Giuliani Time

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Giuliani Time

by David Greenberg
With Rudolph Giuliani all but
officially in the presidential race
, I'd like to issue a preemptive plea to
journalists: Can we please not describe him as a

To show this reputed moderation, journalists point to their two pet issues: abortion
and gay rights. This weekend, the Times ran another article on Giuliani's stand on abortion.
Like most such stories, it focused on his rhetoric. But rhetoric is a poorer predictor of
future behavior do than is previous public behavior. And almost everything Giuliani
has done, as prosecutor and mayor, oozes authoritarianism, contempt for civil
liberties and civil rights, intolerance for dissenting speech, and a belief that
traditional religious values (rather than secular ones) should anchor policy. "Social
issues" include not just abortion and gay rights but also crime and punishment,
freedom of speech and religion, minority and women's rights. On these, Giuliani is to
the right of John McCain and as intemperate, reactionary, and dictatorially inclined as
Bush and Cheney.

The first time I heard Giuliani speak was as a college student in the 1980s. He came
to campus to argue that drug "kingpins"--to use a buzzword of the day--deserved
the death penalty. His argument failed any test of logic required of college freshmen.
He said that because drugs can result in death, either by abusers or by violent
criminals in the illegal trade, even dealers who don't use violence should be executed.
(By this reasoning, we should execute gun makers and automobile kingpins.) In the
ensuing debate, Giuliani had his badge handed to him by the undergraduates.
Naïvely, I figured he was a two-bit martinet with no future in politics.

But Giuliani rode his law-and-order authoritarianism to the New York mayoralty. His
record could hardly have been more conservative. The action that perhaps best
captured his deepest, most sincerely held beliefs was his attempt to close an art
exhibit because it offended his religious sensibilities. (As I recall, the courts stopped
him.) There were actually two right-wing beliefs at work here: First, the notion that
allegedly sacrilegious art should be censored; and second, that the power of the
government was tantamount to the power of the man who led that government. He
was offended--not, say, the city's Department of Cultural Affairs.

On other social issues, Giuliani likewise proved himself a dogmatic conservative. He
wanted to seize property of suspected drunk drivers, dispensing with due process. He
tried to support Catholic schools with public tax dollars, in a move that would have
de facto legalized school prayer. He reflexively defended police--not just in the hard
cases of tragic mistakes but in egregious instances of gross brutality--against
innocents who were harassed, arrested, shot, or killed. He showed indifference or
hostility to black New Yorkers. And for all the praise he earned after 9/11, what I
remember about those weeks was a power grab so nakedly dictatorial that not even
Richard Nixon ever tried it: seeking to postpone the upcoming mayoral election so he
might stay in office despite term limits forcing him to retire.

If Giuliani ever becomes president, I have little doubt he'll show his true colors as a
social conservative--abortion and gay rights notwithstanding. I have little doubt that
in the upcoming campaign, his authoritarianism will shine through and will appeal to
those who think America's major problems today are permissiveness, toleration,
cultural decadence, and secular humanism. And I won't be surprised in the least if he
wins the GOP nomination, becomes president and--exactly like George W. Bush
before him--stuns the pundits who kidded themselves that he was a social

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posted in: open university, human interest, politics, social issues, rudolph giuliani

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