No Checks, No Balances, No Elections?


David Greenberg is absolutely right to see in Giuliani an approach to government as illiberal, as secretive and as dictatorial as Dick Cheney:

Beyond religious issues, a second conservative trait defined Giuliani's tenure: his Cheney-esque appetite for executive power. In 1999, for example, he directed (without the City Council's permission) the police to permanently confiscate the cars of people charged with drunken driving -- even if the suspects were later acquitted.

Giuliani's record on government secrecy, too, is hardly moderate. Liberals today routinely attack President Bush's refusal to divulge information about his domestic wiretapping program and his 2001 executive order claiming the power to close presidential papers. But they rarely discuss an equally autocratic move that Giuliani made: cutting a deal with the city as he was leaving office to assign control of his mayoral records to his own private company so that he could decide who could see them.

The fanciful notion of Giuliani's liberalism also omits the piece de resistance of his mayorship: his flagrantly undemocratic bid to stay in office for an extra three months after Sept. 11, 2001. During earlier crises, even World War II, U.S. elections had always managed to proceed normally. But Giuliani maneuvered for weeks to remain mayor after his term-limited exit date. Only as normalcy returned to New York did his power grab fail.

One of the most fundamental questions of the next election is whether the American people are going to endorse the protectorate of extreme executive power that Cheney and Bush have constructed: an executive empowered to over-rule the rule of law, issue signing statements declaring itself the superme branch of government, to detain any person at will, torture at will, and wage war at will, without Congressional approval, and to do all this on a permanent - not temporary, emergency - basis. With Giuliani, you have one more dictatorial impulse: to refuse to submit even to an election if he deems the crisis too great. Any rule-of-law conservative who believes that liberty is best secured when power is divided knows whom not vote for.

(Photo: Nicholas Roberts/AFP/Getty.)