Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Racist Politics of Rudolph Giuliani

The cover story of the current edition of Harper's is a long, scathing essay (avaliable online, but firewalled, here) by Kevin Baker, titled:
A FATE WORSE THAN BUSH Rudolph Giuliani and the politics of personality
The entire article is a must-read, right from the opening paragraphs:
Rudolph Giuliani has, by far, the most dubious known personal history of any major presidential candidate in American history, what with his three marriages and his open affairs and his almost total estrangement from his grown children, not to mention the startling frequency with which he finds excuses to dress in women's clothing. Many of his fellow Republicans despise him for his support of gay rights and abortion rights and immigrants, for the confiscatory gun laws he enforced while mayor of New York City, and for having a personality that is irreducibly New York. Richard Viguerie, the venerable rightwing mail-order guru, threatened to travel around the country campaigning against Giuliani were he to win the nomination. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention asserted that "the mayor's position on abortion couldn't be more repugnant to pro-lifers." Focus on the Family founder James Dobson said simply that he "cannot, and will not, vote for Rudy Giuliani in 2008. It is an irrevocable decision."
The article then goes on to discuss the enduring political importance of New York, as the nation's financial, cultural and multi-cultural center, always defining the cutting edge, even as significant segments of its population subsist at risk of falling off the economic cliff. The Clintons are discussed for having pioneered the modern version of post-ideological politics, while Giuliani is discussed as their Republican counterpoint; but, despite having been a McGovern Democrat in 1972, and despite having three times managed to get exemptions from the Vietnam draft:
(T)here is an important difference between the Democrats and Giuliani's twenty-first-century Republicans, and it revolves around the man himself. In the new politics, the candidate is everything. The post-ideological party distinguishes itself from its rivals not through any particular program or deep moral conviction so much as by the character and the charisma of its particular leader-its Sarkozy, or its Berlusconi, or its Clinton-and by its brand-selling strategies. Giuliani would like to add his own name to that list and he may well succeed, for the "brand" with which he is indelibly linked in the American mind is "strength."
Yes, another "strong" chickenhawk. But even worse, Baker describes Giuliani as having learned a very disturbing lesson from his political youth:
He watched the winning side in the 1972 election and internalized a strategy that was honed by the likes of George Wallace, Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan over the course of nearly two decades. That strategy can best be described as a sort of "anti-populism," a worldview in which the well-off are continually beset by the poor, the privileged by the disinherited, the white by the black. The remarkable accomplishment of Giuliani was how he was able to use this narrative of disorder to gain power in New York.
In 1989, the respected crime-fighting U.S. Attorney Giuliani lost a close election to Democrat David Dinkins, who became New York's first ever African-American Mayor. Four years later, New York's reputation as an ungovernable city played in Giuliani's favor. The corporate media's continual stereotyping of New York as a city in crisis had long since become a morality play, with soft liberalism seen as the coddling culprit. There was one little problem with that stereotype:
It is undeniable that New York had many real problems that could not simply be wished away. Its Tammany ward heelers were too often replaced by fake liberals who continued the old corruption while spewing a lot of revolutionary doggerel. But there is also considerable evidence that most of the city's problems had started to abate well before Rudolph Giuliani took power in 1993. Dinkins, the city's first African-American mayor, signed into law a tax surcharge that put six thousand more police officers on the streets. He also hired a pair of dynamic new leaders, Ray Kelly as police commissioner and William Bratton as head of New York's transit police. During Dinkins's term the city's murder rate fell by 13.7 percent, robbery fell by 14.6 percent, burglary fell by 17.6 percent, and auto theft fell by 23.8 percent. The city's crime rate dropped in all seven FBI major-felony categories for the first time in nearly four decades.

Similarly, the notorious porn shops and movie houses along 42nd Street that Giuliani would later claim to have closed himself had in fact already been shuttered as the city began the transformation of Times Square into a Disney fantasia. Indeed, the last graffiti-covered subway car had been taken off the line in 1989, under Mayor Ed Koch. Even the "squeegee men"-homeless individuals who wiped the windshields of cars against the owners' wishes and then hassled them for payment, and whom Giuliani would make the emblem of New York's perpetual disorder-had been removed from the streets by the time Giuliani took the oath of office on January 1, 1994.

Thus nearly every major accomplishment that Giuliani points to today either had already been achieved or was well on the way to being achieved by the time he became mayor.
But, as is so often the case, with the modern Republicans, when the reality doesn't comport with political needs, a new, false "reality" must be constructed.
To accept the notion that the city's decline was not a moral lesson-that its leadership was no worse and often better than it had been in the past; that it was hampered by recognizable economic and social problems, most of which it had endured before and which were now being largely solved or ameliorated-would be to return the 1993 campaign to the plane of definable reality, a place where Giuliani could not win.
So, Giuliani did what he had to do. He played the politics of racial division. Baker refers back to a 1993 New York Times Magazine article, by Todd S. Purdum, who wrote:
On the stump, Giuliani often says that "No one group can have all their agenda," implying but never saying that Dinkins has favored blacks. When Giuliani criticized Dinkins's recent budget plan by saying that the Mayor, an honors graduate in math at Howard University, did not seem to be good with numbers, some Dinkins backers said they smelled a racial slur. After the police rally, the Mayor's campaign manager, Bill Lynch, likened Giuliani to David Duke. Giuliani routinely refers to the violent convulsions between blacks and Hasidic Jews in the Crown Heights neighborhood in Brooklyn -- in which black protesters ran amok for three days in 1991 before a police crackdown -- as a "pogrom," the word associated with Czarist purges of Jews.
And Purdum also discussed Giuliani's infamous speech to a racially charged policemen's rally, on a night when hundreds of angry cops had degenerated into a lawless angry mob:
AMONG THE MANY BLUNDERS for which Giuliani has become known, none stands out more than his appearance last September at a rally of raucous, beer drinking, overwhelmingly white police officers near City Hall. Before Giuliani arrived, hundreds of officers knocked down wooden barricades and stormed the steps of the building, ignoring orders from the department's top uniformed commander, who is black, to move away. A handful carried signs deriding Dinkins with racial slurs ("Dump the washroom attendant!").

The Patrolmen's Benevolent Association called the demonstration to protest Dinkins's lack of support on a host of issues. Perhaps the most prominent grievances were the Mayor's backing of an all-civilian board to review complaints of police misconduct and his reflexive burst of sympathy for the family of a Dominican man (who turned out to be a drug dealer) who was killed in a struggle with the police. On a platform about a block west of City Hall, Giuliani ticked off several Dinkins policies, dismissing them with the same barnyard expletive that the Mayor had used weeks earlier in response to an officer's complaint that the Mayor had failed to support the police. Meantime, a block to the east of City Hall, hundreds of cops swarmed over the Brooklyn Bridge and blocked traffic -- an inexcusable breach of conduct of which Giuliani was unaware.

It is a testament to Giuliani's political tin ear that he drove away from the rally telling an aide he had hit "a grand slam." Only later, when television news reports juxtaposed clips of his speech with the lawless behavior in a sequence that implied causation, did it dawn on him that there was a problem.
Purdum also refers to a 1991 Legislative Correspondents Association roast in Albany, when Giuliani fell on his face for making racist jokes about Asians. That speech had been written by Roger Ailes- the same Roger Ailes who now heads Faux News. And you can bet their coverage of Giuliani's campaign will be, as ever, fair and balanced.

Giuliani's 1993 campaign slogan- "One Standard, One City"- played on the old racist canard that social services are a gift to African-Americans, a particularly insidious implication to those New Yorkers who subconsciously- or consicously- feared or resented their first African-American mayor. He distracted voters from the actual statistics that suggested Mayor Dinkins might actually have been having a successful administration, by referring to the ineffable term "quality of life." What mattered was not that things were improving, but that people continued to fear that they weren't. Yes, even before Karl Rove's minions invented politically timed terror alerts, Rudolph Giuliani already understood how to prey on people's irrational fears.

This cynical political strategy was particularly effective in skimming off the votes of white liberals. They already believed Giuliani a tough, but fair prosecutor, because, as U.S. Attorney, he'd made a habit of concocting dramatic photo-ops, when he arrested white-collar criminals. As Baker points out, howeber, for of his most publicized convictions were later overturned on appeal. In political terms, that wouldn't have much mattered. People had seen the pictures and television coverage. Successful appeals rarely generate the same coverage. The victims of these wrongful prosecutions were but fodder for Giuliani's political ambitions.

That the corporate media played right along is no surprise. Lingering racial tensions and a few well-publicized incidents was all that was needed. Giuliani's tough talk, and subtle wording, calcined a siege mentality. Writers such as Time Magazine's Janice C. Simpson, New York Magazine's John Taylor, and the Washington Post's Richard Cohen were among those catapulting the propaganda that, despite the actual crime statistics, New York was an increasingly dangerous place to live, under Mayor Dinkins. A poll showed that the big lie was working. Fifty-eight percent of New Yorkers felt less safe than they had in 1989. Clearly, having an African-American mayor was tearing the city apart, but for the worst possible reason: prejudice and stereotyping.
It could no longer be maintained that crime, or unemployment, or any other problem facing New York was due to this or that objective cause, which might yield some practical solution. New York's plight had become one big moral parable, about a culture of permissiveness, fostered by a black mayor, on behalf of his black constituents.
Giuliani was narrowly elected, making particular gains among Liberal Manhattan women who voted on the issue of crime. As it had for Richard Nixon, a generation earlier, the politics of racism had worked. But this "Southern Strategy" was successfully executed in one of America's most liberal cities!

As mayor, Baker points out, Giuliani accomplished nothing significant:
He presented no sweeping vision of his city's future, built no great public buildings, instituted no real
reforms, and in fact made no meaningful effort to restructure New York along either liberal or conservative
He was fortunate enough to serve as mayor at a time when the Dow Jones index nearly tripled in value. New York was buzzing, but Giuliani had nothing to do with it. Crime rates continued to fall, as they had under Dinkins, and as they did throughout the country, during the Clinton era. Giuliani credited to a new computerized crime fighting system that was instituted by William Bratton, the police commissioner hired by Dinkins. When Bratton began to share in the credit, Giuliani fired him.
Meanwhile, police response time actually increased by 24 percent in his first term, and the percentage of felony arrests leading to an indictment dropped by almost one third. The city's public schools, a perennial source of despair, continued to decay, while Giuliani forced out three different chancellors over various trivial disagreements. He removed 600,000 New Yorkers from the welfare rolls, with methods that the courts repeatedly struck down as illegal and arbitrary....

What Giuliani relied upon to rule were regular authoritarian gestures. He screamed at reporters during press conferences and ranted at callers to his radio show; tried to cut off city funding for a nonprofit AIDS hospice that had dared to criticize him; attempted to censor controversial an; and exuberantly picked fights with unpopular out-of-towners, such as Yassir Arafat, or the entire state of Virginia, which had balked at accepting New York's garbage.

Race never went away either. Without quite saying so, Giuliani made it clear that white people would no longer be on the defensive in his city.
And black people would have no defense against the raging violence of white cops.

First, let's recall the unspeakable assault on Abner Louima.

As Pulitzer Prize winner Mike McAlary wrote, in the New York Daily News:
It all started early Saturday morning after a party in a club near the corner of Glenwood Road and Flatbush Ave. As the club emptied out, a fight broke out between two women. "I didn't know the women," said Louima, a 30-year-old Haitian immigrant. "I was there with my brother and my cousin."
A fight started, between two women Louima didn't know. Cops appeared. They began spewing racist trash talk.
"A cop said to shut up. I didn't think he was talking to me. He pushed me to the ground and handcuffed my hands. Two cops put me in their patrol car and drove me to the corner of Glenwood and Nostrand. There was another car there. They kicked and beat me with their radios. They were yelling, 'You people can't even talk English, I am going to teach you to respect a cop.' None of the cops had their nametags on. They put me back in the car and drove me to the corner of Glenwood and Bedford. They met two other cops and beat me again. This time in the legs, too."
Louima was taken to a station house:
"My pants were down at my ankles, in full view of the other cops. They walked me over to the bathroom and closed the door. There were two cops. One said, 'You niggers have to learn to respect police officers.' The other one said, 'If you yell or make any noise, I will kill you.' Then one held me and the other one stuck the plunger up my behind. He pulled it out and shoved it in my mouth, broke my teeth and said, 'That's your s--t, nigger.' Later, when they called the ambulance, the cop told me, 'If you ever tell anyone . . . I will kill you and your family.' "
As the New York Times reported:
Mr. Giuliani, who was running for re-election, was eloquent in his disgust. “These charges are shocking to any decent human being,” he said.

He created a task force to examine police-community relations, and invited adversaries to join. But Mr. Giuliani swamped his Democratic opponent that November. When his task force released a report the next March, Mr. Giuliani belittled its findings as “making very little sense.”

He endorsed just one suggestion, to change a deputy commissioner’s title. “We can change it from ‘affairs’ to ‘relations,’ ” Mr. Giuliani said.
Lip service, with no action taken to address the root cause of the violence. Giuliani's refusal to confront the institutional failures would have even more devastating results.

In 1992, came the horrible murder of Amadou Diallo. As Salon explained:
Diallo, a native of Guinea, was gunned down in the vestibule of his Bronx apartment building by four New York police officers just after midnight on Feb. 4. He had been unarmed, yet officers unloaded 41 bullets at him, hitting him 19 times.
Giuliani, of course, defended his police force. As Wayne Barrett wrote, in the,barrett,4254,5.html Village Voice:
Yet, since the slaying of Amadou Diallo almost a month ago, the mayor has been dumping phony numbers on us about the restraint of his police force almost daily, even taking them on a traveling show to Washington last week, and the media has just let him talk. Not a word of context. Not a contrary digit.
And I urge you to read the entire article, as it does provide context. And statistics.

A subsequent federal investigation determined that New York's cops were guilty of racial profiling. Giuliani, as usual, preferred to misidentify the true victims. As the New York Times reported:
Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani angrily defended the New York Police Department yesterday against a federal finding of racial profiling, saying a Justice Department investigation into police tactics was politically motivated and based on flawed analysis of stop-and-search statistics.

In a blistering attack on what he said was the methodology used in the inquiry that federal prosecutors began after the shooting of Amadou Diallo in 1999, the mayor insisted that the police generally arrested people identified by victims of the crimes -- and that a majority of those would be minority residents.
The inquiry was made by the Southern District of New York, which includes Manhattan and the Bronx.
And then, there was the case of Patrick Dorismond. From Salon:
Some background: Early last Thursday, Dorismond, a Haitian-American, was shot and killed in Midtown Manhattan after an apparent struggle with undercover police who were finishing up a night of marijuana busts. One officer allegedly approached Dorismond, who worked as a security guard, and asked him if he had some marijuana. The request apparently enraged Dorismond, a scuffle ensued and in a matter of seconds he was shot and killed by one of the other officers.

Giuliani quickly ordered the police department to distribute Dorismond's arrest history -- which included convictions for disorderly conduct and a previously sealed record of an arrest when he was 13 years old. Dorismond, Giuliani explained to a Fox News Sunday audience, may not have been "an altar boy."

The move prompted a firestorm of criticism from local African-American officials and activists (and even some normally tepid Democrats) revolted by the mayor's latest attack. Democratic State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver yesterday announced a committee would probe the propriety of the release of the sealed juvenile-court records.
Giuliani's response? From the New York Times:
Pressed to respond to charges that he is demonizing the victim, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani yesterday intensified his criticism of Patrick Dorismond, the unarmed man killed on Thursday by an undercover police officer, suggesting that his ''pattern of behavior'' and his actions the night of the shooting had contributed to his death.

The mayor also confirmed that he had authorized the release of Mr. Dorismond's arrest record immediately after the shooting, citing the public's ''right to know.''
And nevermind that releasing a juvenile police file is actually against the law. Beyond that, read the words of Manhattan borough president C. Virginia Fields :
''It is totally ridiculous and absurd for him in some way to attempt to justify the killing of this young man by saying he had a record,'' Ms. Fields said of the mayor. ''When you shoot a person, they are obviously not wearing a badge that shows their past criminal record.'' She added, ''It shows a lack of sensitivity and caring.''
Exactly. Dorismond wasn't shot because he had a record. There was another reason. And Rudolph Giuliani never demonstrated any interest in acknowledging or addressing that reason.

Baker goes on to discuss Giuliani's ceaselessly insensitive tough-guy posturing, from putting police snipers on the roof of City Hall during a commemoration for the victim of AIDS, to hovering police helicopters over Harlem when an inflammatory black nationalist held a rally there. On his radio call-in show, he often resorted to bullying. Combined with his personal problems, the result of Giuliani's belligerence saw his popularity tumbling, and he was on the verge of leaving office too unpopular to have any likely political future. And then came the September 11 attacks.

I don't need to address all Giuliani's failures that made the September 11 attacks so much more devastating than they otherwise would have been. MissLaura already wrote about it, today, and also referenced this superb Wayne Barrett article in the Village Voice. The International Association of Firefighters also has this heartbreaking website.

Baker also mentions Giuliani's long unflagging support for disgraced disgraced former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, and he also goes into more detail about Giuliani's hellish world-view, and the determindely militant posturing it has caused him to favor. I urge you all to find the article and read it. As Baker concludes:
As repugnant as George W. Bush's brand of social conservatism has been, it is not ideology that is at the heart of his administration's failure but his personality, for in the post-ideological world the politics of personality is all that remains. The worst excesses of the Bush regime have stemmed directly from its leader's character-that is, its rampant cronyism; its arrogance and egotism; its peremptory, bullying tone and methods; its refusal to brook criticism from within or without; its frighteningly authoritarian impulses; its need to create enemies as a means of governing; its impulsiveness and naivete: its outright contempt for the law; and its truly staggering ability to substitute its own versions of what it wishes the world to be for any recognition of objective reality. Judging from his record in gaining and holding power, there is no reason to believe that Rudolph Giuliani's presidency would be substantially different.
Is Giuliani actually a racist, or is it all about political pandering? It's hard to know what's in a man's head and heart. What we do know is that his actual beliefs don't matter. What matters is that he pursues the politics of racism when it serves his ends. The means speak for themselves. Would a President Giuliani continue to target African-Americans, when he needed to score political points? No doubt. But he's already targeting another minority group.

As Joe Conason just wrote, for Salon:
The Republicans most likely to win their party's presidential nomination constantly use language that is meant to inflame anger against Muslims for political advantage.

During the last Republican debate, on Aug. 5, Rudolph Giuliani eagerly provided an example of this syndrome when he attacked the Democratic presidential candidates for failing to describe terrorism as Islamic. "During four Democratic debates," he complained, "not a single Democratic candidate said the word [sic] 'Islamic terrorism.' Now, that is taking political correctness to extremes."
To him, the absence of that phrase in their speeches, no matter how tough their stance against terror, proved that Democrats are guilty of "weakness and appeasement." The other Republicans, again except for Paul, agreed -- although as John Dickerson of Slate has pointed out, that phrase is also assiduously avoided by the Bush White House.

There is an obvious reason not to say "Islamic terror," which stupidly suggests that terror is indeed Islamic, as the ideologists of al-Qaida would argue. There is also an obvious reason to say that same phrase -- if you believe that we are careening toward a war of civilizations and your aim is to inflame
Of one thing we can be certain: if Rudolph Giuliani ever becomes president, both this nation and the entire world will, indeed, be inflamed.

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