Giuliani is Dangerous

by Jonathan Wallace

Most people who run for President are not qualified for the job: they typically aren't smart or decisive enough. Senators who run have never been executives, and are too used to collegial, consensus environments; governors have never handled foreign policy issues; people routinely jump into the race who don't know the name of the prime minister of Canada or the difference between Shi'ites and Sunnis.

Rudolph Giuliani would make a terrible president for very different reasons. Unlike most candidates, he is smart enough for the job, and he probably can talk intelligibly about international politics. He has an executive background, and has no trouble making a decision.

Rudy shouldn't be president because he is too paranoid, rigid, and vengeful for the job. He is also not honest enough, though that is kind of a wash; nobody is honest enough to be president these days (except maybe Al Gore. I would have said John McCain a year ago, but he's lost it).

As mayor of New York City, Rudy maintained an enemy's list. If you ticked him off-- took a position in opposition to something he wanted, or criticized him--Rudy would go to remarkable lengths to punish you. Successful, longstanding neighborhood nonprofits found their funding mysteriously cut off after failing to support Rudy on a local initiative.

Rudy's anger and humorlessness were very much in evidence in his public appearances and on his radio show, for example the famous moment when he belittled a man asking about the prohibition of ferrets as pets in the city. Giuliani implied the man must have psychological problems to be interested in "weasels". Rudy's arrogance and self-love were apparent at all times; he simply could not be bargained or reasoned with once he flashed out in dislike of a person or principle.

Rudy's power base was always the police, and he defended all the uses of inappropriate force which occurred during his mayoralty, without exception. No one today remembers that during his original campaign against David Dinkins, Rudy stood on the steps of City Hall and gave a speech so inflammatory that drunken police rioted, closed the Brooklyn Bridge and beat journalists. Rudy applied the lessons he learned that day by denying anyone else a permit to demonstrate on, or give a speech from, the steps of City Hall.

Later, with the Amadou Diallo shooting and after, Rudy shamefully whitewashed every use of excessive force that happened on his watch. He reached his personal nadir when he released the old, irrelevant criminal record of a man who died when he punched someone hounding him to purchase marijuana. The dealer was an undercover police officer, but the decedent never found that out before throwing a punch and being shot to death.

Rudy's misplaced reputation for integrity was based on his record as a prosecutor. In the '90's, Rudy used to refuse when brokers accused of white collar crime offered to come in and surrender. Instead, he loved to go to their offices, arrest and cuff them in front of their co-workers in the middle of the day, and make them do the "perp walk".

People defending Giuliani as a model of rectitude often point out that he is an Italian uninfluenced by the Mafia, one who in fact stood up to and prosecuted them. However, to praise an Italian American because he is not a mob tool sets the bar of integrity extremely low, and insults Italian Americans. Rudy's association with, and defense of, dishonest men was evident early in his administration. Bernard Kerik was as corrupt as any small time, expense-padding, city official ever, and Rudy never stopped promoting and protecting him until well after they both left office. Rudy also gave a significant city job to the incompetent, dishonest son of Liberal Party boss Ray Harding--NYC politics as usual and hardly the behavior of a new broom sweeping clean.

Rudy didn't do anything on September 11 that was so remarkable. He had personally been involved in the ridiculous decision to place the mayor's emergency command bunker above ground in Seven World Trade Center--with a highly flammmable external oil tank. It collapsed a few hours after the towers did. Rudy never did anything to make the trade towers safer; America's most prominent terror target, was since the beginning a massive disaster waiting to happen. No coherent plan existed for how or when to evacuate the building, fight fires inside it, or even handle communications. Rudy had never worked on or improved any of these issues. Afterwards, he presented a public face, standing up for the cameras and sounding intelligent, but a lot of people could have done that. Rudy was also implicated in the horrendously negligent decision to present Ground Zero air as safe while the fires were still burning. I was a volunteer driver for the Red Cross during that time, and whenever I spent a half hour in Ground Zero I left with a scratchy cough. We heard that if we went and talked to the right (federal) people, we might get a respirator, but it was all anecdotal and nobody was providing any guidance from the top. The city, which insisted on taking tight control of the clean-up, exercised no leadership whatever on health issues.

Giuliani's political epitaph should have been his flirtation with the highly unconstitutional and suspect idea of a referendum extending his second term. I was hopeful when his infidelity to his wife, and health issues, ended his campaign for US Senator. But today he has made a come back and is being talked up alarmingly as a man who could lead the US.

Rudy would in effect be the second coming of Richard Nixon: smart, crazy and vengeful, using the people with guns as his power base, making enemies' lists and punishing the opposition. Bush is incompetent and weak-willed; Rudy would be decisively dangerous. He is one of those rare Americans who one could imagine trying to become President for life, just as he was eager to serve an illegal third term as mayor. Rudy should be kept far away from the presidency. As hypocritical as this sounds, I really hope the forces of reaction--the people who can't stomach his positions on abortion, evolution, gay rights--succeed in denying him the nomination.