alien & sedition.
Monday, April 02, 2007
  What is Giulianism?

Andrew Ferguson's new Weekly Standard article on Rudy Giuliani is worth reading. Ferguson highlights the strange ideological incoherence of Rudy's campaign thus far. It's not just that the former mayor is both "an apostate and a frontrunner" - strange enough combination on its own - Giuliani appears to be running a cautious campaign, one that seems to misjudge both the political landscape and the candidate's own strengths and weaknesses.

The article suffers from the usual media credulity toward Rudy's twin myths - that He Saved New York and that He Was a 9/11 Hero. And it is gratuitously insulting to New Yorkers (though other New Yorkers might agree with Ferguson's analysis). But it does go deeper. Ferguson's portrait of Giuliani's personal brand of conservatism is grating but revealing:
Yet Giuliani's conservatism was a uniquely New York artifact, just as the fever from which he rescued his city was singular and without parallel anywhere else. He cut taxes but taxes remained high. He reduced red tape but the city's regulatory apparatus remained vast. He reduced the rate of growth in government spending to close a budget deficit, but by the end of his mayoralty the deficit had reopened and grown larger than the one he originally faced. Mostly his program, and the source of his success, involved the reapplication of common sense principles that only New Yorkers, alone among the country at large, had been stupid enough to forget so thoroughly: Personal safety and civic order are preconditions of any kind of progress; work is better than welfare; lower taxes encourage economic activity; small crimes lead to big crimes, and crime of any kind deserves punishment; sex shops are antisocial disruptions of neighborhood life. And graffiti, by God, isn't art.
Take away 9/11 and examine Giuliani as a conservative - and he is a kind of conservative. How does this kind of conservatism translate to the America of 2008? It's an older model - a sort of reactionary tough love, a pastiche that thrived in an urban environment of racial tension, crime, and economic crisis. It appeals to a certain frustration with bureaucratic fecklessness, and it unmistakeably draws from white resentment of blacks stereotyped as welfare queens and criminals. But it is not in any sense the comprehensive anti-government ideology of the conservative movement. The white ethnics who made up Giuliani's base had no interest in abolishing government. They just wanted it to stop coddling the people they didn't like.

Giuliani's conservatism is the product of a particular ecosystem - it's a reaction to the New York of the 1970s and 80s. As even some conservative analysts have noted, it is based on themes - welfare, crime, taxes - that simply don't resonate very much on the national level anymore. Giulianism was a late flowering of America's post-1960s reactionary phase; it's hard to imagine it translating to a presidential campaign in the current context.

Which shouldn't matter too much if Giuliani can run as the national security candidate - despite, as Ferguson observes, having no foreign policy experience. But this is the funny thing. Everyone knows that 9/11 is Rudy's big campaign ad. Ask a conservative - any conservative - and he'll tell you that the point about Giuliani is that the mayor was born to kick jihadi ass. It's a strange sort of alchemy that takes the fact that Rudy happened to be mayor on 9/11, crosses it with the fact that he has a reputation for being an asshole, and - voila! - produces The Great Warrior on Terror. But never mind. As much as Giuliani has tried to milk the 9/11 connection, he's been strangely timid about the second part of the equation. He isn't basing his campaign on the rhetoric of kicking terrorist butt - in fact, he's sounding downright peaceable, criticizing the concept of the War on Terror and talking about how ultimate victory will come through techonology and trade, not military might. As Ferguson observes, Giuliani has said he prefers the term "the terrorists' war on us," which sounds remarkably passive. John Kerry would have been pilloried for this kind of talk.

What he has emphasized is supply-side economics. There was the flat tax flip-flop to pick up the Forbes endorsement. Larry Kudlow loves him. And he seems to be trying to channel the force of his personality into, of all things, ending welfare as we know it:
He is, rhetorically at least, the most economically libertarian presidential candidate since the doomed campaign of Phil Gramm. Most remarkable of all, he wraps his message of economic freedom in the same unyielding moralism that rattled New Yorkers.

"Maybe the thing I worked on the most in New York," he tells the San Franciscans, "was to get New Yorkers to reestablish the idea of personal responsibility." For generations, he says, New York's comprehensive welfare system had operated on the idea of collective responsibility. "We were dramatically breaking down the work ethic," he says. So he put the city's welfare population to work. The New York Times called him a fascist. But venturing into the neighborhoods, he would tell welfare recipients: "'I love you more. I care about you as if you were my brother or sister. I want you to work and have a job.' . . . And so at the grassroots, we rebuilt the idea of personal responsibility rather than collective responsibility."
Put aside the condescending rhetoric and the question of just how often he "ventured into the neighborhoods" of poor African-Americans to tell them how much he loved them. As a presidential campaign strategy, this is a very good one for 1980.

If it were me, I'd be listening to Brooks and Hacker. And, again, that Pew Poll. The evidence suggests that Americans increasingly value the security provided by activist government. There are no more welfare queens left to demonize, but there's plenty of anxiety over inequality and the health care crisis. But Giuliani seems to be proudly running on a program of vouchers and free markets. He's actually running against universal health care:
"Democrats want universal health care, collective responsibility--honestly, it's their version of socialized medicine." Even the recent health care reform in Massachusetts, designed by the Republican governor Mitt Romney, was tainted with collectivity, because it required every citizen to get health insurance.

"I don't like mandates," Giuliani says. "I don't like mandating health care. I don't like it because it erodes what makes health care work in this country--the free market, the profit motive. A mandate takes choice away from people. We've got to let people make choices. We've got to let them take the risk--do they want to be covered? Do they want health insurance? Because ultimately, if they don't, well, then, they may not be taken care of. I suppose that's difficult." He lets the idea sink in, though it seems to bother his audience not at all. "The minute you start mandating, you always end up with more expensive government programs."
There isn't any positive plan in that rhetoric - just vague and unconvincing words about "choice".

Giuliani could be the ultimate David Brooksian conservative - running on a platform of social and national security crossed with a strong dose of moralism and a hard line on executive power. This would be a frightening but electorally powerful conconction. Instead, Rudy is downplaying his greatest strength and running on a combination of warmed-over reaction and cold, clammy supply-side theories. Neither of those elements would seem to offer much promise in this cycle.
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