Thursday, March 08, 2007

Giuliani

I stated the other day that I felt that many conservatives who supported Giuliani did so primarily due to what is essentially a cult of personality. Unlike Mark, I'm not ready to issue an anathema sit in waiting against the entire GOP, due in no small part to the fact that I don't think that it's nearly as inevitable that Rudy is going to get the nomination as a lot of people believe it to be. I realize that Mark probably does regard it this way because it plays into his increasingly conspiratorial notions about the nature of American democracy and how it works (see the previous post), but despite what some have noted, I think that what is going to be discovered at the end of the day is that there is much less to Rudy's support than meets the eye once people discover his actual positions on social issues. IMO, it is for that reason that Rudy has been doing everything possible to delay that kind of scrutiny for as long as humanly possible. The increasing perception by some on the right that the Giuliani campaign is a colossus that can never be stopped a year before the primaries strikes me as a combination of wishful thinking on the part of the Giuliani camp and a desire to engage in self-righteous despair by others. If Giuliani is so bad, then shouldn't all efforts be put towards alternative candidates, of which there is currently no shortage.

The reasons that I think that Giuliani gets so much surface support among conservatives are clear: he is a national hero (and will remain so for what he did on 9/11 - I think that while he did clean up New York City that many of those who did not actually live in the city and are citing this in support of him are doing so in a retrospective fashion), like Barak Obama he has received nothing short of adulatory press coverage as far as the presidential race is concerned, he has made a national and very profitable institution out himself and his leadership, contrary to the views of the punditocracy the vast majority of the general public is unaware of his views, that he has avoided being tarred by the various scandals that would have tarred his candidacy (i.e. Bernard Kerik), and finally that he is still being covered more as a celebrity than as an actual candidate. It's easy to like a charismatic celebrity, leading to bizarre rationalizations that we should support Giuliani because he "feels conservative" even if we acknowledge intellectually that he does the exact opposite. I don't know exactly what to call the latter except a cult of personality, so if anyone has any alternative definitions feel free to share them.

One other point I might want to add is that given that the majority of President Bush's second term is looking to be an extreme disappointment to many conservatives, I think that a lot of them are looking to Giuliani because they regard him as a kind of more charismatic substitute for the first term President Bush. That, and because I think that a lot of the conservative establishment is willing to at least consider Giuliani because they view the threats of either a Hillary Clinton victory or McCain winning the nomination as something akin to the apocalypse. To the first, I would note that running a candidate solely on the basis of whether or not they can defeat another candidate is almost always a bad idea. That was the Democrats' alleged plan regarding John Kerry and it didn't end terribly well.

As to the second, as everyone here knows, I support McCain and I think that the Economist is pretty much right-on here:
Conservative activists might warm to Mr McCain if they took another look at him. It is true that he has quarrelled with conservative pressure groups. But that is often because he sees them as obstacles to achieving conservative ends, such as a balanced budget or clean politics. It is true that Mr McCain refused to endorse the Federal Marriage Amendment. But he did so for the eminently conservative reason that these sorts of issues should be decided by the states rather than the federal government. It is true that Mr McCain has pushed for more federal funding for stem-cell research. But he has also been more consistently conservative on abortion than any of the other first-tier candidates.

Mr McCain has a rare ability to present conservative ideas in a language that moderates and independents can find appealing. He also has a rare ability to break with the conservative establishment on subjects where they are obviously batting on a losing wicket, such as global warming. This could make him the best candidate for reviving conservatism from its current dismal state—and also the best candidate for keeping conservatism alive in a Washington where the Democrats rule Capitol Hill.

Mr McCain has also often been right about the war. He was one of the first major politicians to call for Donald Rumsfeld's resignation. He repeatedly criticised George Bush's tolerance of torture as a stain on America's good name. Even his support for Mr Bush's “surge” may not be as much of a liability as it appears. The bulk of Republican primary voters are in favour of giving the war one last chance; and Mr McCain's willingness to risk his political career over Iraq burnishes his tarnished reputation as a straight-talker.

His biggest weakness has to do with age rather than ideology. He will be 72 if he is elected to the White House, and his face is visibly scarred from bouts with skin cancer. But he has the energy and attitude of a much younger man, and seems to absorb energy from his audience. And he also boasts the most impressive biography in American politics. The McCain Express will not stay stuck in the station for ever.

Ramesh Ponurru made much the same argument in the most recent issue of National Review. And coming from the guy who wrote The Party of Death, I think that's a pretty convincing case. But even if it isn't and McCain is still considered unacceptable by conservatives for the reasons that many conservatives consider him such, Mitt Romney has gone well out of his way to publicly embrace and actively court social conservatives. One can question the political timing of his support, but to me at least the issues have always been far more important than the individual.

That said, we can talk about Giuliani winning the nomination and even the presidency in terms that do not parallel the apocalypse. If he wins either, then he will create a sizable "moderate" constituency within the Republican Party that will probably take years to evict. This is basically what Andrew Sullivan was trying to do with his whole idea of liberal hawks a few years back and I opposed that as an organizing principle for conservatives on much the same basis. What I suspect will also occur is that were Giuliani to win the nomination he will find himself having little in the way of grassroots support among the people who put him in office. A major element of his appeal is alleged to be his electability (so that he can defeat Hillary or Obama) and if that is in fact the case then he will have basically delivered the biggest victory he can as far as many conservatives are concerned by defeating Hillary Clinton. And while I have no doubt that he or Obama or Hillary will defend the United States to the best of their ability (whether or not that synchs with reality is another matter), his attempt to get the Bush administration to appoint a nominee like Bernard Kerik to a post as sensitive as Department of Homeland Security leads me to believe that there may be less than meets the eye about his tough stance on issues that are not under his personal control.

One final point I will make is that even if worst-case scenario does occur, the absolute worst thing for the pro-life movement to do is to retreat from politics. To do otherwise, especially at a time when a pro-choice president is in power, strikes me as substituting self-righteousness and condescension for society as a whole with actual concern for human life. Jesus had quite a few things to say about individuals who were so eager to strain a gnat while swallowing a camel.

Edit: Updated to correct my horrid mispelling of Giuliani.

7 comments:

Tom Connelly said...

It's Giuliani.

Anonymous said...

Josiah says:

Her's what will happen if Giuliani wins the nomination. Some pro-lifers and social conservatives will support him, either on a "better than the Democrats" theory or a "the war is more important theory. Others will not, and will mount some sort of third party challenge ala Perot. Those who do go along will be regarded as traitors by those who don't, who will regard them as unrealistic fanatics in turn. The pro-life movement will be split, and the resulting recriminations will prevent it from being effective for decades.

As for the GOP, the only way Rudy wins in the general is if he pulls enough support from moderates and independants to make up for what he loses from social conservatives. Given the unpopularity of the war, the only way this will happen is if Rudy turns out to be a lot less conservative on foreign policy than people think. If he does win, though, it'll be the last election the GOP wins for awhile, as a GOP that canl no longer claim the pro-life banner will soon the reduced to the minority status it had before it became identified with pro-life politics.

Roger H. said...

Some pro-lifers and social conservatives will support him, either on a "better than the Democrats" theory or a "the war is more important theory.

With respect to the latter, a factor for its' primacy would necessarily have to be an acceptance of the argument that Giuliani is functionally pro-life in light of his recent statement that if eleced President, he would nominate Supreme Court justices like Saclia, Roberts and Alito. Giuliani has also subtly suggested that he thinks Roe v. Wade was bad law and should be reversed.

That Giuliani is functionally pro-life is an intriguing concept. Whether this would enough for me to consider supporting him should he win the nomination is something I'm still working through.

Anonymous said...

Josiah says:

Let's consider Rudy's statements on abortion for a moment, as I think it's instructive.

When he ran for Mayor in 1989, Rudy was pro-life and opposed to Roe v. Wade. However, as the campaign went on, he changed his tune, first saying that he would be functionally neutral on the issue, then that he would actively oppose efforts to make abortion illegal. By the time he ran again in 1993, he was a changed man. He was pro-choice, supported Roe v. Wade, supported taxpayer funded abortion, and opposed parental notification and a ban on partial birth abortion. On the later he said "I don't see my position on that changing."

Well it did change, though Rudy won't admit it. He now says he's always favored a pan on partial birth abortion so long as it has an exception for the life of the mother (which they all do) and supports parental notification so long as it has a judicial bypass (which they all do). He now won't tell what he thinks of Roe v. Wade, saying "that's up to the courts to decide." He hasn't said that he's against taxpayer funded abortion, but he does say he "respects" the Hyde amended and won't work to change it. He remains pro-choice, however, saying that "you have to ultimately not put a woman in jail" for having an abortion (something no serious pro-lifer is advocating).

The history of Giuliani's positions on abortion is one full of pandering, flip-flopping, mendacity, and distortion. To say that pro-lifers should support him because he'll appoint judges like Roberts and Alito seems, to me, to involve a fair amount of wishful thinking.

paul zummo said...

The only hope that pro-lifers have with regards to Rudy is that though he is pro-choice, appointing pro-choice justices will not be a priority for him. That's the critical difference between him and any of the Democrats running. Knowing what I do know of his overall philosophy, betting that he would appoint originalist judges is a good bet.

But is that a bet we should be forced to make? That's the question that hopefully we won't have to answer in the end.

Anonymous said...

Josiah says:

Paul,

What is it about Rudy that makes you think he'd appoint originalist judges? I *hope* that he would do so, but to date I haven't seen any evidence (other than some vague statements about how he likes Roberts and Alito) that makes me think he would do so.

Roger H. said...

Josiah,

Giuliani expressed the following last month during a visit with the South Carolina GOP Executive Committee (via Ed Morrissey at Captain's Quarters):

On the Federal judiciary I would want judges who are strict constructionists because I am. I'm a lawyer. I've argued cases in the Supreme Court. I've argued cases in the Court of Appeals in different parts of the country. I have a very, very strong view that for this country to work, for our freedoms to be protected, judges have to interpret not invent the Constitution. Otherwise you end up, when judges invent the constitution, with your liberties being hurt. Because legislatures get to make those decisions and the legislature in South Carolina might make that decision one way and the legislature in California a different one. And that's part of our freedom and when that's taken away from you that's terrible.

This is how some have argued that Giuliani is functionally pro-life. I don't know that I necessarily buy it, but it is intriguing.