Last week C-SPAN featured a discussion about Rudolph Giuliani that left me shaking my head. The gist of the guest's message was that Giuliani was a "Rockefeller Republican" who was suddenly transformed into a darling of conservatives after 9/11. Today, Fox News echoed the same theme.
That's quite wrong. Social conservatives have trouble with Giuliani, but by no stretch of the imagination is he a Rockefeller (i.e. liberal) Republican. In fact, in many ways Giuliani is the most conservative of the top three candidates for the Republican nomination. He came by that conservatism in the toughest crucible.
City Journal's Steven Malanga reminds us of the details. When Giuliani was elected mayor, New York City was Exhibit A in failed liberal governance. Crime was out of control. Public spaces were marred by a combination of omnipresent graffiti; so-called "squeegee men" who preyed on motorists; and raving homeless people who took up residence on sidewalks and in building entrances. Public employee unions had shaken down the city government for years. The tax base was eroding. The city government was deeply in debt, and fully one in eight New Yorkers was on welfare.
Giuliani transformed a city whose budget and workforce were larger than those of all but five or six states. He and police chief William Bratton famously cracked down first on quality of life crimes like panhandling and public urination. Teenagers who leaped over the turnstiles at subway entrances were arrested -- a departure from the practice under Mayor David Dinkins. Giuliani later quipped that the police under his predecessor had become "highly skilled observers of crime." Those turnstile jumpers turned out to possess a huge number of illegal guns, which were confiscated, and criminals throughout the city discovered that the New York police were breathing down their necks. The number of murders dropped from 1,960 in Dinkins's final year in office to 640 in Giuliani's last year. The overall crime rate dropped 64 percent, to levels not seen since the 1960s.
Giuliani accomplished this in the teeth of a genuinely ferocious assault from liberals, so-called "civil rights" figures like Al Sharpton (with whom Giuliani declined to meet), the New York Civil Liberties Union and the New York Times. Actors and artists protested in the streets, and leading chin pullers in national magazines pronounced themselves troubled by Giuliani's "tactics." He was steadfast -- and the greatest beneficiaries were poor New Yorkers who lived in formerly dangerous neighborhoods.