A FATE WORSE THAN BUSH: Rudolph Giuliani and the Politics of Personality


Rudolph Giuliani has, by far the most dubious known personal history of any major presidential candidate in American history, what with this three marriages and his open affairs and his almost total estrangement from his grown children, not to mention the startling frequency with which he finds excuses to dress in women’s clothing.  Many of his fellow Republicans despise him for his support of gay rights and abortion rights and immigrants, for the confiscatory gun laws he enforced while mayor of New York City, and for having a personality that is irreducibly New York.  Richard Viguerie, the venerable right-wing mail-order guru, threatened to travel around the country campaigning against Giuliani were he to win the nomination.  Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention asserted that “the mayor’s position on abortion couldn’t be more repugnant to pro-lifers.”  Focus on the Family founder James Dobson said simply that he “cannot, and will not, vote for Rudy Giuliani in 2008.  It is an irrevocable decisions.”

Giuliani clearly is a new kind of Republican.  In this he is following a trail blazed by, of all people, Bill and Hillary Clinton.  It is more than a coincidence, after all, that both the front-runners of the two major parties were elected to high public office in New York—and, for that matter, that the person most commonly named as a possible third-party candidate is Giuliani’s successor as mayor, Michael Bloomberg.   New York has always been where America happens first.  As the nation’s most populous city, as its financial and intellectual capital, and as a magnet for ambitious and creative immigrants from all points, domestic and foreign, it has set the course for most of the nation’s history.  Furious battles over just who is an American, and just what that means, have been waged in the city’s streets for the past three hundred years.  Historically, much of the nation’s political energy has been expended trying to contain the money power situated on Wall Street.

Now, with its great financial markets, the city finds itself at the fulcrum of the globalized economy.  New York—or at least Manhattan—first began the process of deindustrialization more than a century ago.  Its economy today revolves around finance, real estate, and intellectual capital, and several of its districts are teaming with upscale, self-employed, white-collar individuals working out of their homes—that breed of post-industrial workers Bill Clinton’s Labor Secretary Robert Reich labeled “symbolic analysts.”

Yet the city’s spectacular transformation over the past two decades also masks the moldering problems of the new economy.  New York’s demographics presage the demographics of America, as its middle class is squeezed down or out and the city separates into the spectacularly wealthy and the isolated poor.  Nearly one in ten Manhattan households has assets of more than a million dollars, and an average  Manhattan apartment costs $1.3 million.  At the same time, the Bronx is the poorest urban county in America, and one quarter of all New York City families with children—some 1.5 million people—live below the poverty line.  More of these families live in homeless shelters now than any time in the past twenty-five years.

Hillary Clinton may have been a New York outsider when she ran for the Senate in 2000, but she nonetheless fit perfectly into the city’s political landscape, in large part because she was instrumental in creating it.  Manhattan was in many ways the culmination of all that she and her husband had been working toward for thirty years.

The Clintons’ political evolution began during their thankless job running George McGovern’s 1972 campaign for president in Texas.  The campaign was an indictment of “the system” itself, a guerilla insurgency waged against what were seen as the corrupt, hypocritical power brokers in both parties, all the Nixons and the Humphreys, the Daleys and the Johnsons, with their failed war and their failed cities and the explosive racial tensions they had failed to ameliorate.  Although the Clintons’ candidate would go down to a crushing defeat, their revolution would prevail, if not in ways that anyone had predicted.  The old power brokers would be swept away, along with traditional liberal and conservative politics.  What the Clintons learned from this, and would learn and learn again over the course of their many years in politics, was that progressivism could be advanced only in the most incremental installments, and only with the imprimatur of powerful corporate and financial elites.  They would adopt a sort of “post-ideological” politics—a politics that abandoned the old ideologies and claimed none of its own.

The term “post-ideological politics” once primarily referred to the technocratic best-and-brightest approach of the Kennedy Administration, but in America today, post-ideological politics generally progresses under the rubric of the Clintons’ preferred, misleading “third way,” or “triangulation”—which is really more the politics of the possible, as Bill and Hill came to understand it.  In programmatic terms, the new Democratic Party differs little from the parties that now dominate England and France and Germany and Japan.  All of these parties embrace globalization, balanced budgets, and a broad social tolerance.  They will seek to maintain some semblance of their old social-welfare systems, but they have largely ceded economic primacy to their national banks, or the European Union, or the global markets.  Moreover—much like New York City—they have accepted the slow but inexorable submergence of all public space into the private sector and the widening gap between those citizens who are equipped to thrive in the global economy and those who are not.

Rudolph Giuliani was also a Democrat for McGovern in 1972.  This may startle some today, but it is really not that surprising when one considers that Giuliani managed to wrangle no fewer than three separate exemptions from the draft.  Much like Bill Clinton, he saw himself as a member of the new class, unwilling to risk his life in an unwinnable war perpetrated by a bankrupt Establishment.  While running for mayor of one of the most liberal cities in America as a Republican, he had to position himself as another post-ideological politician, breaking dramatically with the failed politics of the past—a formulation that proved to be perfect for fin de siècle New York.

The great drama of this election season, perhaps the great drama of American politics for years to come, will be the attempt of this consummately opportunistic and wily politician to bend the Republican Party to his will—to break with the failed politics of its past.  The Republican Party that Giuliani would build in its place would differ little—at least ideologically—from the new Democratic Party that the Clintons built in their own image nearly two decades before.

Yet as we have learned once again in Iraq, the ends can never be separate from the means.  There is an important difference between the Democrats and Giuliani’s twenty-first century Republicans, and it revolves around the man himself.  In the new politics, the candidate is everything.  The post-ideological party distinguishes itself from its rivals, not through any particular program or deep moral convictions, so much as by the character and the charisma of its particular leader—its Sarkozy, or its Berlusconi, or its Clinton—and by its brand-selling strategies.  Giuliani would like to add his own name to that list and he may well succeed, for the “brand” with which he is indelibly linked in the American mind is “strength.”


The Ungovernable City

Giuliani drew a different lesson than the Clintons in his early political experiences.  He watched the winning side in the 1972 election and internalized a strategy that was honed by the likes of George Wallace, Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan, over the course of nearly two decades.  That strategy can best be described as a sort of “anti-populism,” a worldview in which the well-off are continually beset by the poor, the privileged by the disinherited, the white by the black.  The remarkable accomplishment of Giuliani was how he was able to use this narrative of disorder to gain power in New York.

By 1993, the year of Giuliani’s first successful campaign for mayor of New York, the city had been in urban-crisis mode for a generation.  Giuliani had already come close to beating Democrat David Dinkins in 1989, mostly on the basis of the reputation Giuliani had gained as an extraordinarily aggressive U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, one who had taken on drug dealers, mob bosses, crooked politicians, and Wall Street swindlers alike—and won.  Now circumstances made him a favorite to win the office that had barely eluded him four years before.  Crime, drugs, homelessness, joblessness, filth, and incivility seemed to be intractable problems, and the common wisdom was that something about the urban condition itself was broken beyond repair.  New York, in a description first popularized by the sociologist Nathan Glazer in a 1961 Commentary article, had become “ungovernable.”

This conclusion was widely accepted by the local and national media, and reinforced by a cottage industry of books and movies.  Film after film—from The French Connection to The Panic in Needle Park to Midnight Cowboy; from The Warriors to Escape from New York to Little Murders; from Taxi Driver to Joe to Death Wish—depicted New York as virtually a post-apocalyptic landscape, one in which vigilante violence was increasingly justifiable.  Books such as William Buckley’s snarky Unmaking of a Mayor; Ken Auletta’s The Streets Were Paved with Gold; and Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities made a more serious case for the hopelessness of New York.  The consensus of these volumes was that the fall had been brought about mainly by moral lassitude.  Liberal politicians and other elites—so this narrative of disorder went—had “gone soft” on crime and poverty, probably out of a misguided sense of racial guilt.  New York was spending well beyond its means, coddling the city’s enormous population of welfare recipients, and creating a “culture of poverty” among blacks and Hispanics.  Meanwhile, the white working class staggered under the resulting tax burden.  Society was falling apart as the police were prevented from maintaining law and order and intimidated liberals confined themselves, in Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s famous phrase, to “defining deviancy down.”

Alongside these seminal works were breathless media reports about the new “super predators”—amoral teenagers run amok—and the pseudo-science of books like The Bell Curve, the infamous racial screed by Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein, which claimed to offer scientific “proof” that blacks and Hispanics were innately, genetically less intelligent than whites and Asians.  On its publication in 1994, The Bell Curve was defended even in such mainstream publications as Newsweek and The New York Times Book Review, wherein Times science reporter Malcolm Browned agreed that the authors made “a strong case” and worried that the time was approaching when American society had the “right—perhaps even the duty—to strengthen our species’ cognitive defenses against the increasingly dangerous global environment.”

Most of this was hysteria.  New York, like most great world cities, has always attracted a disproportionate number of poor, bumptious ethnic immigrants.  They rioted on a regular basis throughout the nineteenth century, in numbers and with a ferocity that dwarfed later disturbances.  The Civil War draft riots of 1863 remain to this day the deadliest civil disturbance in American history.  The city was commonly known as “the Volcano,” and it was widely considered a nest of iniquity, a raucous, dangerous, and uncivil place, always on the verge of the exploding into anarchy.

The city has also been racked by many devastating economic downturns and depressions, including those of the 1830s, 1850s, 1870s, 1890s, 1910s, 1930s, and late 1980s.  The Great Depression brought so much unemployment and poverty, such a breakdown in the social order, that the homeless were emboldened to build shacks for themselves (some out of brick) in the middle of Central Park’s Great Lawn, then still under construction.  The city’s corrupt Tammany leaders largely ignored such scenes.  They preferred to continue stealing money by the bushelful, while periodically sending out the police to suppress demonstrations in brutal, bloody displays of force.

The years after World War II saw another seismic realignment of the city’s economy, though few people recognized it at the time.  Rampant deindustrialization meant that for the first time, relatively good-paying blue-collar jobs no longer were available to the new immigrants still pouring into the city, this time mostly from the rural South, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic.  Combined with white flight, the under-acknowledged phenomenon of black flight, ill-conceived urban housing policies, and consecutive plagues of heroin, guns, AIDS, and crack cocaine, this lack of low-skilled jobs created an urban crisis that infected every major city in the country, leaving many of them even worse off than New York.

It is undeniable that New York had many real problems that could not simply be wished away.  Its Tammany ward heelers were too often replaced by fake liberals who continued the old corruption, while spewing a lot of revolutionary doggerel.  But there is also considerable evidence that most of the city’s problems had started to abate well before Rudolph Giuliani took power in 1993.  Dinkins, the city’s first African-American mayor, signed into law a tax surcharge that put six thousand more police officers on the streets.  He also hired a pair of dynamic new leaders, Ray Kelly as police commissioner and William Bratton as head of New York’s transit police.  During Dinkins’s term, the city’s murder rate fell by 13.7 percent, robbery fell by 14.6 percent, burglary fell by 17.6 percent, and auto theft fell by 23.8 percent.  The city’s crime rate dropped in all seven FBI major-felony categories for the first time in nearly four decades.

Similarly, the notorious porn shops and movie houses along 42nd Street that Giuliani would later claim to have closed himself, had in fact, already been shuttered, as the city began the transformation of Times Square into a Disney fantasia.  Indeed, the last graffiti-covered subway car had been taken off the line in 1989, under Mayor Ed Koch.  Even the “squeegee men”—homeless individuals who wiped the windshields of cars against the owners’ wishes and then hassled them for payment, and whom Giuliani would make the emblem of New York’s perpetual disorder—had been removed from the streets by the time Giuliani took the oath of office on January 1, 1994.

Thus, nearly every major accomplishment that Giuliani points to today, either had already been achieved, or was well on the way to being achieved by the time he became mayor.  But all of these facts threatened—and still do threaten—the prevailing narrative that New York had become “ungovernable.”  To accept the notion that the city’s decline was not a moral lesson—that its leadership was no worse and often better than it had been in the past; that it was hampered by recognizable economic and social problems, most of which it had endured before and which were now being largely solved or ameliorated—would be to return the 1993 campaign to the plane of deniable reality, a place where Giuliani could not win.

The Race Race

Giuliani countered the encouraging statistics with a ruthless campaign designed to reaffirm New Yorkers’ worst fears about their city, what The New York Times Magazine would call “the race race.”  In part, this effort was viciously, relentlessly personal, designed to challenge Dinkins’s very legitimacy as mayor.  Often the dirty work was done by surrogates, such as Giuliani crony Jackie Mason, the comedian, who publicly dismissed Dinkins as nothing but “a fancy shvartzer with a moustache.”  The same Times article noted a more harrowing incident in the fall of 1992, in which Giuliani gave a profanity-laced speech that inflamed a mob of some 10,000 “raucous, beer-drinking, overwhelmingly white police officers” who had just finished a march on City Hall to protest a Dinkins-backed proposal for civilian oversight of police-misconduct complaints.  Many in the mob spewed racial epithets and carried signs condemning Dinkins in grossly racial terms, including one that read, “Dump the washroom attendant!”  Giuliani’s complicity in this disgraceful incident was dutifully condemned by the media…which nonetheless validated the same stereotypes.  Hence, Janice C. Simpson’s noting in Time magazine that “Dinkins comes off as a courtly but unimaginative bureaucrat with a taste for fussy clothes and fancy ceremonies.”  What right did this black man have to nice clothes, civic ceremonies, or facial adornment—or to be mayor at all?

Seeking to elide the steadily dropping crime statistics, Giuliani resorted to more racial code, charging in a speech that Dinkins “might as well have held a ceremony in which he turned the neighborhoods over to the drug dealers.  As far as I’m concerned, there is no future in surrender.”  The very slogan of his 1993 campaign, “One Standard, One City,” implied that somehow black New Yorkers were getting away with something under a black mayor.  Sure, crime might be falling, but what really mattered to New Yorkers was something called “quality of life”—a nebulous state of grace that was thwarted by all signs of disorder on the streets, from open drug dealing to aggressive panhandling to uncollected trash, and of course those darn squeegee men.

“Quality of life” provided Giuliani a more nuanced appeal to a group who were rapidly becoming the racially divided city’s most sought-after swing voters.  These were white liberals, more generally caricatured in New York as “upper West Side liberals.”  Open race-baiting secured Giuliani’s base only in what might be called the “red states” of New York, the outer boroughs of Staten Island, Queens, and parts of Brooklyn, where he had already captured large majorities among white ethnics during his pervious run for mayor.  Yet race-baiting remained repellent to the relatively affluent, white social liberals who inhabited much of Manhattan and the trendier sections of Brooklyn.   Even though many of these voters had become more conservative over the years—or had been replaced by younger, more conservative voters—they still would not countenance an openly racist appeal.


Giuliani had already displayed a canny instinct for packaging himself to New York liberals.  In his five and a half years as a U.S. Attorney he had insisted repeatedly that prosecuting white-collar criminals was just as important as prosecuting street thugs, and he seemed to prove it through such stunts as manacling together seventeen Wall Street traders and executives arrested on drug charges and parading them through Foley Square in lower Manhattan to the U.S. Courthouse, and by arresting Goldman, Sachs executives at their offices and marching them (one of them in handcuffs) past their stunned colleagues.  No matter that his most publicized Wall Street convictions were overturned on appeal; his reputation as a truly impartial scourge of the corrupt had been fully established.

In his second run for mayor, Giuliani’s “quality of life” appeal brilliantly bundled together any number of the quotidian irritations of living in a large and turbulent metropolis.  And with the use of select code words—such as the “surrender” of the streets or “One Standard, One City”— Giuliani was able to subtly link these frustrations to a racial root cause.  In this, Giuliani was aided by Dinkins’s maladroit handling of a number of searing racial incidents, including the boycott of a Korean-American grocery in Brooklyn, an anti-Semitic riot in Crown Heights, and the ongoing hate-mongering of black racial extremists such as Alton Maddox, Vernon Mason, and Sonny Carson.  Giuliani used such incidents to create a sort of siege mentality, in which whites, already harassed at every turn by squeegee men, trash storms, and peddlers, were on the verge of losing control of the city entirely—maybe were even at the precipice of some sort of apocalyptic racial massacre.

This narrative was echoed by various white, media, and political elites—many of them ostensible liberals.  Michael Tomasky, writing a post-election analysis in The Nation (The Nation!), would insist, “Above all, there must be a single standard for civil behavior.”  Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, in an April 1993 speech—one that echoed Giuliani’s campaign in its title, “No Surrender”—asked an audience that included Dinkins himself, to contemplate “what in New York City is better today than it was fifty years ago.”  His answer was that nothing was better.  He noted the low crime rate of 1943, but somehow neglected to mention that the city had been drained of young men by World War II, or that it was nonetheless racked by a major race riot in that halcyon year.  Yet the New York Times columnist Sam Roberts lauded Moynihan, among others, as “a profile in candor for articulating America’s unspoken obsession with race,” and in the following week’s column, insisted that not only was our tolerance for violence way too high, but so, too, was the level of violent crime itself, “no matter what the statistics say.”

This idea that statistics—that is, verifiable facts—no longer mattered became a leitmotif of Giuliani’s campaign.  A poll taken the same year, indicated that some 58 percent of New Yorkers reported that they felt less safe because the few remaining crimes were especially brutal and capricious—“Entire families are executed in drug wars.  Teenagers kill each other over sneakers.  Robbers casually shoot victims even if they have surrendered wallets.  The proliferation of carjackings means people are no longer safe in their automobiles.”  Echoing Roberts of the Times, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, chimed in with an October 1993 column that asserted, “Aside from the deranged, there’s not a single Gothamite who thinks it has gotten better under Dinkins—no matter what his statistics say.”

No matter what his statistics say!  It could no longer be maintained that crime, or unemployment, or any other problem facing New York was due to this or that objective cause, which might yield some practical solution.  New York’s plight had become one big moral parable, about a culture of permissiveness, fostered by a black mayor, on behalf of his black constituents.  Cohen provided a prescient definition of our post-ideological politics, writing, “When Giuliani emphasizes civic responsibilities and collective obligations—not just welfare, but work as well—he is sounding no different from Clinton in the presidential campaign.  It’s the sort of rhetoric that won Clinton the label ‘new Democrat’—and has elected politicians of all races to city halls in Cleveland, Houston, Los Angeles, and Jersey City.  Sometimes it turns out that the ‘new Democrat’ is a Republican.”

A world in which the brand is more important than the facts was precisely the sort of world in which a Rudolph Giuliani could thrive.  On Election Day 1993, Giuliani significantly increased his 1989 margins of victory in the “red boroughs” and cut his 1989 deficits by some 21,000 votes in Manhattan, 28,000 in Brooklyn, and 6,000 in the Bronx, thereby transforming a narrow loss into a narrow victory.  According to Giuliani biographer Fred Siegel, polls showed Giuliani especially “making gains among Upper West Side Liberal women defecting from Dinkins on the crime issue.  Nor was this a passing conversion.  In the following election, in 1997, Giuliani won a majority among those white, upscale, once-liberal voters, cruising easily to victory against Ruth Messinger, an opponent who was herself a popular Upper West Side liberal.  Giuliani had done the seemingly impossible.  He had managed to line up supposedly liberal Northeastern Democrats behind a campaign of racial fear and hatred with a dexterity that would have put Karl Rove, or Bill Clinton to shame.

Do-Nothing Mayor

Giuliani’s two terms as mayor are the only elective office he has ever held, and true to the post-ideological politics of the 1990s he achieved almost nothing of significance in that time.  He presented no sweeping vision of his city’s future, built no great public buildings instituted no real reforms, and, in fact, made no meaningful effort to restructure New York along either liberal or conservative lines.  In true Clintonian fashion, his political fortune was largely a function of the Dow Jones index, which stood at 3,754.09 the day he took office and opened at 10,136.00 the day he left.

It is true that crime continued to drop precipitously during Giuliani’s mayoral reign—as it did all around the country, for many reasons.  Giuliani credited the decline mostly to a “CompStat,” computer-driven system brought in by his new police commissioner, William Bratton—originally a Dinkins hire—then forced Bratton out when he began to steal some of Giuliani’s own spotlight.  Meanwhile, police response time actually increased by 24 percent in his first term, and the percentage of felony arrests leading to an indictment dropped by almost one third.

The city’s public schools, a perennial source of despair, continued to decay, while Giuliani forced out three different chancellors over various trivial disagreements.  He removed 600,000 New Yorkers from the welfare rolls, with methods that the courts repeatedly struck down as illegal and arbitrary.  What happened to most of these people, how they managed to live and where, is simply not recorded—just as it is not recorded what happened to the more than 8 million people who were thrown off the rolls by Bill Clinton’s national “welfare reform.”

What Giuliani relied upon to rule were regular authoritarian gestures.  He screamed at reporters during press conferences and ranted at callers to his radio show; tried to cut off city funding for a nonprofit AIDS hospice that had dared to criticize him; attempted to censor controversial art; and exuberantly picked fights with unpopular out-of-towners, such as Yassir Arafat, or the entire state of Virginia, which had balked at accepting New York’s garbage.

Race never went away either.  Without quite saying so, Giuliani made it clear that white people would no longer be on the defensive in his city.  His administration was punctuated by a serious of ugly incidents, including the fatal shooting of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed man mistaken for a rapist by four plainclothes police detectives who fired forty-one unanswered bullets at him; the fatal shooting of a club security guard, Patrick Dorismond, after he was approached at random by undercover narcotics officers who insisted that he sell them crack; and the brutal rape of suspect, Abner Louima, by police officers armed with a broken broom handle.

Any protests over such actions were usually greeted with indifference or renewed shows of force on the part of the mayor.  Giuliani confronted mourners of the world’s AIDS victims with police snipers on the roof of City Hall, intimidated demonstrators by ensuring that they spent as much time as possible being put “through the system,” and summoned an unnerving array of heavily armed police, complete with hovering helicopters, to virtually “lock down” part of Harlem when a noxious black nationalist dared to hold a rally there.  In the case of Dorismond, the murdered guard, Giuliani went so far as to illegally open and leak the contents of his juvenile police file to the public.

This sort of behavior came to seem like more than just pandering, perhaps even an authentic expression of Giuliani’s ceaselessly belligerent outlook.  His aggressive pursuit of so many demons over the course of his mayoralty eventually began to erode his popularity.  He pursued street vendors, saloon dancers, and—in a now famous radio broadcast—even people who loved ferrets.  Clearly adrift during his last few months in office, he informed his wife and children that he would be seeking a divorce at a public press conference; brazenly squired his new mistress about town; and freely related to the tabloids the details of how his prostate cancer had affected his sex life.  His poll numbers continued to sag, while the end of his term-limited time in office loomed with no obvious political destination on the horizon.

September 11 Relaunch

In retrospect, it is clear that Giuliani’s handling of the attack on September 11, 2001, and its aftermath was largely a debacle.  Our image of “Rudy” as the hero of that day—as “America’s mayor”—is the residue of the uncharacteristic gravitas and responsibility he displayed in those first few days, the grace note he struck when he stood before the television cameras and told the world that the “number of casualties will be more than any of us can bear,” but that “New York is still here,” and that we “should act bravely, we should act in a tolerant way.”

Giuliani himself was fortunate to still be there.  Against the advice of numerous security experts, he had insisted on situation a lavish, $61 million emergency “command bunker” on the twenty-third floor of the forty-seven story 7 World Trade Center tower.  The tower contained no fewer than sixteen different emergency generators and sat over 109,000 gallons of oil in a Con Ed substation; the command bunker added another, unprotected, 6,000-gallon fuel tank suspended above the mezzanine.  When burning debris from the twin towers fell on 7 World Trade, it went up like “a blowtorch,” in the words of investigative reporters Wayne Barrett and Dan Collins, who noted, in Grand Illusion, The Untold Story of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11 that Giuliani’s defenseless fuel tank acted as a giant fuse.

The Office of Emergency Management that Giuliani created failed utterly to coordinate rescue efforts between the city’s Police and Fire Departments.  Even worse, it also failed to ensure that the New York Fire Department had an effective system for communicating with itself—a deficiency that had been exposed by the original 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, and one that led eight years later to hundreds of firefighters being cut off in the towers, without any way of receiving word that the buildings were about to collapse.  Giuliani, on-site throughout the disaster, made no attempt to devise any other means to keep the firefights informed.  In 2004, as New York Times reporters Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn make clear in their book, 102 Minutes, Giuliani lied against the memory of these men, falsely testifying before a fawning 9/11 Commission that they had refused orders to evacuate.

In the days and weeks after the attack, Giuliani failed to ensure that the workers digging out Ground Zero had adequate protection against hazardous waste, an oversight that it now seems, may have led to serious, long-term health consequences for thousands; proposed that his term in office be arbitrarily extended for an indefinite period in order to deal with the recovery from the attack; and placed his mistress and future third wife, Judith Nathan, on the board of a charitable fund for families of the attack’s victims.  Giuliani would later urge his police commissioner at the time of 9/11, Bernard Kerik, to accept a job training the new Iraqi police force, a task he failed at dismally before scurrying back to New York.  Kerik was then nominated, on Giuliani’s recommendation, to become the new head of Homeland Security, before background probes uncovered a thicket of legal and ethical improprieties.  These included Kerik’s appropriation of an apartment designated a rest area for the exhausted World Trade Center excavators, as a trysting place for his affair with this publisher, Judith Regan.

Yet the indelible political image of 9/11 remains that of the heroic Rudy.  All of the ugliness, all of the racial divisiveness and the relentless bullying, was buried under the rubble of the twin towers, granting Giuliani a remarkable new lease on life.  In the wake of the terrorist attack, the whole issue of race would be more deeply repressed in the American consciousness than it had been in at least the past sixty years.   Giuliani, himself, could be safely “relaunched,” rebranded as the very embodiment of post-ideological strength, competence, and heroism.    What was more, the entire city he led, one that often had been the focus of Americans’ most profound suspicions and prejudices in the past, could be reborn with him, as the object of not only our deepest sympathies, but also our greatest desires.

The Ungovernable World

City Hall has long served as a mausoleum for political ambition in this country, and nowhere more so, than in New York, where the ambitions tend to be particularly outside.  Fiorello La Guardia, John Lindsay, Ed Koch, and a host of other New York City mayors all saw their dreams of the presidency crushed under the weight of both their failures and their successes in running the country’s leading city.  (Fernando Wood, perhaps the most brazen scoundrel ever to occupy the office, tried to become head of state by proposing that New York follow the South out of the Union in 1861 and reconstitute itself as the new nation of “Tri-Insula.”  This notion actually came to a vote in the Common Council before being defeated.)  To be mayor of New York is always to associate oneself with a future that too many Americans regarded with fear and loathing, an America full of new immigrant groups, racial and sexual liberation, industrialism and post-industrialism, crime and vision, and chaos.

Yet Rudolph Giuliani’s New York had been transformed in the national imagination.  Like many leading American cities, it had been turned figuratively inside out.  The term “inner city,” which had become a euphemism for “slum” or “ghetto” in the 1980s and ‘90s, has largely faded from the lexicon because inner cities are now where many of the very wealthiest, most glamorous citizens in the whole country live.  Meanwhile, the poor are pushed increasingly to the far edges of the city or all the way out to “edge cities,” small, distant, failed metropolises where they are all but invisible to the national media.

New York is, by many measures, the safest big city in the country, a place whose leading residents accumulate spectacular wealth through all-but-incomprehensible methods.  It is the place where the new class romps through an endless array of four-star restaurants and multi-million-dollar condos; a city largely free of smokestacks or even ships in its harbor.  More than ever before, New York is what Americans want the future to be, no matter how fantastical (probably because of how fantastical) it seems.  It has crossed the bridge to the twenty-first century.

Both New York’s newfound allure and its agony during 9/11 made it the inevitable choice for the 2004 Republican National Convention, and it was no less inevitable that Giuliani would make his opening bid for national office there, by spinning out a new narrative of international disorder.  Now, speaking behind a rostrum that bore an uncanny resemblance to a wooden cross, not three miles from the site of his own Gethsemane at Ground Zero, Giuliani recounted his own heroic role on 9/11—now elevated to “the worst crisis in our history”—and placed the blame for the attacks squarely at the feet of…Europe.

“Terrorism didn’t start on September 11, 2001,” he informed his ecstatic audience   It began, instead, with—of all things—the 1972 attack on the Israeli team at the Munich Olympics and its aftermath, when “the terrorists who slaughtered the Israeli athletes were released by the German government–set free!”  From there, Giuliani went on to cite a long history of European “accommodation, appeasement, and compromise” with terrorism that only led to more terrorism and was akin to trying to “appease Hitler or trying to accommodate the Soviet Union through the use of mutually assured destruction.”  Any objective inquiry into how a Republican administration allowed 9/11 to happen, or what the best strategic response to it should be, was irrelevant—as irrelevant as digging into the objective reasons for New York City’s economic and social decline.

Giuliani had made the brief not so much for Bush as for himself—the same case, essentially, that he had made as to why he should be mayor.  For Europe’s spinelessness in the face of terror, substitute the crime, permissiveness, and coddling of pathological young men and welfare recipients supposedly rampant in pre-Giuliani New York.  All that was necessary was will, faith, and strength.  We could shut down the squeegee men of Al Qaeda in a second.  Indeed, all we really needed to do was to stop coddling them in the fey manner of Upper West Side Europeans.

Giuliani’s convention speech was met with wide acclaim in the major media, in which he was compared with Winston Churchill and Teddy Roosevelt.  Once again, an objective reality had been replaced by a moral fable, a pressing situation answered with a resentment.  A scapegoat had been found, an other to blame.  And thus the Giuliani brand was established—the mayor who had tamed the ungovernable city would now go on to tame the ungovernable world.

Faced with mounting disorder abroad and at home, Americans may well buy into Giuliani’s tale of new villains and morality.  After all, the last time we felt sufficiently threatened some of our media and political elites were willing to throw aside the most established beliefs about race and genetics and agree that we had the right and duty “to strengthen our species’ cognitive defenses against an increasingly dangerous global environment.”  And yet, Islamic terrorists are not squeegee men, and Osama bin Laden is not David Dinkins.  A President Giuliani would not be able simply to bully or overawe the enemies America has in the world today, although there is every reason to believe that he thinks he could do so.

A Party of One

Other than his own temper, the greatest obstacle facing Giuliani in 2008 is that this time the narrative of disorder plainly indicts his own party.  The war in Iraq, the disaster in New Orleans, and the corruption scandals that keep metastasizing with the executive branch are all inextricably linked, not only to the Bush Administration, but to the Republican Party itself.  Giuliani will be particularly hard-pressed to wriggle out of his continuing support for Bush’s war—though he has found ways to subtly criticize the conduct of the war, telling Larry King that he would “do it with more troops, maybe 100,000, 150,000 more.”

The war and the terrorist threat clearly remain Rudy’s “issues,” ones on which he continues to command unequaled respect from the American public and the commentariat.  They are also the most pressing issues of the campaign to a rising number of Americans, and particularly Republicans, as opposed to the diminishing number of voters still preoccupied with the old culture-war stables.  Some 31 percent of G.O.P. voters chose Iraq as their top priority and 17 percent choose terrorism and security, according to the Pew Research Center; just 7 percent chose abortion and 1 percent picked gay marriage.

Just as Bill Clinton was able to silence labor, the advocates of racial and gender equality, and all of the Democrats’ other so-called special interests in the wake of his party’s repeated presidential defeats, so Rudolph Giuliani may be able to mute the Republicans’ religious wing in the wake of George W. Bush’s disastrous administration.  Yet what will this mean?  Many of us would welcome any setback for the Christian right, in view of the buffoonish antics of many of its leaders; its bigoted, know-nothing assaults on gays and lesbians, evolution, and abortion rights; its biased and hypocritical interpretations of the Bible.  Yet to expel evangelical Christians from the body politic would also be to dismiss millions of Americans who are profoundly disturbed by the amoral cynicism that new permeates this nation’s elite classes; by the waves of misogynistic pornography and ultra-violence that inundate our popular culture; by the growth industries that have grown out of gambling and hedonism.  To dismiss these evangelical Christians, would be to dismiss millions of Americans who genuinely believe in something greater than themselves, a whole population that has been slowly but steadily won over to such causes as environmentalism and social justice in recent years.  And where would such people go?  The obvious answer would be, into some sort of coalition with all those the Democratic Party has tried to banish from its ranks—that is, the poor and the working poor, people of color, and all those dislocated by the global economy.  This would mean a party of the religious and the disinherited—exactly the combination that has given rise to the sort of extremism we so deplore in the Islamic world.

As repugnant as George W. Bush’s brand of social conservatism has been, it is not ideology that is at the heart of his administration’s failure, but his personality.  For in the post-ideological world, the politics of personality is all that remains.  The worst excesses of the Bush regime have stemmed directly from its leader’s character—that is, its rampant cronyism; its arrogance and egotism; its peremptory, bullying tone and methods; its refusal to brook criticism from within or without; its frighteningly authoritarian impulses; its need to create enemies as a means of governing; its impulsiveness and naïveté; its outright contempt for the law; and its truly staggering ability to substitute its own versions of what it wishes the world to be for any recognition of objective reality.  Judging from his record in gaining and holding power, there is no reason to believe that Rudolph Giuliani’s presidency would be substantially different.