The Full Rudy: The Man, the Mayor, the Myth | The Nation


The Full Rudy: The Man, the Mayor, the Myth

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On December 8, 1980, Giuliani changed his registration from Independent to Republican. This was one month after Ronald Reagan's election, and just as he was applying for a top job in the Justice Department. Giuliani became Associate Deputy Attorney General under William French Smith in 1981, and then was named US Attorney for the Southern District of New York by President Reagan in 1983.

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Jack Newfield
Jack Newfield is a veteran New York political reporter and a senior fellow at the Nation Institute. He is the author of...

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Bob Dylan probably had no idea how much the times really were a' changin'.

On the rise of the "New Left" movement represented by organizations like Students for a Democratic Society, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and the Northern Student Movement, organizations whose ideologies could not be pinned to liberal sects of the past.

During the conservative 1980s Giuliani seemed to be a conservative. But his mother, Helen, had a different perception. In an unpublished 1988 interview (quoted by Barrett in Rudy!), Helen Giuliani said of her son: "He only became a Republican after he began to get all these jobs from them. He's definitely not a conservative Republican. He thinks he is, but he isn't. He still feels very sorry for the poor."

In Giuliani's first year as Mayor, 1994, his politics were fairly liberal. He supported gay rights and gun control, he was pro-choice and he was pro-immigrant. He named Joan Malin, a holdover from the Dinkins administration, to be his director of homeless services. Giuliani stunned most observers by breaking with the Republican Party and endorsing liberal Democrat Mario Cuomo for re-election as governor in 1994, over Republican George Pataki.

Cuomo lost, but on that same day the Republicans won a majority in the US Senate and gained fifty-three seats in the House, setting the table for Newt Gingrich to become Speaker. Giuliani, the chameleon who even confused his own mother, quickly lurched to the right. He read the November 1994 election as a sea change in American politics. He wanted to swim with the new tide.

By the end of his second year, Giuliani's hostile policies toward the poor were becoming apparent. He became punitive toward the homeless. Homeless advocates had to sue him over the city's failure to provide adequate medical care to homeless children. His administration denied food stamps to more than 100,000 people, many of them children for whom the stamps were the only protection against the pangs of hunger. A class-action suit was recently filed by lawyers for the homeless who had been improperly denied their benefits.

Giuliani rejected almost everything that Cuomo had stood for as governor--everything he said had compelled him to break with his party and endorse Cuomo in 1994. Over the course of a few months, at age 50, Giuliani's whole belief system seem to change. He made a marriage of convenience with right-wing think tanks. He saw his future as lying with the national Republican Party. He criticized liberal programs like food stamps, and even job training, as contributing to "welfare dependency." He seemed to think people could "just will themselves out of poverty," as one of his commissioners later said.

Robert Kennedy, Giuliani's hero in the 1960s, also disliked the dependency he saw that welfare bred in its long-term recipients. But RFK also hated poverty. He crusaded for free food stamps to combat hunger and malnutrition in children. He fought for a higher minimum wage, more funding for education from pre-K to adult literacy, more job-training programs and more daycare centers, so people could look for work without worrying about the safety of their children. "Jobs, not welfare," was RFK's mantra all through his 1968 campaign. He believed work conferred self-respect, but he understood that you could not just will yourself out of poverty or unemployment.

In the end, to understand Giuliani, we need to look at the arc of his politics, from 1968 to 2002.

Look at the changes in his party registrations, which even his mother thought were careerist and job-centered.

Look at the timing of his altered views on welfare, vouchers, the homeless, food stamps, civil liberties, fiscal borrowing and political patronage.

Look at the way he treated Rudy Crew, Ramon Cortines and Patrick Dorismond.

A cunning opportunism and a personal brutality have been the signature of Rudy Giuliani's career.

They are the threads connecting the dots of his ambition, which still yearns for power on the national stage.

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