Sunday, May 13, 2007

Can Rudolph Giuliani Inspire A Secular Awakening In the GOP?

I don’t like Rudolph Giuliani. In 1993, I was 24 and living in the East Village when Giuliani defeated incumbent David Dinkins to become mayor of New York City. I vividly recall watching the police intimidate black voters that day and telling my roommate about it in horrified wonder. I didn’t like Dinkins either primarily because of how he handled racial tensions in Crown Heights. I thought New Yorkers were ill served with both men that year and cast my vote for a protest candidate instead.

In my opinion, Giuliani was the consummate charlatan as mayor. He ran a corrupt patronage mill, dismissed his first police commissioner, William Bratton because he received too much positive press and governed incompetently. Prior to 9/11, Giuliani’s fiscal mismanagement was exposed and New Yorkers were fed up with his volatile immaturity. And his last police commissioner, Bernie Kerik knowingly benefitted from a relationship with a mobbed up construction firm.

Giuliani received too much credit for crime reduction and exploited the tragedy of 9/11 to accumulate wealth. I think The Onion put it best when they noted Giuliani was running to be President of 9/11. As a Yankee fan it sickened me whenever Giuliani joined broadcasters John Sterling and Michael Kay in their radio booth while they heaped gratuitous praise upon him.

That said, I applaud these words from Giuliani’s recent speech at the Houston Baptist College:

"Here are the two strong beliefs that I have, here are the two pillars of my thinking, that always inform my judgments about this. One is, I believe abortion is wrong. I think it is morally wrong, and if I were asked my advice by someone who was considering abortion, I would tell them not to have the abortion, have the child. And if nothing else, the adoption option exists, and it’s one that I would hope personally, if I knew you, if you were a friend or relative. That’s pillar No. 1. That will always remain the same. I can’t imagine ever changing my mind about that. I’ve believed it since I can remember, I’m going to believe it until I die.

The second principle, the second pillar that guides my thinking on it is that in a country like ours, where people of good faith, people who are equally decent, equally moral and equally religious, when they come to different conclusions about this, about something so very very personal, I believe you have to respect their viewpoint. You give them a level of choice here. Because I think ultimately even if you disagree, you have to respect the fact that their conscience is as strong as yours is about this, and they’re the ones that are most affected by it. So therefore I would grant women the right to make that choice.

I’ve always believed both of those things. I will always believe them. And that will inform my decision-making about abortion. ...”
Yes, I know Giuliani’s speech is largely the result of political calculation. His dismissive mealy-mouthed views about abortion during the GOP presidential debate at Ronald Reagan’s Presidential Library were widely ridiculed. The Christian Right will never embrace him so Giuliani’s campaign has decided to stop pretending. He’s hoping to appear authentic and courageous while still appealing to Republican corporatists and security hawks. I get that.

Furthermore, I have no doubt Giuliani would embrace the Christian Right’s positions on abortion and other social issues if he could do so without appearing phony. This man would sell his soul to become president. And given the former mayor’s temperament, cronyism, incompetence and distorted worldview, if he’s the GOP nominee I’ll work my butt off to defeat him. For damn sure I don’t trust this man’s judgment about what civil liberties to compromise in the name of national security.

Putting my distaste for Giuliani aside however, I hope his candidacy awakens secular minded Republicans to take back their party for the good of the country. The scandal regarding the hiring and firing of Justice Department prosecutors powerfully illustrates that religious fanatics have infiltrated decision making in the corridors of power.

Former Justice Department official, Monica Goodling, was allegedly involved in the dismissal of as many as ten federal prosecutors. Ms. Goodling is a 1999 graduate of Regents University founded by Pat Robertson “to produce Christian leaders who will make a difference, who will change the world.” In 1988, when Pat Robertson finished second in the Iowa caucuses I considered him cartoonish. Ms. Goodling’s influence however, demonstrates how pervasive Robertson’s reach has become.

On May 12th, the New York Times reported that,

“Deeply religious and politically conservative, Ms. Goodling seemed to believe that part of her job was to bring people with similar values into the Justice Department, several former colleagues said.”
Ms. Goodling was inexperienced and thirty-one when she joined the Bush Administration’s Justice Department. During the 2000 election she worked as an opposition researcher at the Republican National Committee. Yet this young political operative was interviewing applicants for civil service positions at the Justice Department.

Ms. Goodling elevated her values above qualifications and professional competence when reviewing whom to hire or fire. The New York Times quotes one department official as saying Ms. Goodling even asked one applicant if he had ever cheated on his wife. Specifically, the New York Times also reported David C. Woll Jr., a young lawyer hired to a prestigious post in the Justice Department was asked this question. Mr. Woll had no comment for the New York Times.

I have no problem with people of faith or spiritually minded individuals entering public life. Many of us need to believe there is something bigger than ourselves. And people motivated to feed the hungry or promote social justice because of their faith are admirable. Martin Luther King and Ghandi were both people of faith for example.

Alarmingly however, virulent cadres of religious fanatics who believe their rigid interpretation of scriptures is above the civil laws and customs of American society are ascending. We see the repercussions in their ascent whenever a woman is denied her right to purchase morning after pills at a pharmacy or the half-baked theory of intelligent design is proclaimed legitimate science.

Whether one is liberal, conservative, libertarian, pro-business, pro-labor, hawk, dove, or everything in between, the imposition of religious values above our freedoms, science and recruiting the most qualified personnel in government is un-American. If Giuliani can mobilize a secular constituency within the Republican Party that becomes a counterweight to radical Christian evangelicals, I say halleluiah. We saw how timid Democrats were during the Terry Shiavo controversy. I don’t trust the Democratic Party to provide a counterweight to religious extremism by itself.

That doesn’t mean Giuliani can or will prevail with a candidacy that promotes tolerance for differing social viewpoints. The man is as flawed and imperfect a messenger as one can be. Someone with impeccable family values credentials without Giuliani’s personal baggage would make for a far better messenger. But he can have a positive impact in spite of himself that outlasts the 2008 campaign. Howard Dean didn’t win in 2004 but the Democratic Party has adopted more of Dean’s posture.

Next month Giuliani will address the Executive Series Luncheon at Regents University. Pat Robertson will be in the audience. I hope Giuliani stands tall and preaches the same message of social tolerance there that he did at Houston Baptist College. This country needs a strong secular counterweight in both major political parties. We’ll know progressives are getting somewhere when the center of political gravity pulls even the Republican Party in a more secular direction to remain competitive.

Giuliani was a poor mayor and would make a horrible president. Hopefully, his candidacy can at least awaken secular conservatives and restore a semblance of balance and sanity to our culture.


J-Ro said...

Seems you and I were having similar thoughts this morning. I just put out a post on Giuliani where I argue that his liberal stance on social issues will alienate traditional conservatives while failing to drive centrists towards his camp. Check it out at

Such as it is, I doubt Giuliani can force a change in the GOP's base. They have been courting social conservatives for thirty years, and it seems they are in too deep to get themselves out, especially in a couple of years. Plus, Giuliani is basically running on one issue, terrorism. And he's on the wrong side of that issue, with his support for a war in Iraq that most Americans now reject. I don't think his latest move will draw more voters, I think it will push him farther towards defeat.

And I'm totally with you on his mayoral legacy. His record has been decidedly mixed, and might be based mostly on good timing rather than good leadership. Without 9/11 he would be retired and we would never hear from him again. Perhaps that's where he deserves to be...

liberal journal man said...

No, I don't think Giuliani can inspire a secular awakening.

He may get a few Northeasterners to infiltrate the GOP, but the Religious fanatics won't give up their anti-gay, anti-abortion positions or their strangehold on the Republican party.