenever he asks, for whatever he wants it, including Miss America. We will see how he fares with conservatives and Republicans at large.