Rudy Giuliani, Disciplinarian
As he has tacked to the left and right throughout his career, his worldview has remained constant.
Rudolph Giuliani, the former New York City mayor and frontrunner for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, worked in the Reagan administration as associate attorney general, the number three position in the Justice Department. At the time, Giuliani was the youngest associate attorney general in American history. Today, as he criss-crosses the country, speaking to Republican primary voters from Florida to Iowa to South Dakota to California, Giuliani is keen to emphasize his association with Reagan. He praises Reagan's "optimistic leadership." He emulates Reagan's toughness. He advocates so-called "Reaganomics."
And yet it would be a stretch to say that Giuliani is an adherent to the set of political ideas known as Reaganism. Giuliani adheres to Giuliani-ism. Where Reagan emphasized the enduring possibilities of freedom, Giuliani emphasizes the duties freedom imposes on citizens--the most important of which, in his opinion, is the duty of citizens to respect the law. Where Reagan set strategic goals, delegated authority (sometimes too broadly), and allowed room for his agency heads to innovate, Giuliani is a top-down executive known for micromanagement and for employing every possible legal authority to achieve his ends.
He also happens to have been one of the most effective chief executives in modern American history. Some view his doggedness, his maximalist position on every issue and the tactics he adopts, as a form of "authoritarianism," but that term is intended to insult rather than describe. It would be more accurate to call him a legalistic disciplinarian. And, indeed, one of the striking aspects of Giuliani's career is that, while he has tacked right in his quest for the 2008 nomination, his worldview seems to have remained consistent at least since his prosecutorial days.
And one word best describes it: grim.
Giuliani recalls one of his first meetings with Reagan. It was early in 1981, shortly after Reagan had been inaugurated as the nation's 40th president. Reagan had invited the 36-year-old former assistant United States attorney, along with an assortment of other would-be deputies and undersecretaries, to the White House for breakfast. There were between 20 and 25 people there in all, Giuliani remembers, and the conversation between the ambitious functionaries and the president was lighthearted. Mostly they talked baseball. Reagan reminisced about his days as a sportscaster in Iowa. Toward the end of the breakfast the appointees shook hands and had their picture taken with the president. Giuliani gave his photo to his mother.
Giuliani had joined the GOP only a few months prior to meeting Reagan for breakfast. The story of how he came to join the party is interesting, not only for what it tells us about Giuliani's partisan evolution, but also for what it suggests about his character, and the character of his political thought. A liberal who had penned columns in his college paper extolling John Kennedy's virtues, Giuliani opposed the Vietnam war and voted for George McGovern in the 1972 presidential election. "I had traditionally been a Democrat," Giuliani told me in a recent interview in Las Vegas. "It was almost like a refl ex mode. I actually remember saying to myself, 'If I was a person really deciding who should be president right now, I'd probably vote for Nixon, because I think the country would be safer with Nixon.' My concern was the Soviets, foreign policy, strong military." Whatever his concern, it was not enough to make Giuliani pull the lever for a Republican.
Shortly after McGovern lost, however, Giuliani's politics began to change. Sometime in 1973, during an investigation into public corruption in New York City, Assistant U.S. Attorney Giuliani had a revelation. "I was just sitting in my office one day thinking, I don't agree with the Democrats at all on foreign policy," he says. "And I don't agree with them anymore on social policy. I think these welfare programs, which were well-intended, are disasters, and the corruption is rampant." Giuliani went to the Board of Elections to change his registration. "I said, 'Can I change registration?' and they said, 'Sure.' So they gave me a new card to fill out. There were a whole bunch of choices of party. I was considering putting down Republican, but I thought, No, I don't know what I am right now. So I thought, I'm a U.S. attorney, maybe it's better if I'm an independent." And that is what he became.
Giuliani remained an independent throughout his first stint in Washington, as associate deputy attorney general in the Ford administration. He and his first wife Regina lived in a condominium in Rosslyn, across the Potomac from the capital, and voted in Virginia elections. You don't have to declare a party affiliation to vote in Virginia. Giuliani did not register as a Republican, but says he voted for Republicans. "I voted for Gerry Ford. I had met him, really respected him--big supporter of Gerry Ford. And then, by the time I left Washington I was a Republican."
Not quite. When Jimmy Carter became president in January 1977, Giuliani returned to New York City, where he worked in private practice at the firm Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler. He was
still an independent. It was not until December 8, 1980--a month after Reagan defeated Carter--that Giuliani changed his official registration status to Republican. He seemed eager to return to Washington. "Rudy's switch coincided with the handing out of new political appointments by the Reagan administration," writes one of Giuliani's biographers, Village Voice reporter Wayne Barrett. "And Rudy, whose former Patterson Belknap colleague, Richard Parsons, was on the Reagan transition team, knew he had a shot at one."
As associate attorney general, Giuliani oversaw the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the U.S. marshals, the Bureau of Prisons, and all U.S. attorneys. He chaired a violent crime taskforce and handled the Reagan administration's response to the Haitian and Cuban refugee crises. He helped to extradite a couple of Nazi war criminals. He met Ted Olson, the future solicitor general of the United States, who was then serving as assistant attorney general for the office of legal counsel. The two became close. "It doesn't take more than five minutes to become friends with Rudy Giuliani," Olson tells me. Today Olson is a senior adviser to the Giuliani campaign and chairs its "Justice Advisory Board."
Giuliani had served in the Reagan administration for about two years when the president appointed him U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. The job launched his career in New York City politics and made him famous both for bringing down the mob and for ordering alleged white-collar crooks frogmarched in public. Giuliani thrived in the spotlight and reveled in his newfound fame. He tacked left in his 1989 mayoral run, lost, then tacked right again in 1993, eking out a victory. And his achievements in New York--not, as is so widely claimed, his leadership on September 11, 2001-- serve as the touchstone for his presidential candidacy. What sort of president would he be? The habits of mind that would inform the governing style of President Giuliani are not a mystery; there are plenty of clues to what may await us. For Giuliani, the existence of evil requires good citizens to uphold the rule of law. He quotes James Madison--" If all men were angels, we wouldn't need governments"-- before adding, "And sure, that could also be the result of having been, for more of my life than anything else, a prosecutor." He goes on, "And seeing horrible evil, and people who had committed murders, people who had committed significant numbers of murders, people who would step on the legs of other people. The rational mind has a hard time understanding horrible people, who are not operating on, you know, principles of any kind of decency. And it's very hard for the rational mind to conceive that there are people that are totally warped."
Giuliani sees the law as the tool by which evil is disciplined and the city made safe for law-abiding citizens. And the law means what it says. When Giuliani says he is a strict constructionist, he is saying he has a restrictive view of the rights enumerated in the Constitution and a technical, legalistic approach to statutory interpretation. What he is not saying is that the Supreme Court incorrectly decided Roe v. Wade. "Strict constructionism is much broader than just one case," he says. "I thought a number of the decisions of the Warren Court, with regard to accused criminals, had gone way overboard in almost only seeing the rights of accused criminals and not seeing the implications that that had for the rights of victims, and for the right of the rest of society to be safe. It was almost like a process without limit, if you could invent a new right for a criminal, it was almost considered a decent society if you gave the criminal this additional right, and nobody was asking the question, 'Well, doesn't there come a point where you give so many rights to criminals that you're making society much more dangerous?'"
It probably was the exclusionary rule, the legal principle by which evidence collected unconstitutionally is inadmissible in U.S. courts, that made Giuliani a strict constructionist. "The exclusionary rule is a rule that I've always thought had no basis in logic," he says. "I always agreed with the dissent that said if the constable blunders, the criminal should not be set free. And the court has done a good job limiting the exclusionary rule by creating exceptions to it. But the core of the rule, to me, does not emerge from the Constitution. The more logical remedy for violation of, let's say, the right of privacy in your home, would be to punish the offending officer, rather than let the evidence be suppressed, and let the drug dealer go free, or the murderer go free or . . ."
"I remember once I had a case in court, wasn't mine, it was one of my colleagues', I'm pretty sure that's right. I remember it right, and a judge ruled that the seizure of the evidence and the guns was illegal. And the assistant U.S. attorney, who thought the ruling was wrong, got up and said to the judge, 'Do I have to give it back to him? Since it's his property, does it mean he leaves the courthouse not only a free man, but do I, should I, judge, should I give him the drugs and guns back?' And the judge got very angry. I think he was disciplined, the assistant U.S. attorney was disciplined, and I thought he was making a real point that the judge shouldn't have gotten angry about, because in essence--well, we didn't have to give the drugs and the guns back--but I'm pretty sure that a drug dealer, and a potential murderer, got out of the courthouse that day, and he got some more drugs, some more guns. Why should innocent people in society pay the price of mistakes that law enforcement officers make? And finally, when they're just mistakes, which happen in an intricate business like law enforcement, why, why the hell--why the heck--are you making society more dangerous as a result of it?" Giuliani's strict constructionism extends to the separation of powers. In his view, the judiciary--not the legislature or the executive or all three coequal branches--is the final arbiter of a law's constitutionality. In a July interview in Iowa, Giuliani explained to me the role each branch ought to play in the functioning of government. "It's real simple," he said. "The legislature makes laws, the executive carries out those laws, and the judiciary interprets them. And if any one of the three oversteps their bounds, it seems to me, we've actually deprived the American people of the liberty and the freedom and the democracy they have. If Congress fails to make writing with a Sharpie a crime . . ."
He held up a black Sharpie marker for emphasis.
". . . the president can't decide all of a sudden that it's a crime and put people in jail for that. The president can't make laws.
"But if Congress does make the law that it's a crime, then the president's got to carry it out until the court says it's an improper use of congressional power," he continued. "Because otherwise the other branches are probably going to encroach. When I see presidents fighting for presidential prerogative, and they get criticized for it, well, who's going to fight for it if the president doesn't? If the president doesn't fight for presidential prerogative, Congress will usurp that prerogative. And if Congress doesn't fight for its prerogatives, the president may usurp it, and then we've got the Court, to be the referee and decide: Has the president gone too far? Or has Congress gone too far?" What do you do if you disagree with a law Congress has passed, I asked.
"Then you go to court," he said. "Every once in a while, the city council would pass a law while I was the mayor that I didn't agree with. If I wasn't going to follow it, I'd take it to court. And the court said, they don't have authority to pass this. And sometimes Congress does pass laws they don't have the authority to pass. Congress loves to encroach on the president, as much as the president encroaches on Congress."
As mayor of New York City, Giuliani put these ideas into practice and, if you listen to him long enough, you begin to understand that if he becomes president he will attempt to apply them on a global scale. In Las Vegas, sitting in a dimly lit suite on the twenty-eighth floor of the Venetian tower, he outlines how excessive license had made New York ungovernable. "We are not allowed to do anything we want to do," he says. "That's chaos. Liberty is ceding a certain amount of your ability to do what you want so that everybody else can live in peace and freedom and respecting the rights of other people. Squeegee operators and graffiti people used to kind of preach that to me, with the oldest graffiti all over the city. People would say, 'Well, that's free speech.' Well, wait a second. If it's not your property, and if it's my property, and you just painted something on my property that I didn't want, then that's vandalism. It's not free speech; it's defacing and destroying my property. And, to live in a society of many people, we have to all respect the rights of other people. And we can't just do everything we want to do."
When I ask Giuliani if there were parallels between his fight against criminality and the war on Islamic terrorists, he says: "This is why I say I'm the best qualified to deal with terrorism.
"Someone once said to me that what they don't get about the Democrats, and even some Republicans that do this, is they're more concerned about rights for terrorists than the terrorists' wrongs," Giuliani went on. "I mean, this granting of rights to criminals and terrorists, even when they're necessary, come with a price, a price at the other end of it. Even for the ones that are necessary, like, let's say, the Miranda ruling, it's one you agree with--there's a price for that. Maybe it's one worth paying. The exclusionary rule, there's a big price for that: Criminals go free. They walk out of court. If you say, you know, no aggressive questioning, then we're not going to find out about situations. If you say no wiretapping, well, there'll be conversations going on, planning to bomb New York, or Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and you're not going to find out. And, when we draw these lines, at least let's be honest with people about the consequences of them. Let's not fool them into thinking that there are no consequences to this. People will say that aggressive questioning doesn't work. I, you know, I . . . Honest answer to that is, it doesn't work all the time. Sometimes it does."
Just as Giuliani disciplined an anarchic city, so too would he try to discipline a disordered world. "Civilization must stand up and combat the current collapse of governance, the rise of violence, and the spread of chaos and fear in many parts of the world," he wrote in a much derided, and little-studied, recent essay in Foreign Affairs:
I know from personal experience that when security is reliably established in a troubled part of a city, normal life rapidly reestablishes itself: shops open, people move back in, children start playing ball on the sidewalks again, and soon a decent and law-abiding community returns to life. The same is true in world affairs. Disorder in the world's bad neighborhoods tends to spread. Tolerating bad behavior breeds more bad behavior. But concerted action to uphold international standards will help people, economies, and states to thrive. Civil society can triumph over chaos if it is backed by determined action.
The boldness of such a metaphor--that the world is nothing more than a really, really big New York City--is unmistakable; a Giuliani presidency would test whether or not the metaphor actually is true. One thing is clear, however. You sometimes hear that Giuliani is a cipher, that he has hidden or downplayed his true self in order to appeal to the Republican primary electorate, and the American electorate more generally. Nothing could be further from the truth. His instincts, his thoughts, his goals, his tactics, his audacity--it is all there in the open, like it or not, as it has been from the beginning.
Matthew Continetti is the associate editor of THE WEEKLY STANDARD.