Richard Milhouse Giuliani


John Podhoretz and Peter Robinson both dismiss Michael Gerson's case for a Rudy-Nixon analogy. Here's JPod:

... unlike Nixon in 1968, Giuliani actually has a record of executive governance ... During his eight years in New York, he cut welfare benefits, cut two dozen taxes, balanced budgets, and used recsission powers to refuse to spend boondoggle money voted by the City Council. He achieved extensive deregulation and sought (unsuccessfully, and unfortunately) to revise the city's zoning law to make New York more hospitable to job-creating businesses.

Of all the candidates in the race, Giuliani is the person who has the greatest claim on having fought for — against a violently hostile liberal establishment — and achieved some very important governmental changes, all of which deserve to be called "conservative."

Yes, but ...

... being a conservative in New York City is awfully different from being a conservative in national politics. Andy Ferguson put it best:

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. To paraphrase Cindy Adams, only in New York, kids, would such truisms come as a revelation, much less appear to be a right-wing agenda.

The fact is that on nearly every national domestic-policy issue - from immigration to gun control to campaign-finance reform to abortion to judicial appointments - Rudy has to distance himself from his record as New York's mayor in order to plausibly call himself a conservative. Distance himself he has, in many cases, but not effectively enough to change the perception that he remains a conservative-for-NYC centrist, more Rockefeller Republican than Reagan Democrat, who's tacking rightward for purely pragmatic reasons. Which is why the Nixon parallel makes a certain sense: both men rose to prominence in unusual political contexts - 1990s New York and early-Cold War America, respectively - that made them seem more right-wing than they actually were, and both men capitalized on that perception to win conservative votes. It carried Nixon all the way to the White House, and if it carries Rudy there as well conservatives should be prepared for the possibility that they'll be similarly unhappy with the results.

Where the parallel breaks down, I think, is on the specific domestic issues where Giuliani is likely to disappoint conservatives. Nixon disappointed on size-of-government questions, and his doppelganger in that particular respect is none other than Gerson's own ex-boss; Giuliani, so far as I can tell, is likely to please the Right on taxes and spending, while quite possibly disappointing on everything else.

Photo by Flickr user Michael Millhollin used under a Creative Commons license.