Rudy's Grand Illusion
September 2, 2006 8:13 AM   Subscribe

Rudy Giuliani's Grand Illusion (Village Voice) -- In which we learn the difference between what happened and how it got narrated. What we have left is this: At a moment when the public needed a hero, Rudy Giuliani stepped forward. When he assured New York that things would come out all right, he was blessedly believable. It was a fine thing. But it was not nearly as much as we, at the time, imagined.
posted by fourcheesemac (41 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Waitaminute... You mean yet another republican politician used 9/11 as an opportunity to bring up his "stock" by posturing as a hero and a tough guy in our national time of need, and now it turns out he was full of shit?

posted by stenseng at 8:19 AM on September 2, 2006

republican politician PR-savvy public figure used 9/11 as an opportunity
posted by cortex at 8:38 AM on September 2, 2006

Christ, what an asshole.
posted by cillit bang at 8:53 AM on September 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

He's a dick but he did a good job that day, in the midst of unimaginable confusion and fear, and in the days following. Snark all you want, but give an example of anyone else on the contemporary political scene who has done, or would have done, a better job under similar circumstances.
posted by twsf at 9:12 AM on September 2, 2006

twsf, are you kidding? OK. Wesley Clark. John McCain. Both have demonstrated far greater heroism under fire than Rudy, several times. And that's just two against whom Mr. Giuliani would presumably like to be compared in 2008.

The issue isn't whether RG was brave and manly, anyway. The article points out that he was -- at the cost of competence . A series of bad decisions led to the chaos being much worse and the death toll being, perhaps, higher than might have been the case had Guliani been a better general or manager and less of a grandstander. The bad decisions go back years, and are not attributable just to the heat of the moment, though in fairness the worst of them are.
posted by fourcheesemac at 9:18 AM on September 2, 2006

But to add, certainly RG's marginal display of balls and talent, such as it was, looks superb in comparison with the shockingly cowardly and incompetent performance of those in higher levels of government, over the same long time period. It's funny how the magnification effect works. RG was unassailable until he began to suggest his national ambitions. We have here a rather perfect example of someone seeking to be promoted just above the level where his competence cracked, and because the fools assclowns who have defined that level for 6 years are so awful, he actually seems to be taken seriously in his quest.

American incompetence. That is the real story of 9/11.
posted by fourcheesemac at 9:22 AM on September 2, 2006

I would like to hear Guiliani's rebuttal. I think he's entitled to a hearing out before any of us condemns his actions that day as those of another grandstanding politician.

I am not one for the hagiographic retelling of anyone's actions that day, nor am I satisfied with the official fiction (and IMO certain events surrounding that day recounted by the players rise to the level of "based on a true story" glossiness but is not the plain truth -- marked by critical omissions and misdirection.)

This article comes off (to me) as a hit piece and is itself based on his political ambitions -- true, he bolsters them with a heroic and faultless retelling, but no more so than the Voice seeks to thwart them with a nitpicking.

It seems to me he did a helluva lot more right than wrong that day. What was that about the best laid battle plans failing to survive first contact?

In the vacuum of leadership that morning, I think it's fair to say that Rudy Guiliani was the de facto President of the United States during the crisis. He had it where it counted, which is more than can be said for our nation's "leaders" in the immediate aftermath.

That he "was able to give voice to all the things the rest of us needed and wanted to hear. He articulated our grief, shored up our confidence, and insisted on a level- headed response that gave no berth to intolerance" is not in dispute, and it is no small feat.

Four Cheese Mac said: American incompetence. That is the real story of 9/11. I disagree. I think the real story was the heroism of the first responders, and the fortitude and unity of the American people. The subsequent betrayals of those things notwithstanding, that was the real story of that day.
posted by edverb at 9:44 AM on September 2, 2006

Rudy struck the right note that day--he assured all of us in New York that someone was doing something. When that coward Bush was flying around the country, hiding, Rudy was on the tube. There is something to be said for saying the right things.

That it turns out Rudy made huge mistakes because of who he promoted and because of his failure to deal with the longstanding and bitter disputes between the two departments is major and needs to be reported, examined and most of all, remembered. And he certainly shouldn't be allowed to keep misrepresenting the facts. A lot of good men, especially in the fire department, died because they didn't know what the police department knew. How horrible an indictment is that?
No one should again ever give Rudy or Kerik a dime to speak because they aren't telling the truth. Glad to see, finally, that people are reassessing Rudy based on the facts.
posted by etaoin at 9:44 AM on September 2, 2006

Rudy struck the right note that day--he assured all of us in New York that someone was doing something.

Precisely. I lived in Queens at the time, and felt relieved when he showed up on TV. There was so much chaos and confusion that day and the only "authorities" we'd heard from up to that point were reporters, most of whom seemed just as lost as I was.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:54 AM on September 2, 2006

It's amazing how intricate and detailed plans can get with five years of hindsight.
posted by Malor at 10:05 AM on September 2, 2006

I haven't read the article yet, but I'd like to point out that his presence and leadership during 911 was indeed admirable. He was in the thick of it and lived the horror of it as much as any new yorker. I for one, will never forget the look of sickened disbelief on his face as people began to leap from the towers. You can see he's a very decent human being and I was struck by how out of place and refreshing it was to see a politician have a genuine unscripted moment of emotion (and the glaring difference between that and Bush's 8 minutes of paralyzed dumbfoundedness). That being said, it doesn't erase his ham-fisted reactionary tenure as Mayor. We were all there, Rudy get over it and the rest of the country needs to get over it. He has no more special claim to 911 than any other politician.

Guiliani as President or even AG would be (another) nightmare of eroding civil rights, unconstitutional executive privilege, militaristic posturing and more self-righteous right wing/christian Bullsh*t and frankly, even though I don't think he would be anywhere near as incompetent as Bush, enough is enough. Guiliani's support (still?) of the Bush admin.and the Iraq war is reason enough to try and see to it he never gets near a presidency. What the country needs at this sad juncture, is to stop with the magical thinking and start making things work. It's not entitled to victory or freedom "just because this is America" or even because "men of god" are leading "our proud troops" against the "heathen sand niggers". It's entitled to vthose things because it remains commited to putting the constitional principles, human rights and the spirit of liberty and justice that guide it into action.
posted by Skygazer at 10:26 AM on September 2, 2006

From half a country away Giuliani seemed like a superhuman giant on 9/11 and in the days afterwards. He was the guy I wanted and needed in those horrific days, a face of authority that showed compassion and human emotions, and somebody that seemed to be the right guy to be in the mayor's seat when he was needed most. I admired him greatly afterwards and for a month or two forgot what an ass he really is. And then as the months turned into years and he kept dropping 9/11 for every occassion like it was a catchy advertising slogan I lost any possitive interest I had in him. As I'm reading this article it dawned on me that I never really thought much about what he did on those days outside of being levelheaded for the cameras and attending a lot of funerals.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 10:32 AM on September 2, 2006

As a New Yorker who went through 9/11, I disagree with those who felt reassured by him. I was never all that impressed. *Any* competent leader would have done as much or better. But then, I always despised him. I thought he was grandstanding from almost the first hour.
posted by fourcheesemac at 11:08 AM on September 2, 2006

I haven't read the article yet and I've never lived in NYC so I don't have much of an opinion about Giuliani on that day other than, from the comfort of Utah, he did seem rather reassuring and strong. But apparently appearances can be rather deceiving.

But, Giuliani as presidential candidate has impressed me a bit. There is a quote in a recent Slate article which is fairly impressive in these polarizing times. He said this in response to someone, at a speech of his, who yelled out something disparaging towards the Democrats:

"Time out," he said bringing his hands together to make a T. "Time out." The crowd quieted down. "The other thing we have to learn is that we can't get into this partisan bickering. The fact is that Republicans and Democrats have the same objectives. … Democrats are loyal Americans. Republicans are loyal Americans. I think we have better answers, but we have to respect each other."

Considering that he said this to a very partisan Republican crowd and would gain nothing by being even-handed, I was impressed and almost hope he gets the nomination. I still won't vote for him but he possibly is the best the Republicans could hope for in '08.
posted by pandaharma at 11:24 AM on September 2, 2006

Aside from anything related to 9/11, Giuliani is absolutely unelectable to a national office. I mean, the guy had a really public affair with one of his staffers and his wife eventually sued him for "open and unusual adultery". He groomed and supported Bernard Kerik, who's crooked as hell and just pled guilty to two counts of ethics violations because he received "personal loans" from a construction firm that did a lot of city business. He pro-gay rights, and pro-choice, pro-gun control. There are pictures and video of him in full-on drag.

If Giuliani ran for president, he'd be eaten alive.
posted by Fidel Cashflow at 12:08 PM on September 2, 2006

Go Rudy!
posted by Flashman at 12:10 PM on September 2, 2006

Rudy did a good job on 9-11. Give credit where credit is due.

But in general he's thin-skinned, dictatorial, doesn't work well with others and so would make a lousy president.

Rudy's been riding the 9-11 thing right to the bank and is hoping to ride it into the White House.

I don't know how well he'll play in Peoria -- being fairly liberal by most standards.
posted by bim at 12:10 PM on September 2, 2006

Oh yea...let's not forget Rudy's attempts to make himself Mayor beyond the end of his term due to 9-11. That was quite a quite a stretch even for Emperor Rudy.
posted by bim at 12:14 PM on September 2, 2006

There's a human need for an authority and guidance in times of great confusion like that, and if we hadn't elevated Giuliani, we and the media would have elevated someone else. He happened to be the most eloquent public figure that was available to the media that day. But dealing with burning buildings and bleeding people is, frankly, one of the easiest challenges any leader can face, and the amount of credit he's been given for his actions that day is idiotic. Try fixing Medicare; that's hard.
posted by gsteff at 12:23 PM on September 2, 2006

And all the graven images thereof shall be beaten to pieces, and all the hires thereof shall be burned with the fire, and all the idols thereof will I lay desolate
posted by matteo at 12:32 PM on September 2, 2006

Giuliani did his job on 9/11. That much is true, and it would be disingenuous to say otherwise.

However if you want to see heroism on that day, find the pictures, taken by the towers' security cameras, of rescue workers caught rushing *up* the towers' staircases when everyone else who could was going down. THAT's heroism.
posted by clevershark at 1:17 PM on September 2, 2006

Giuliani was a strong presence on September 11, and he helped the giant void left by President Bush's various absences and shaky appearances on the day. I think Americans collectively regressed to frightened kids, and Giuliani represented Daddy saying everything would be OK.

He wore out my goodwill with his speech at the 2004 Republican Convention. Twelve references to "September 11th"; lumping the Taliban, Iraq, and Libya [!] together as "barbaric terrorists"; "Thank God that George Bush is our President...and thank God that Dick our Vice President!" He compares President Bush to George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, and Ronald Reagan. (Churchill and Reagan twice each.)
posted by kirkaracha at 2:06 PM on September 2, 2006

If you didn't live as a local through the Guiliani administration you might be forgiven for admiring him based on his performance that day. I did too, at the time. But the facts are pretty well set: they guy is a jerk, was a jerk and gives no reason to think that he won't be one the future. He took credit for a lot of other people's work for every single thing that went well in NYC while his heavy hand put the Street Crimes unit and Smolka in motion. He was a meglomaniac and a fool.

The reason why you hear a lot of people say that 'he was only doing his job on 9/11' is because there are a lot of reasons why this is true.

Frankly I'm a little fed up with people who were no where near NYC on that day or the years preceeding it blathering on like they know the man. If you're from here and you like him that's one things and I respect that, but otherwise you might do well doing some more listening before talking. Listening, for instance, to the 2004 RNC speech he gave. He was nothing more than a lousy shill for Bush there... some of the things he said were racist and utterly foolish.

Close the book on this guy. And Pataki, too. Please!
posted by n9 at 2:16 PM on September 2, 2006

The irony is that Giuliani's general competence could make him a good president but his inability to see or acknowledge any flaws would make him a bad one. He was a decent mayor, but decent is such an insult to Giuliani he insists on living a lie.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 2:36 PM on September 2, 2006

I find this the most interesting sentence in the article:

If the mayor of New York had made sure that the city's emergency headquarters was securely located and had put in place communications and command systems that worked, he would have been of greater service on 9-11, even if he had spent the whole day cowering under his desk.

As a thought experiment, let's assume that this hypothetical account of Giuliani cowering under his desk actually happened. The historical outcome would have been much much better, because fewer firefighters would have died, but Giuliani would have been denounced rather than praised, because he wouldn't have acted like our media-fueled, Central Casting assumptions of how a leader should look and act in a crisis (like Gary Cooper in High Noon, say). This thought experiment demonstrates for me the seductive dangers of buying into governance through public relations during a period of crisis. This danger is true whether a politician is Republican or Democratic, as Eric Klinenberg's study of Mayor Daley's response to the 1995 Chicago heat wave demonstrates. (Klinenberg criticized the city for using "its tremendous public relations apparatus to first deny there was a disaster and then to define the disaster as natural and unpreventable.")

I also think that Giuliani's strategic blunder in failing to unify command & control under the fire department was part of Giuliani's kneejerk tendency to favor the police as the first governmental department of choice for solving any social problem. When you're in a crisis, you tend not to do your most innovative thinking. Giuliani was a "law and order" Republican who spent most of his adult professional life as a prosecutor. If you look at it in that light, Giuliani's decision to hand control over to the police instead of the fire department seems almost inevitable for him.
posted by jonp72 at 2:43 PM on September 2, 2006

kirkaracha - the 2004 Republican Convention was also where I went from questioning my dislike for Rudy to going back to out right hating the guy.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 3:03 PM on September 2, 2006

He wore out my goodwill with his speech at the 2004 Republican Convention.

It was really hard to make out what he was saying, what with all the cocks in his mouth and all.

What the country needs at this sad juncture, is to stop with the magical thinking and start making things work. It's not entitled to victory or freedom "just because this is America" or even because "men of god" are leading "our proud troops" against the "heathen sand niggers". It's entitled to vthose things because it remains commited to putting the constitional principles, human rights and the spirit of liberty and justice that guide it into action.

Holy shit, can I get behind that statement. Well put, skygazer, I could not agree more.
posted by Hypnic jerk at 3:19 PM on September 2, 2006

*Any* competent leader would have done as much or better.

Completely agreed. That he is held up as some fantastic example of political leadership speaks for how low our expectations have dropped. All anyone had to do was just be present, and stand in front of a camera. Everything else is a cakewalk; the hollow cliches write themselves... "Be strong... America is great... We won't be shaken by this national tragedy... Today every city is New York City..." blah blah fucking blah.

It's really quite simple: Bush was nowhere at the moment when the country needed him. Cheney and his ilk were probably camping out in a bunker. So Rudy goes on TV and tells us what anyone would say when everyone's eyes are on you to Be The Big Man. Big deal. But the way it's framed, he's Roosevelt reincarnated. Why? Because if we raise the bar, Rudy becomes "Great" and Bush becomes "Average" as opposed to the reality of the situation: Rudy was "average," Bush was "are-you-fucking-kidding-me."

Consider it political grade inflation.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:47 PM on September 2, 2006

Ah, the soft bigotry of low expectations. ;-)
posted by Hypnic jerk at 3:58 PM on September 2, 2006

i think hypnic jerk said it all.
posted by destro at 4:13 PM on September 2, 2006

Rudy was a great mayor for New York, and he was essential for its recovery post 9/11. Not for what he did after 9/11, which I think almost any reasonably competent Mayor would have done, but for what he did before. After seven years of Rudy's governance, the corporate sector and the middle class were so strong, and the savages and degenerates so weak, that New York could rebound economically. If Dinkins had won in 1993 and been succeeded by Carole Messigner or some other welfare-and-criminal lover, New York never would have had the strength to come back.
posted by MattD at 4:40 PM on September 2, 2006

If Dinkins had won in 1993 and been succeeded by Carole Messigner or some other welfare-and-criminal lover, New York never would have had the strength to come back.

I'm not familiar with either, but Giuliani was fortunate to serve during a national economic boom (one that Wall Street and the financial sector in particular benefited from) and a national decline in crime. The city's economic improvement in the 90s probably wasn't primarily due to him.
posted by gsteff at 4:59 PM on September 2, 2006

I'm still trying to wrap my head around the fact that they put their expensive, well-equipped emergency command center in the middle of a building full of flammable generator oil, and in the shadow of the buildings whose bombing in 1993 inspired the center in the first place. It's like nobody did any risk analysis whatsoever. Maybe it was the lightning-never-strikes-twice theory, except these were humans we were dealing with.

Bush's foolish behavior from the Goat reading to flying around the country as far away from Washington as possible created a vacuum into which Giuliani easily stepped. It's that simple. But his retinue-heavy behavior on the day appears closer to the Nedelin model.

I mean, we know now -- e.g. the Katrina briefing video -- that Bush just basically doesn't ask questions of his subordinates. But we imagine our leaders as the type who would, when the chief of staff whispers in our ear "America is under attack", immediately get up say "That's all, kids! I have to go now." and then stride confidently down a hallway peppering the people near him with questions. "Do we have planes in the air? Where is Dick? Where is Laura?" And we imagine that this hypothetical leader would then be yelling at anybody who wanted to fly him to Louisiana, of all places.

Giuliani, it would appear, shares some of the same failings as Bush, but at least he was there. He didn't seem to be asking questions, either, though. "How are we getting people out? How many people are up there? What are our options for a roof evacuation (or rescue placement)? Will those towers stay up?" Maybe it's too much to expect politicos to be such B-movie men of action. But is it too mcuh to expect them to put men of action in place?

The whole idea that Kerik played bodyguard instead of running his department makes me sick.
posted by dhartung at 5:11 PM on September 2, 2006

If Dinkins had won in 1993 and been succeeded by Carole Messigner or some other welfare-and-criminal lover

I guess I had forgotten that Mayor Dinkins ran on a pro-welfare and crime platform in 1993. That probably explains a bit why he lost to the pro-excessive force and torture candidate.
posted by Hypnic jerk at 5:49 PM on September 2, 2006

From the other side of the continent and in a different country, I felt Rudy was a hero for the day: he was making decisions and having things done and, most importantly of all, taking responsibility for what needed to be decided.

Whereas other politicians and such seemed to basically disappear down a gopher hole, covering their asses and hoping to survive.

I thought that for a major politician in the USA, Rudy was grand. He did the things that needed doing. Things that it seems no one in your administration will take resonsibility for. By the American metric, Rudy did very well indeed.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:49 PM on September 2, 2006

If Dinkins had won in 1993 and been succeeded by Carole Messigner or some other welfare-and-criminal lover.

It was indeed a serious cock-up for Dinkins to announce that free guns for crack addicts initiative if he was elected to a second term.
posted by Skygazer at 7:07 PM on September 2, 2006

I didn't like Rudy as mayor at all. His campaign against Dinkins was vicious; his treatment of his wife absolutely appalling. Then Sept.11 came and it wasn't his presence or voice of authority but his humanity that struck me. With a written script, Bush couldn't have pulled off the same thing and with Rudy, I believe it was genuine, for at least the first 48 hours or so. Then he started this crap of hauling celebrities down to see Ground Zero when ordinary folks couldn't go down there and mourn and he began reverting to form. THEN he tried to grab a third term and that did it for me. He went back to my shit list. But there was no denying him on Sept.11, in my opinion.

I recall clearly that twit in the White House calling the murderers "folks" in his first speech and acting like a little punk, and then going into hiding. Do you remember the false story the Bush gang put out that day or the next about how supposedly terrorists had tuned into the Air Force One radio frequency and made threats? We should have known then what the next five years were going to be like.

A guy like Rudy could have gone out in style, been viewed forever more as a hero of the day if he had had some grace. But he chose to suck up to Bush and to try to turn the whole thing into a money-making opportunity.
posted by etaoin at 7:41 PM on September 2, 2006

I think the real story was the heroism of the first responders, and the fortitude and unity of the American people. The subsequent betrayals of those things notwithstanding, that was the real story of that day.

Half-witted heroism and faux fortitude. That betrayal story will make good propaganda though..
posted by Chuckles at 7:52 PM on September 2, 2006

Am I the only person who remembers when Rudy Giuliani tried to ban ferrets?

I have to say as someone who moved to NYC during the Giuliani administration and has remained, I'm on the fence about him. During his second term he made a number of decisions before Sept. 11th that seemed questionable to me. When he was clearly present during that day while so many others seemed invisible, I thought perhaps I had been petty and judgemental about some of his decisions. But then, as etaoin pointed out, he tried to parlay that into another term and reverted to my previous opinion of him.
posted by miss-lapin at 8:31 PM on September 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

Rudy was a great mayor for New York

He was a shitty mayor for new york who had the good luck to come in on an ecomic upswing. Crime went down, certainly, but it did nationwide.

He never met a developer he didn't like, or a tenant law he didn't want to overthrow. He made promise after promise about cleaning up the transit system beaurocracy and that went nowhere.

As for his performance on 9-11, all he did was show up. SHOW UP! I know that seems amazing in the middle of a chickenhawd administration, but it's really the least we should expect from our leaders. They should, y'know, lead.
posted by lumpenprole at 1:26 AM on September 3, 2006

the corporate sector and the middle class were so strong, and the savages and degenerates so weak

posted by mr.marx at 5:26 AM on September 3, 2006

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