There have been few politicians in recent American history to have such a positive national image on the basis of such slender evidence. In fact, the more you know about
Rudy Giuliani, the less you will care for him. Especially now, with the media hanging the astonishing epithet "America's Mayor" on Giuliani is nothing short of outrageous. Such a tag overlooks almost everything in his two terms as mayor of New York.
Let's be honest. Giuliani is not a completely forgotten politician for one and only one reason: his physical presence near the World Trade Center towers on 9/11. To his credit and unlike our president (who was fearfully flying from one area of the United States to another--I still remember Peter Jennings's astonishment on learning that Bush was not flying back to Washington from Florida but to various spots west, baffled why the nation's leader wasn't . . . well, leading), Giuliani immediately put himself on the spot. Just as 9/11 saved Bush's political fortunes, so 9/11 saved Giuliani's. Indeed, when watching the documentary one is often struck by the resemblances between Bush and Giuliani. Both are antagonistic towards political dissent, both have adopted imperial styles of governing, both attempt to take credit for successes not due to them and refuse to assume responsibility for their failures, both are inflexible and incapable of changing course or listening to the advice of others, and both have little regard for civil rights protections in the Constitution. There is one major difference between the two: Bush seems to have little of the personal racial animosity that characterizes so many of Giuliani's policies. Bush's policies hurt blacks because as they fall into a poorer demographic and his policies favor primarily the well off. His attitudes are more class-based than race-based. Giuliani does seem to take great notice of race.
This documentary is not terribly exciting. It dwells not so much on personal scandals as on political scandals; these are not easily presented in our sound-byte age. Nonetheless, the film does a marvelous job of showing the manifold shortcomings in Giuliani's policies. If one knows anything about Giuliani one knows that he claims to have cleaned up New York and reduced crime. As the film correctly notes, it is not often mentioned that Giuliani supposedly reduced crime at a time when the crime rate was dropping all across the United States. What happened in New York was not markedly out of line with what happened in the other cities in America. But that did not deter Giuliani from claiming to have cleaned up the city.
The other side of the coin is not as frequently noted. Giuliani is an indefatigable opponent of free speech and constantly during his two terms became involved in first amendment cases, all of which he lost and all of which cost taxpayers considerable amounts of money. What is striking about this is the fact that he was a former federal prosecutor for New York and thus had to have had some sense that the suits were not winnable. Although they do not address this case in the film, I remember reading that Giuliani sued New York Magazine for running ads saying, "We're one thing that Rudy Giuliani can't take credit for." Though he lost in the Appeals Court, he insisted that the case go to the Supreme Court, where he lost (not for the first time). The amount of personal hubris required for this is difficult to imagine.
The film goes onto a host of other issues, to his failure to do anything about homelessness except to hide the homeless, his insistence on those on welfare to work menial jobs without providing job training, his manipulation of the police department, the huge police scandals that arose during his second term, his failures in education, to his attempt to take credit for New York's economic boom in the nineties when it was in fact an international boom and not a local one. All of this makes for important and unsettling viewing. As the man runs for president, I kept asking, "Is this a man I would want to run the country?" Over and over came the answer, "No, absolutely not."
Although Giuliani likes to talk about Reagan as a role model, the politician he most resembles is Bush 43. I believe in 2008 Americans are going to want a change. With Giuliani what we would get is more of the same that we had under Bush, if less neoconservativism in foreign affairs and a little less evangelical piety. But personally I think there is little chance that Giuliani will get the nomination for the GOP let alone get elected. He is twice divorced, unmarried, a Roman Catholic, and has never held office above mayor. This doesn't fit the traditional profile for a White House inhabitant. But I also think Americans will get to know more about his record as mayor of New York. It is at best a weak one; at worst he has one of the worst civil rights records of any politician in America. As of yesterday in a Newsweek poll he was the leading GOP contender for the presidency. I do not think that that will last as his policies come under closer scrutiny. But anyone contemplating voting for him in the primaries truly needs to see this documentary. If he truly is America's major, I think there will be a demand for his impeachment.