Friday, August 17, 2007

No Style, No Substance

Back in May, I wrote about some of Rudolph Giuliani's views on taxes and spending, concluding that his statements on this area of public policy are a combination of revisionist history and simple-minded small government happy talk that distinguishes him from none of his competitors. Three months later, it is completely obvious that Giuliani really is, as many (including Mike on this blog) have noted, simply running to be "President of 9/11."

As I suggested in my earlier post, though, even this makes no sense. Giuliani's supposed demonstrated strength -- even when taken at face value -- is simply not a qualification to be president. He actually has not shown any qualifications to fight terrorism but only to deal with its aftermath, which makes him a candidate for FEMA chief, but not for chief executive.

Earlier this week in the New York Times, a news article about Giuliani ran under the headline: "Giuliani, Substance Firm, Struggles to Secure Style." (By Marc Santora, Aug. 12, 2007) The article claimed that Giuliani's substance is strong but that he's yet to find a comfortable style. Regarding Giuliani's lack of style, I have nothing to add. On substance, I continue to be at a loss.

From the article: "The ideological base of Mr. Giuliani's campaign for president has, by now, come into fairly sharp relief: terrorism and small government." Admittedly, this is potentially more substantive than "new ideas" or other vacant slogans of campaigns past, but actually not by much. As I noted above, "small government" for Giuliani is itself merely a slogan that he has not filled out with anything other than being against taxes and spending. His most ardent admirers, I suspect, might even admit as much. But, they would almost surely say, the real substance is on terrorism.

Why is that his real substance? What has he actually said about his plans to fight terrorism that make him uniquely stand out as the anti-terrorism candidate? In case any readers have been under a rock for the past six years, Giuliani claims the mantle of anti-terrorism because of his leadership of New York City in the Fall of 2001. At best, though, that makes him a crisis manager, not an expert on anti-terrorism.

As an analogy, suppose that you were on a bus that was in a horrible crash. An emergency medical team arrives that is led by a guy who stands in front of the camera and makes people (including you) feel like it's all going to be OK. As impressed as you might be, why would you think that you should hire that guy to be your new bus driver?

Of course, Giuliani is currently getting himself in trouble for over-playing his hand on his supposed heroics post-9/11. Even his strength might not be so strong. His ties to corruption (see Bernard Kerik) will not help, either. The point here, though, is that even Giuliani's strongest suit, when taken at face value, does not add up to an argument to be president.

One further thought. This is not a matter of my not being able to see "that certain something" that others see in a candidate. It is true that I simply don't see the supposed "boyish charm" of George W. Bush, and I never saw Reagan's supposed likability. On the other side of the aisle, I still don't see why Democrats like Bill Clinton so much. The issue with Giuliani, by contrast, is not a matter of either seeing or being blind to some personal trait that may or may not get him elected. This, as the Times headline insists, is about substance. And there is no there there.

10 comments:

Michael C. Dorf said...

I think the core of the argument goes like this:
1) We already know Giuliani is a tough guy because of how he acted as a federal prosecutor and as a mayor of a city previously thought to be ungovernable that he whipped into shape while bringing down crime;
2) In the immediate aftermath of 9/11 he showed that ineffable quality of "leadership."
3) Therefore, he is a tough leader, which is what one needs to fight terrorism.
I completely agree with Neil that this syllogism---even granting the factual premises---is vapid on policy, but the SUBSTANTIVE case for Giuliani is not policy-based, it's personal. Or to put it differently, the NY Times article had it completely backwards. What Giuliani has is all style ("tough leader"), and people read substance into this. Indeed, this image fits nicely with the small govt theme too, because the argument for small govt is that one must make individually tough decisions (e.g., deny health care to poor children) so that we don't become dependent on an ultimately undependable and inefficient public sector.

To be clear, I don't endorse any of this, but I do think that these are the messages being sent and received. Now back to my vacation.

Carl said...

even Giuliani's strongest suit, when taken at face value, does not add up to an argument to be president

Yeah, it's not like he was an extremely effective mayor of the world's most important city and 16th largest economy for eight years or anything like that.

Paul said...

Unlike all those other politicians with *real* substance. This one just bothers you because he happens to be Republican.

The reality of politicians is that the only ones with substance are the ones that know they have no hope of winning. The last "front-runner" I can remember who took a clear stance on a variety of issues during a campaign was Paul Tsongas.

Everyone with a shot, Guiliani included, is hollow - presumably out of fear - I don't know.

As far as qualifications are concerned, I would suggest that being the head of the executive branch of NYC is substantially more "qualifying" for the job of President than is being a member of the U.S. Senate. - which is fairly clearly from where the Democratic nomination will hail.

Finally, it is very important that Guiliani actually gets the nomination. His history indicates that he is at least palatable and would provide me a reason to go to the polls in the event that Hillary ends up getting the Democratic nomination.

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