Is That All There Is?

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I was dismayed by the stories, but I wasn’t surprised by them. During last weekend’s California Republican Party Convention in Sacramento, newspapers reported that party delegates — including many grass-roots conservatives and even some conservative party stalwarts — were wildly enthusiastic about the presidential candidacy of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Heck, any "conservative" party that can embrace as governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a man whose recent policies often outflank the Democrats on the Left, doesn’t care about principles, only about winning. Hence, my lack of surprise.

We’re told that Giuliani — supposedly "America’s mayor" for his calming speeches and commanding presence following the 9/11 attack on New York — is that special Republican someone who can beat the nearly invincible Sen. Hillary Clinton.

I dread Hillary as much as the next guy, and am not fooled by her carefully orchestrated "moderation" as a senator. Once in office, we can expect her to push hard for socialized health care and other policies that expand the size and power of government.

But it seems foolish and unprincipled to advance a Republican alternative who is at least equally as committed as the Democrat, and maybe even more so, to a muscular, intrusive and virtually unlimited government.

Sure, Giuliani spoke at the convention about his successes in trimming New York’s once unmanageable bureaucracy, in cutting taxes and in reducing the city’s crime rate. Those are tangible and laudable accomplishments, even if the mayor takes credit for trends (i.e., falling crime) that started before he came into office.

To Giuliani’s advocates, his main political problem is his liberal stance on social issues — necessary as a mayor of the nation’s biggest city, but trouble when he, say, tries to win primary support in places such as Iowa and South Carolina. Supporters eagerly await his rapprochement with the religious right.

For instance, R. Emmett Tyrell Jr., argued in a recent New York Sun column, "As an urban reformer and seasoned warrior in the struggle against international terror, Mr. Giuliani will be a formidable candidate for the presidency. Surely conservatives of all stripes will recognize this. What they need to hear next is where the mayor stands on conservative social issues."

Yet my real interest was in the headline on Tyrell’s Giuliani column: "In case you missed it: Not since T.R." Tyrell and some other conservatives see R.G. as the reincarnation of Teddy Roosevelt, who historically has been loathed by many conservatives as a power-mad Progressive who expanded government power at the expense of the private sector. Actually, this debate over social issues, although of some significance, does not accurately define the fault lines of the Republican Party.

The real long-standing divide in the GOP is not between pro-lifers and pro-choicers, but between libertarian-oriented Republicans who believe in the Reaganite admonition that "government is not the solution but the problem," and law-and-order Republicans who believe that "if you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to hide from the government."

It’s always been an uncomfortable alliance, one that worked politically during the Reagan years thanks mostly to R.R.’s rhetorical skills, but has become uneasy in recent years. Following 9/11, those of us who understand that controlling government is the key founding concept of this nation, have been routed by those who believe the opposite.

Under George W. Bush, the United States has embarked on the decidedly nonlibertarian tasks of a) fighting foreign wars, b) limiting civil liberties at home as a way to root out potential threats at home, c) expanding government programs, and d) promoting the idea that government planners will protect and help us, if only we respect and obey them.

Few politicians epitomize this Government Knows Best ideology more than Giuliani. Yes, he trimmed back some of New York’s government as a form of glasnost. The bureaucracy had become so unmanageable that cuts were needed to save it. Given the near-anarchy that at one time ruled the city’s streets, some of his crackdowns were warranted. But, fundamentally, Giuliani is a man who believes in centralizing power, in using the full extent of that power regardless of the effect on liberty.

A quick perusal of a New York Times archive from the Giuliani administration makes this case quickly and clearly. There’s the story about the city forcibly removing the homeless from the streets and district attorneys even prosecuting them. There’s Giuliani refusing to grant permits for various groups, from the left and right, that want to hold peaceful protests. There’s the Giuliani policy to seize cars from people arrested on drunken driving charges, and the crackdowns on panhandling and jaywalking.

I particularly love this headline: "Mayor defends growth of video surveillance." In the article, Giuliani calls for putting surveillance cameras throughout the city to enable police to monitor the behavior of New Yorkers. Then there’s this one: "Trying to get mayor to shed veil of secrecy." We learn that Giuliani refused to provide even routine documents to the public, forcing people to file Freedom of Information Act requests to get information they are legally entitled to receive. The New York Daily News had to sue the city to get public documents about misbehaving government officials. In other news, we learned about the mayor’s adamant defense of police officers who, for instance, shot to death an unarmed African immigrant. Meanwhile, Giuliani staunchly supported the city’s draconian gun-control laws that kept average citizens defenseless.

As a federal prosecutor, Giuliani staged highly publicized arrests, hauling off the accused from their Wall Street offices in handcuffs to humiliate them and elevate him. After 9/11, he tried to secure an emergency extension of his term, but was rebuked by the New York Legislature. His efforts to bridge the gap with the religious right might focus on his views on gay marriage and his highly publicized bitter divorce, but the consistent strands throughout his public life revolve around his arrogance and lust for power.

Unfortunately, there are no big-name Republican presidential choices that come from the freedom side of the party. Arizona Sen. John McCain is an ardent war supporter with a short-fuse temperament that has caused me to term him "most likely to blow up the world." McCain also has pushed an expansion of a "national service program," another Teddy Roosevelt-type idea that excites the Big Brother wing. He veers left on many environmental and economic issues, and is co-author of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law, which clamps down on political speech during political campaigns. That assault on the First Amendment alone should disqualify McCain from being president, given that the president is sworn to uphold rather than destroy the U.S. Constitution.

The final GOP choice, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, has so far talked mainly in vague generalities about America’s greatness and has stuck by traditional conservative themes on tax-cutting and defense. But he signed into law a "universal" health-care plan in his state, of the sort that would make Hillary Clinton proud. Fortunately, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas will represent the nearly vanquished libertarian wing of the party if he decides to run for president. He won’t get much attention, but someone has to remind the Republican grass roots that Republicans once were the party of limited government.

If Giuliani (or McCain or Romney) is the answer, then Republicans are asking the wrong question.

Steven Greenhut (send him mail) is a senior editorial writer and columnist for the Orange County Register. He is the author of the new book, Abuse of Power.

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