Rudy Giuliani, Running Against Hamlet

Arrogance is something to be avoided, writes Rudolph Giuliani in his book "Leadership," but a leader can’t afford to behave like Hamlet. When decisions must be made, he says, it’s important to "accept that maybe you really do know better and can see a little further down the road than others." You can just picture him struggling to accept that, can’t you?

The former New York City mayor is not one to torment himself with doubts, and he appears to have vanquished any he may have had about his fitness for the most powerful office on earth. Last week, Giuliani came close to announcing he will run for president in 2008.

Already, he has plenty of followers. A Washington Post/ABC News poll found that among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, he was preferred by 34 percent — leading the second-most popular candidate, Arizona Sen. John McCain, by seven points.

As mayor, he had some unassailable achievements, notably a huge reduction in crime (which began before he arrived). Manhattan Institute researcher Steven Malanga praises him as an authentic conservative for cutting taxes, imposing work requirements that slashed the welfare rolls and taking on powerful unions. There was also his inspiring performance after the attack on the World Trade Center.

But it is not Hamlet-like to note that there is another side to him. What the enchantment with Rudy suggests is that the GOP has morphed from a party that reveres limited government to a party that is girlishly infatuated with executive authority.

In 1964, presidential nominee Barry Goldwater declared it "the cause of Republicanism to resist concentrations of power." George W. Bush, by contrast, has done everything possible to create a concentration of power in the White House, while circumventing the checks traditionally provided by Congress and the courts.

Giuliani would not be one to reverse that development. His instincts bring to mind another New York Republican, Theodore Roosevelt, who thought the presidency "should be a very powerful office" and that "the president should be a very strong man who uses without hesitation every power the position yields." He’s the sort of guy to put the bully in "bully pulpit."

His sterling performance after the attack overshadowed mistakes by his administration that complicated efforts to cope with it. The mayor had insisted, against much expert advice, on putting his emergency command center in the World Trade Center — the city’s most obvious terrorist target. On Sept. 11, 2001, when it was most needed, the command center became a useless pile of rubble.

The federal 9/11 commission pointedly faulted the New York police and fire departments for their inability to communicate, a problem long known and ignored. But Rudy somehow eluded blame.

In office, he frequently pressed against the limits of his authority, and then kept going. One instance was his attempt to evict the Brooklyn Museum of Art because he objected to one painting in a temporary exhibit — an action that a federal court ruled unconstitutional. He sued New York magazine for daring to make a joke about him in its ads.

Legendary lawyer Floyd Abrams noted in his book, "Speaking Freely," that "over 35 separate successful lawsuits were brought against the city under Giuliani’s stewardship arising out of his insistence on doing the one thing that the First Amendment most clearly forbids: using the power of government to restrict or punish speech critical of government itself."

Some conservatives didn’t mind that he tried to stifle expression he found offensive. But he could also be harsh toward successful business people.

As U.S. attorney in the 1980s, he had two Wall Street brokers arrested and handcuffed at their offices, for maximum public humiliation. But he later had to drop the charges against one of them, while the other pleaded guilty to only a single minor count. Several of the other convictions he got in his Wall Street campaign were thrown out on appeal.

Nominating the pro-choice Giuliani would require Republicans to abandon one of the party’s bedrock positions: protecting the unborn. Then there is his embrace of gun control, which conservatives rightly see as an unproductive burden on the law-abiding.

But more important than his specific policy positions are Giuliani’s inflexible certitude and his recklessness in pursuing any end he deems worthy. As the incumbent president has demonstrated, and Shakespeare confirms, that is a risky temperament for someone in high office. Hamlet met an untimely end, but things didn’t turn out so well for King Lear, either.