Giuliani again

Rudy GiulianiIt’s been all Giuliani all the time over at Talking Points Memo, ever since he embarrassed himself and Scott Walker with his animadversions on Obama’s upbringing, his likely communist affiliations, and his lack of patriotism. Josh Marshall says Giuliani introduced a dangerous distraction into the GOP primary sweepstakes, one that has already hurt Walker, who should be concentrating on economic rather than culture issues. Readers of THE NEW HATE and this blog can guess what I would say — that distractions though they might be, xenophobic and racist dog whistling have been a staple of the right wing backlash since, well, forever.

The backlash against Giuliani’s backlash has almost been comical. It’s ridiculously easy to find pictures in which he looks demented (see above); his biography and family background are absurdly easy to mine for examples of his hypocrisy (as Wayne Barrett quickly did). Giuliani’s father was a convicted criminal; Giuliani announced his second divorce to the press before he got around to telling his wife. Yadda yadda yadda.

Jim Sleeper had an article in Salon about Giuliani’s sad devolution into “just another GOP street lunatic” that I found interesting and probably right. Rudy’s fatal flaw, he said, was his “zealot’s graceless division of everyone into friend or foe and [his] snarling, sometimes histrionic, vilifications of the foes. Those are operatic emotions, beneath the civic dignity of a great city and its chief magistrate.” Ironically, it was that same flaw that enabled his apotheosis:

Only on 9/11, when the whole city became as operatic as the inside of Rudy’s mind, was he able to project himself so convincingly as America’s Mayor. For once, his New York rearranged itself into a stage fit for, say, Rossini’s “Le Siege de Corinth” or a dark, nationalist epic by Verdi or Puccini that ends with bodies strewn all over and the tragic but noble hero grieving for his devastated people and foretelling a new dawn.

I think he’s probably right, but what struck me and I think most New Yorkers about Rudy’s performance in the days after 911 wasn’t its grandeur, but its simplicity and calm. When reporters were spreading rumors about a van full of explosives on the Washington Bridge, Giuliani went on TV and quashed them. He reminded us of the unseemliness of vindictiveness and the importance of knowing the facts (although it’s worth remembering that, as Giuliani himself recounted in his book Leadership, he asked Bush to let him execute Bin Laden when he was caught). 

That aura instantly evaporated when he proposed that his term be extended, but before that he really shone, especially in the absence of national leadership (ex-president Clinton, who had been in Australia on 911, got to New York before Bush did). The most important thing that a leader can do in the face of a catastrophe is simply to show up. Bush got it as wrong after 911 as he did after Katrina; Giuliani has gotten everything else wrong ever since. But for a few days, he hit all his marks unerringly.

His tragedy, as some have called it, is that he is every bit the “nasty man” that Ed Koch said he is.


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