Feb 27, 2007

The good, the bad and the Rudy

Ross Douthat & Reihan Salam take a look at Rudy Giuliani's brand of conservatism during his tenure at mayor of New York. They argue that it's a mistake for Rudy to recast himself as a compassionate conservative when Rudy's real strength is "respect conservatism."
Delivering safe streets to New Yorkers wasn't an act of magnanimity, but rather an obligation. And, as Giuliani made clear, citizens and public servants were expected to fulfill their obligations as well. Anyone who failed to abide by this basic contract, whether a petty thief or a police commander who failed to meet crime-reduction targets, would be held accountable.

As commonplace as this might sound, it's difficult to overstate how dramatic a break it was with the city's reigning political culture. As mayor, Giuliani stood almost alone against the tendency Fred Siegel dubbed "dependent individualism"--the noxious idea that individuals ought to be freed from obligations to family and community through the largesse of a generous welfare system. "Dependent individualism" fueled the rise of a new class of ethnic shakedown artists. Unlike the old patronage machines, which trafficked in corruption yet delivered tangible benefits and served as engines of political assimilation, self-appointed spokesmen for "the Community" like Al Sharpton demanded deference while offering nothing but bluster and veiled threats. Their chants of "no justice, no peace"--that is, threats of civil violence designed to intimidate authority--brought the Dinkins administration to its knees.
The authors recount an incident in Giuliani's second term in which the then-mayor had a run in with the mother of a police shooting.
Rather than accept Rosario's version of events, Giuliani challenged her at every turn, carefully recounting the details of her son's encounter with the police and his long rap sheet. At one point, he bluntly suggested the blame for her son's death might lie with her own poor parenting: "Maybe you should ask yourself some questions about the way he was brought up and the things that happened to him."

It's difficult to imagine a "compassionate conservative" saying anything like this. And such impolitic honesty helps explain why Giuliani spent much of his second term as an unpopular figure--in spite of plunging crime rates and welfare rolls, and New York's economic comeback--before 9/11 transformed him into "America's mayor." Once Giuliani tamed the ungovernable city, he suddenly seemed too tough and hard-edged even for New York.
I actually prefer this Rudy to "America's mayor," he seems honest and he brooks no nonsense. But David Freddoso thinks Rudy is just plain rude--not to mention obnoxious and mean.
Few of those admiring America’s Mayor from afar remember the real mayor who became so jealous of the media attention given to Bill Bratton — his own police commissioner and the brains behind much of his crime-reduction strategy — that he drove the man out of office. Iowa voters have never heard about the Rudy who could walk into a town-hall meeting in The Bronx and shout down a boorish but pitiful female questioner (she rambled on that she had been unjustly evicted, as Esquire Magazine described it in 1997) with an over-the-top response like, “I’m glad we didn’t help you.”

Those who lived in New York prior to 9/11, myself included, remember an excellent mayor who was obsessed with getting credit for everything and making his critics pay; an effective mayor who called rivals “jerks” and “morons;” a decisive mayor who knowingly set out to drag his 14- and 10-year-old children through one of the nastiest and most publicized divorces in history. They remember a ruthless mayor who responded to the accidental police shooting of Patrick Dorismond in 2000 not just by defending the cops (as a good mayor must), but by illegally releasing the victim’s sealed juvenile rap sheet and declaring on television that the deceased “isn’t an altar boy.”

Finally, Ralph Reiland looks at his father, his accomplishments as mayor and the mob prosecutions that put Giuliani on the map.

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