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Elite Media Fears Giuliani as GOP Nominee

By Russ Smith

Rudy Giuliani's quest for the presidency isn't one I embrace, but the vitriol (perhaps born of fear that he could win in 2008) leveled against him by the elite media and left wing magazines is surely disproportionate.

As a Manhattan resident from 1987-2003, I never cared for Giuliani's constant self-aggrandizement, odd political decisions (his endorsement of Mario Cuomo in '94) and almost comical and fruitless efforts to censor artists he considered lewd and blasphemous. Those detriments, however, paled compared to his grandstanding in the late 1980s, when, as if taking direction from The New York Times, he zealously used his position as a U.S. Attorney to "clean up" the "white collar criminals" in the financial industry. That few of his indictments were successful-aside from ruining the professional lives of many sacrificial lambs-was largely forgotten in his subsequent campaigns for mayor of New York.

Nevertheless, with the dearth of compelling Republican candidacies, Giuliani's platform of aggressive foreign policy and promised allergy to tax hikes is clearly preferable to the lockstep protectionist, punish-the-rich, United-Nations-friendly stances of all the plausible Democratic contenders.

Recently, two national magazines featured cover stories with almost identical teasers: Kevin Baker's piece in the August issue of Harper's titled "A Fate Worse Than Bush: Rudolph Giuliani and the Politics of Personality," and Matt Taibbi's piece in the June 14 Rolling Stone titled "Giuliani: Worse than Bush." It's been my impression that the majority of Democrats couldn't possibly conjure up anyone who's "worse" than Bush.

In fact, Baker never really gets around to saying why Giuliani would be a "fate worse than Bush." Only in the last paragraph does Baker assert that a Giuliani presidency likely wouldn't be "substantially different" than that of the incumbent's. The bulk of Baker's indictment of Giuliani centers on his record as a two-term mayor of New York, refuting the commonly accepted view that Rudy, despite his excesses, succeeded in making the city a safer, more prosperous municipality than his predecessors Ed Koch and especially the forlorn David Dinkins.

According to Baker, Giuliani "achieved almost nothing of significance" during his tenure, save piggybacking on Dinkins' painstaking efforts on crime reduction and governing while the national (and local) economy prospered, in large part because of the technological boom. While it's true that crime did tick down nationally in the 90s, there was no success story as stunning as New York's.

Here's an example: one late Sunday morning in 1989 I was walking to the offices of my company, New York Press, then located at Broadway and Spring St. in tourist-packed Soho. Not even a block away, I witnessed a man shatter the windshield of a parked car with a baseball bat, help himself to the spoils inside, and then casually walk off with the loot. Although the streets were mobbed, no one batted an eye; that's how pervasive brazen criminal activity was in those years.

Pre-Giuliani, I used to walk home at night to Tribeca-about a mile from the office-in the middle of the street, like many residents did. Baker claims that the infamous (and often belligerent) squeegee men who preyed on motorists at busy intersections were gone by the time Giuliani took office after defeating Dinkins in 1993. Maybe we lived and worked in different neighborhoods, but this simply wasn't the case: smalltime thugs, panhandlers and throngs of homeless people seemed to vanish within a year of Giuliani's first term.

Baker, who espouses the oft-repeated notion that 21st century American politics are dominated by personality instead of ideas, begins his article in a very strange way. "Rudolph Giuliani has, by far, the most dubious known personal history of any major presidential candidate in American history, what with his 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." Who is Baker kidding when he claims that Giuliani's personal conduct is the "most dubious" in American politics?

What about Grover Cleveland and Andrew Jackson, whose personal lives made for great fodder for journalists and political opponents in the 19th century? The sexual appetite of John F. Kennedy-never mind his father's mob associations and handing out gobs of cash to political operatives-wasn't common knowledge at the time, except to friendly pundits and associates, but it's now part of history. Lyndon Johnson was a horndog and Ronald Reagan never enjoyed a close relationship with his children.

Both Baker and Taibbi take issue with Giuliani's reputation as "America's Mayor," a persona he took on after 9/11. Certainly not all of Giuliani's decisions in the days and months that followed 9/11 were 100 percent sound; that'd be an impossible feat given the hysteria and chaos that was visited upon the city. But the Monday-morning quarterbacking about how Giuliani failed in keeping recovery workers safe at the decimated World Trade Center is an easy line of attack today, especially since the United States, almost inexplicably, hasn't yet suffered another such calamity.

Taibbi, whose pandering, expletive-strewn Hunter S. Thompson imitation is geared to Rolling Stone's demographics, goes much further, at least stylistically, than Baker in recalling 9/11. First, he says that the mayor's career, "like Bush's," was in the toilet prior to the attacks. Maybe, maybe not. Giuliani, who dropped out of a Senate contest against Hillary Clinton the year before due to prostate cancer, was at least temporarily in the political doldrums, not an uncommon problem for public servants who've been in office for eight years. (The conclusion, on the other hand, that Bush was similarly crippled is absurd; he hadn't yet completed a year in office and no one can say how his presidency would have progressed absent 9/11.)

Taibbi continues: "[Giuliani] stood on a few brick piles on the day of the bombing, then spent the next ten months making damn sure everyone worked the night shift on-site while he bonked his mistress and negotiated his gazillion-dollar move to the private sector. Meanwhile, the people who actually cleaned up the rubble got used to checking their stool for blood each morning. Now Giuliani is running for president-as the hero of 9/11. George Bush has balls, too, but even he has to bow to this motherf*****."

How charming.

I've no idea whether Giuliani's moderate views on "morality" issues will sink him in the GOP primaries. Even though his early polling lead has slipped in recent months, it's my hunch that except for diehard, single-issue religious conservatives, Giuliani's tough stance on terrorists will trump issues like abortion and gay marriage. In reading both the Harper's and Rolling Stone exercises in revisionist paranoia, however, it's clear that Bush-despisers are petrified that Giuliani might be the GOP nominee a year from now.

Russ Smith is the founder of three weekly newspapers and contributes frequently to The Wall Street Journal.

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