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The Man in the Tall Hat (and Dress) By: Ed Morrow
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, March 08, 2007


You know the commercial.  The grizzled cowboy dumps salsa on his supper, tastes it, scowls like someone sat on his Stetson, squints at the salsa's label, and yelps, “New York City!”  The point being that a Tex-Mex food product can best be made by Southwesterners and not by Northeastern urbanites.  Part of the reason the ad plays well is because New Yorkers sometimes irritate non-New Yorkers.  They're often viewed as abrasive, pushy, know-it-alls who aren't shy about telling you what's wrong with you while simultaneously telling you what's wonderful about them.  Barbra Streisand comes to mind -- or Donald Trump and his nemesis Rosie O'Donnell.  For conservatives, there's also New York's knee jerk liberalism.  After all, half their Senate delegation is Hillary Clinton.

But there's another kind of New Yorker that Americans like.  He or she is the everyday, working stiff, both blue and white collar, who knows that an egg cream contains neither eggs nor cream and can completely ignore a fellow passenger on the subway who is proclaiming himself the ambassador from Pluto.  He might be the hardhat hanging steel for a skyscraper or the sharp stock analyst crunching numbers in an office or the woman executive wearing sensible sneakers as she trudges to an office where she switches into heels.  In the old war movies, he was “Brooklyn,” often played by William Bendix.  These New Yorkers are tough with good hearts.  They may be as brusque as a bristle brush but they're decent and have the competence that comes when decency guides your efforts.  These people may not run the city, but they make it work.  On 9/11, Americans got a good look at such New Yorkers.

New York's celebrity elite don't always live up to the ordinary folks below them in the urban pecking order.  Compared to those admirable Gothamites, the Streisands, Trumps, and O'Donnells are just big-mouthed media clowns that loom over the city like the cartoon balloons that float over a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.  Unfortunately, those gasbags always seem to be in charge.  With one major exception.  On the day the Twin Towers fell, Rudy Giuliani was mayor.

How did a Republican get to be mayor of the most liberal major city in America?  Giuliani came from lowly origins in New York's Italian immigrant community.  His father spent a stretch in Sing Sing for robbery, then, reportedly, worked as a tavern keeper/loan shark's collector before leaving the shady side of the street to work as a school janitor.  His mom came from a family that included both lawbreakers and law enforcement officers.  Curiously, but perhaps not surprisingly, parents from this mixed environment often valued respectability and wanted a better, honest life for their children.  This was the case with Giuliani.  Raised in Brooklyn and on Long Island, he was sent to strict Catholic schools where he received a solid education.  He attended college in the Bronx, then earned a law degree at the New York University School of Law in Manhattan.  Giuliani clerked for a federal judge then, in 1970, joined the Office of the U.S. Attorney.  The son of a convict became a prosecutor.

Giuliani quickly rose in federal service.  In 1973, he was in charge of narcotics prosecution in his district.  In 1975, he was Associate Deputy Attorney General and chief of staff to the Deputy Attorney General in Washington, D.C.  He left for a brief stint in private practice, then returned in 1981 when Ronald Reagan appointed him Associate Attorney General, the third spot from the top in the Department of Justice.  In 1983, he was named U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.  In that office, he began a string of high profile prosecutions that included Wall Street insider trading, drug trafficking, government corruption, and organized crime.  Against the later, he took on all five of New York's “Five Families,” winning prosecutions against each.

As the Reagan administration ended, Giuliani launched his own political career, running against David Dinkins as a Republican for mayor of New York in 1989.  He narrowly lost, but, after four years during which crime increased and city government expanded without an improvement in performance but with large increases in taxation, he defeated Dinkins in a second bid for mayor in 1993.

What Giuliani did in office is widely known but worth repeating.  He focused on restoring social order and lowering taxes.  He reduced the welfare rolls and cut spending.  He adopted a stricter policing policy that ridded the city of nuisance crimes like panhandling and the infamous squeegee men under the theory that these minor crimes created an atmosphere of lawlessness, which encouraged greater crimes.  Giuliani also introduced a statistics-based anti-crime effort that gave local law enforcement more control of anti-crime efforts in their area while demanding greater accountability from them.  Crime was cut in half with a nearly 70% reduction in murders.  Giuliani also encouraged redevelopment with the transformation of Times Square from squalid notoriety to family tourist destination.  He faced stiff resistance at every step, but his policies produced a dramatic change in New York City that even his critics had to acknowledge but it would be his leadership on 9/11 that would win him the title “America's Mayor.”

Giuliani was near the Twin Towers when they were attacked.  He witnessed the devastation first-hand and responded effectively.  His statements on television and radio helped guide the public while he directed the city's response to the emergency.  Afterwards, as the city grieved the thousands of dead, Giuliani joined in the mourning, comforting those who had lost loved ones.  While term limits prevented him from running for another term as mayor, no one doubts he would have been hard to beat if he'd been able to run.

Now, Giuliani has authorized a presidential exploratory committee.  The image of pith helmeted guys in suits riding on elephants into the jungle comes to mind but the question they're questing in answer of is whether Rudy can win.  Let's look at the most significant negatives Giuliani will have to overcome to win the Republican nomination.  Giuliani is pro-choice, pro-gun control, and pro-gay.  According to liberal pundits, these are issues on which conservative Republicans, stiff-necked and fanatical, are supposed to march in lock step even if it takes them over the cliff of electoral defeat.  But this isn't necessarily the case.

Take abortion.  While most Republicans have a revulsion for it and believe it should be limited, with barbaric procedures like partial birth abortion banned, many make exceptions for when it is permissible and some, of a libertarian bent, don't think it should be criminalized, believing that abortions are most effectively discouraged through moral persuasion.  They hope that society will come to realize there are better options than a trip to an abortionist for an unexpected expectancy.  Among those who want greater restrictions, it's accepted that this will only come through a shift in the Supreme Court toward strict interpretation of the Constitution.  Such a Court would overturn Roe v. Wade and return the abortion issue to the states to legislate.

Giuliani has expressed a hatred of abortion but believes that a woman should be able to choose to have one.  While this doesn't match the views of pro-Life Republicans, it does match those of many in the party and many in the general populace.  Giuliani has also said he will appoint strict constructionists to the Supreme Court.  Savvy pro-Lifers realize that a President Giuliani appointing justices they will like will do more for their cause than a President Hillary Clinton appointing justices they will hate.

Republicans believe that citizens have a right to protect themselves and that a loaded firearm is quite useful for that purpose.  New York City had strict gun control laws before Giuliani became mayor.  He thought these laws would help reduce the murder rate in NYC, especially gang-related killings, so he used them.  He says he believes Americans have the right to own a gun but that reasonable restrictions on firearms are acceptable.  Republicans are more to the right on this then he is but, again, a Democrat president would be far worse than Giuliani.

Gay rights are another issue upon which Republicans are supposed to all agree.  Most oppose gay marriage, as do most Americans, but there's a growing tolerance for homosexuality.  Democrats like to claim Republicans are all homophobes but Republicans have gay friends and gay family members.  There's that Dick Cheney guy, for example, with a gay daughter in a committed relationship expecting a child.  There aren't many Republicans who doubt Cheney's conservatism because he loves and accepts his daughter.  And, to the amazement of liberals, there are gay Republicans.

Giuliani has gay friends and, when his marriage broke up, he temporarily moved in with a gay couple.  He has said he thinks marriage should be only for heterosexuals but that there should be a way for gay couples to enjoy its legal benefits.  As mayor, his duties led him to support Gay Pride festivities-he also supported the Irish on St. Patrick's Day and the Italians on Columbus Day and any number of days dedicated to some group or other.  This support shouldn't be viewed as unrestricted agreement.  It does demonstrate that Giuliani is willing to show tolerance.  That's an admirable trait and tolerance is one of the great ideals of the American way of life.  Republicans won't punish Giuliani for being tolerant.

This brings us to one problem Giuliani will have trouble overcoming-the dresses.  For charity, he once agreed to don a blonde wig and a dress.  It got a good laugh and, like a lot of politicians, Giuliani loves getting a laugh.  So, he did it again.  He even dressed up as a Rockette.  The most embarrassing appearance was in a skit videotaped for a roast.  Giuliani, in drag, tries perfumes at a cosmetics counter while Donald Trump, the gasbag noted above, flirts with him.  It's jaw-dropping dreadful.

Politicians should restrain their comedic aspirations.  With the exception of John Kennedy's witty charm, Democrats politicians are awful at comedy.  Take John Kerry's soldiers-in-Iraq-are-stupid joke.  It dripped with smug condescension and inflated self-regard.  Republicans are usually better at humor.  George W. likes to dryly tease.  Recently, at a formal dinner, when the Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff poured coffee for the First Lady but neglected the president's cup, Bush fetched the pot himself, then poured a refill for the general before returning to his chair.  Reagan won the 1984 presidential debates by saying he wouldn't make age an issue and wouldn't condemn his opponent's youth and inexperience.  Droll, self-deprecation is Republican-drag, not so much.  We can expect that Democrats will find many, many occasions to remind the public how silly Giuliani looked.  But Rudy's opponents should be wary of trying to exploit the dress issue.  The public knows it was a joke and won't like those who try to instruct them that it was something else.

Those are the big negatives Giuliani must overcome to win the nomination.  The positives are bigger.  There's his record of cutting taxes, reforming government, reducing welfare roles, and cutting crime.  That's the kind of red meat true conservatives love.  And there's his performance on 9/11.  He won a world reputation for his leadership.  On top of this is an even more important positive.  Giuliani understands the Terror War.  He supports the war in Iraq because he knows we face a desperate danger.  While Democrats talk about redeploying troops to Okinawa (who imagines they would ever be un-redeployed back to Iraq under any circumstance) or about cutting off support for the Iraqi government if they don't jump high enough soon enough or about cloaking the removal of support for the troops as support for the troops or about just bugging out à la Saigon rooftops, Giuliani will fight.  Perhaps this is because he was there, in the role of authority, after the planes hit the Twin Towers.  He experienced the shock like all the rest of us but he had the added gut punch of being the guy those around him turned to with the question, “What do we do now?”  And he had to come up with an answer.  He did and that salsa-eating cowboy knows he did.  While there are more conservative candidates, if Republicans want a candidate who will appeal to that cowboy and all the other voters--conservative, liberal, and in the middle-Rudy may be just the New Yorker they need.

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Ed Morrow is the author and illustrator of numerous books, including The Halloween Handbook.


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