OCTOBER 29, 2007
Most of us have come to know Rudy Giuliani as the candidate of choice for Republicans who like President Bush but wish his Middle East policy were a little less restrained or that he invoked September 11 a bit more frequently. But there's another, less well-known aspect to Giuliani: He is the ne plus ultra of the economic right.
Compared to other Republican presidential contenders, Giuliani identifies himself as a "supply-sider" in public more aggressively and has mopped up more financial support from oil, gas, and other bastions of the financial right. But economic right-wingery has conquered the GOP so thoroughly that there's not much Giuliani can do to stand out, platform-wise. What truly sets him apart is the apparent depth of his convictions, and the extent to which he is willing to follow the right's philosophical premises through to their grim conclusion.
Consider Giuliani's position on health care reform. Like most Republicans, he rails against socialist HillaryCare. Like many Republicans, Giuliani's proposed health care reform is to provide a tax deduction for individual health care. Of course, the value of a tax deduction is proportionate to your income level. If you're in the top tax bracket, you could deduct 35 cents of every health care dollar you spend. If you don't earn enough to owe income taxes, or if you have a pre-existing condition and can't afford coverage, a tax deduction would probably be worthless. Giuliani's tax deduction remedy would therefore do virtually nothing to cover the uninsured.
Now, many Republicans who feel obliged to have some kind of health care "plan" endorse the health care tax deduction. Most just don't care very much about the uninsured. Giuliani, by contrast, is not indifferent to the plight of the uninsured. He actually seems to revel in it:
I don't like mandating health care. I don't like it because it erodes what makes health care work in this country--the free market, the profit motive. A mandate takes choice away from people. We've got to let people make choices. We've got to let them take the risk--do they want to be covered? Do they want health insurance? Because, ultimately, if they don't, well, then, they may not be taken care of.
Where does this bizarrely punitive view of the health care system come from? It apparently arises from Giuliani's experience with welfare reform, which he constantly likens to health care. "You don't start off by promising you're going to insure everybody," he warned earlier this year. "It's the same mistake the Democrats made with welfare." So providing health coverage to the uninsured will make them irresponsible.
Of course, this analysis is insane, unless you think most of the uninsured lack coverage because they'd rather splurge at Best Buy than spend money on health insurance. Alas, this appears to be exactly what Giuliani believes. "[The uninsured] may be buying a television, ... they may be buying a cell phone," he said at last week's debate.
Giuliani also thinks that insulating people from the costs of sickness or injury will make them more likely to get sick or injured. "There is no incentive to wellness," he complains. Perhaps you thought wellness was an incentive in and of itself. Obviously, you lack Giuliani's grasp of free-market homilies. As Giuliani understands, when you don't pay the cost of a good, you have every incentive to consume more of it. That's why those of us with insurance are always borrowing handkerchiefs from people with communicable diseases or juggling steak knives barefoot.
Some think Giuliani's extreme-right economic views are a form of pandering, to compensate for his pro-choice, pro-gay rights beliefs. But his economic right-wingery seems to flow from a deep-seated punitive impulse, which he has transferred from the shiftless New York City underclass to vast swaths of the population. Giuliani has echoed the language of economic libertarianism with more frankness, and less pretense of compassion, than any recent Republican presidential candidate.
That Giuliani so closely embraces the values of economic conservatives no doubt accounts in part for their intense support for his campaign. But just as important is the historic opportunity he represents--to give them, at last, unfettered primacy among the factions of their party.
Social conservatives have reacted to this threat with confusion and panic. For years, they have accepted their subordinate position within the party-- Republicans expend political capital only on economic priorities, never on social priorities--with little complaint. Among their consolations has been an understood informal requirement that GOP presidential nominees share their beliefs, or at least profess to. (Supply-sider Steve Forbes, who now supports Giuliani, had to undergo a dramatic conversion to social conservatism before his 2000 campaign.) To now nominate a candidate who is avowedly pro-choice, among other social heresies, would strip away their last fig leaf, making the economic wing's de facto control of the party explicit. It would be the equivalent of the barbarian Odoacer crowning himself Emperor of Rome in 476.
Giuliani, of course, is careful not to antagonize social conservatives. But his campaign is in fact an attempt to define social conservatism out of the Republican platform. While most Republicans define their party's values by invoking three parts--small government, strong military, social conservatism-- Giuliani only mentions the first two. A recent editorial in the pro-Giuliani New York Sun proposed a list of GOP values. Item one was a belief that tax cuts make revenues rise. Social issues did not make the list at all. Last winter, Giuliani told a crowd at the Hoover Institution that the GOP must redefine itself around economic issues--health care, school choice, taxes--as the "Party of Freedom."
Of course, Giuliani's vision of "freedom" is not necessarily about liberating the human spirit. "[F]reedom is not a concept in which people can do anything they want, be anything they can be," he once explained as mayor. "Freedom is about authority." It's also about the freedom to inherit a vast fortune tax-free, or the freedom to get sick and die. Or, as another philosopher of the topic, Janis Joplin, once put it, "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."
Jonathan Chait is a senior editor at The New Republic and author of The Big Con: The True Story of How Washington Got Hoodwinked and Hijacked by Crackpot Economics.