Rutgers University historian David Greenberg has an important column in today’s Washington Post:
You wouldn’t know it from reading the papers, but the favorite to win the Republican presidential nomination is a confirmed right-winger. On issues such as free speech and religion, secrecy and due process, civil rights and civil liberties, pornography and democracy, this moralist and self-styled lawman has exhibited all the key hallmarks of Bush-era conservatism.
Greenberg points out that anyone who lived in New York while Giuliani was mayor- anyone who actually knows anything about Giuliani- knows that he’s neither liberal nor moderate. As mayor, he tried to crush liberalism. But everyone from James Dobson and Richard Viguerie, to ABC’s Jake Tapper, NPR’s Mara Liasson, washingtonpost.com’s Chris Cillizza has been playing along with the “liberal” framing. Greenberg says that framing always boils down to “three overblown issues — guns, gay rights and abortion — and even in those cases, his deviation from conservative orthodoxy is far milder than is usually suggested.”
The “social” and “cultural” issues that divide Americans encompass much more than guns, gay rights and abortion. They include state support of religion; the legitimacy of dissenting speech; the president’s right to keep information secret; the place of fair procedures in dispensing justice. The Bush administration’s hard-line stands on these matters have polarized the nation as much as the Iraq war has. And on these issues, Giuliani is just as hard-line as the man he’d like to succeed.
And here’s the money quote- the framing we will need make our number one talking point, should Giuliani be nominated:
If you’ve managed to keep liking President Bush, you’d have no trouble loving President Giuliani.
(more) -tried to censor an art exhibit
-tried to steer public money to overtly Christian schools, with curricula that included catechism and excluded sex ed
-had the police permanently confiscate the cars of people charged with drunken driving, keeping the cars even if the suspects were ultimately acquitted
-made a deal upon leaving office so his public mayoral records would be controlled by his own private company
-very tellingly, and frighteningly, attempted to use the September 11 terrorist attacks to extend his term as mayor, after it was legally required to end
-and, as a candidate, he’s also relying on Bush style foreign policy fearmongering and warmongering
Ultimately, the use of the labels “liberal” and “moderate” matters less than the reason why they’re used: to suggest that core Republican voters won’t support Giuliani’s candidacy. But the numbers say otherwise. Although some right-wing religious leaders are talking about backing a third-party candidate if Rudy is nominated, few primary voters are likely to follow. Not only has Giuliani consistently led the GOP field, but pluralities of survey respondents tend to agree that he “shares the same values as most Republicans” and that on social issues he’s neither too conservative nor too liberal but “about right.”
And although the typically clueless pundits claim to not believe conservative Republicans will vote for Giuliani:
…testimony from rank-and-file voters suggests that they will indeed tolerate his mild heterodoxies on abortion because they like his overall ideology, especially on Iraq and terrorism. (A Pew poll found that only 7 percent of Republican voters consider abortion their chief concern, compared with the 31 percent who named Iraq.)
A new article by the Associated Press also demonstrates that the media are already spinning for Giuliani. The article plays up the tough-guy framing, with generous quotes from people like former FBI Director Louis Freeh, a Giuliani friend and adviser; David Keene of the American Conservative Union; Michael Mukasey, “a longtime friend of Giuliani’s who was advising the campaign until Bush picked him to serve as attorney general;” Norman Podhoretz; and Giuliani’s former deputy mayor, and still adviser, Joe Lhota. The one quoted critic, Jim Riches, a deputy fire chief whose son died on September 11, is dismissed, along with all Giuliani critics, for playing politics.
So, when the article begins with these paragraphs, it’s actually meant to sound positive:
Rudy Giuliani, to quote a Democratic rival, would be like President Bush on steroids in the way he would go about protecting the U.S. from terrorists. In reality, Giuliani doesn’t seem very different from Bush on the issue.
The former New York mayor says the government shouldn’t be shy about eavesdropping on citizens. He is prepared to use military force to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons and root out terrorists in Pakistan. And he opposes a U.S. pullout from Iraq.
Former FBI Director Louis Freeh, a Giuliani friend and adviser on homeland security issues, said in an interview: “I would say they’re very much joined at the hip on these policies, and particularly the mind-set and commitment of both the president and Mayor Giuliani to stay on offense.”
As Greenberg points out, the media did a great job of defining candidate George W. Bush as a moderate, then acted surprised when he turned out not to be. They’re already doing the same for Giuliani. But they’re also playing up his macho image. We need to focus on that: macho like Bush. Joined at the hip with Bush. If you like Bush, you’ll love Giuliani.
Bush now has an approval rating of 24%. Repeat it. Repeat it often: If you like Bush, you’ll love Giuliani.