TCS Daily

Giuliani: Reversion to the Mean?

By Lee Harris - November 30, 2007 12:00 AM

On Wednesday night Republican frontrunner Rudy Giuliani got booed during the CNN/You-Tube debate. The boos came during an acrimonious exchange on the immigration question with Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts. Or, more correctly, the boos came after what should have been a discussion of immigration descended to a mean-spirited and trivial squabble over the legal status of the landscape crew that Romney had hired to work on his home, at which point some members of the audience thought that Giuliani should have let the matter drop.

Were the boos justified? I will leave that question for others to decide, in order to focus on the challenge facing Giuliani as he tries to maintain his front-runner status in the race for the Republican nomination. If he wishes to stay on top, he must clearly grasp the distinction between coming across as tough and coming across as mean.

The American electorate has no problem with toughness, and this is especially true of the conservative Republican base that will ultimately decide who will represent their party in the upcoming Presidential election. In addition, toughness is Giuliani's great trump card. As mayor of New York Giuliani did more than talk tough or act tough in front of cameras—his personal toughness was translated into the public policy that is credited with saving New York City from its abysmal slide into a Third World hellhole. True, many who lived in the city may have hated him, but out-of-towners like me, who visited New York City before and after Giuliani, cannot fail to be impressed by the startling difference. The old New York City was a scary place, while post-Giuliani New York is simply delightful. Rightly or wrongly, it is hard for outsiders not come to the conclusion that whatever Giuliani did, it must have worked.

Today the overwhelming majority of Americans think that their country is heading in the wrong direction, very much like New York before Giuliani, and many of the discontented would be happy to vote for a man whose record demonstrates that he isn't afraid of getting tough with the tough problems, like immigration. These people constitute Giuliani's natural base of support among conservative Republicans, many of whom will be prepared to forgive Giuliani for his New Yorker's liberalism on social issues such as abortion and gay rights so long as he comes across as the candidate who is prepared to be tough on immigration and national security.

At the same time, Giuliani's reputation for toughness can only be advantageous to his candidacy as long as he scrupulously observes the fine line that divides toughness from meanness. Americans admire tough guys so long as they show no signs of being mean or nasty. Our tough guys, if they are to be acceptable to us, must prove that they are "above" being petty and mean-spirited, vindictive and spiteful. They must, above all, be fair. Indeed they will be held to a more rigorous standard of fairness precisely because they have such powerful personalities, and with good reason—the strong man is a danger to a free community if he is scornful of the rules of fair play and decency that protect those who are not as strong as he is. It is only by obeying these rules that the strong man can prove that he is not a bully waiting for the opportunity to push people around.

Consider the exquisite manners of Ronald Reagan. No one ever doubted that Reagan cold be tough as nails when toughness was called for. Yet no one ever booed him for acting like a boor.

The problem with meanness is that it is a human quality that can be so carelessly revealed. Because meanness is always thoughtlessness, it can easily burst forth without premeditation. It just slips out. Unhappily, once the meanness has slipped out, it is impossible to undo the damage--even a glimpse of malice leave an impression that is difficult, if not impossible, to erase from the minds of those who have witnessed it. All it takes is a cruel joke, a mocking word, a scornful expression, and the irretrievable damage is done.

The bizarre and often irrational appearance of the American electoral system should not deceive us. As I wrote in a piece for TCS nearly four years ago, apropos Howard Dean's infamous scream, Americans have unwittingly designed a system that ruthlessly tests for the slightest character flaws in those who seek to exercise power over us. Sometimes the system can seem heartless, as when it punishes a Presidential candidate like Edmund Muskie for a sudden flurry of tears. Sometimes it will come across as unduly severe, as when it roasted Dean for his raucous outburst—in retrospect was it really all that bad? Yet what both of these candidacy-crushing incidents have in common is the insistence on the part of the American electorate that those who would be our leaders must exercise a much higher degree of self-control than is required of the average Joe. We don't want our President to lose his head while all about are losing theirs, to paraphrase Kipling.

We don't want them acting mean either. That is why I suggest that Mayor Giuliani, who has so much to commend him, should pay attention to the boos he received in the last debate. They may have been the best advice that he could have possibly receive at this point in his campaign: stay tough, but don't play too rough. Many of us like the guy, and we don't want him to give us reason not to.

Lee Harris is the acclaimed author of The Suicide of Reason and Civilization and Its Enemies.



Zyndryl for President!
Hey! Perhaps this is why I tend to like Giuliani -- because I can be really mean (and thoroughly enjoy it).

Ok...I'm waiting for the rotten fruit to come my way.

Go Rudy!
Having since the transformation of NYC from the beginning of Rudy's term to the end I can say the guy is a miracle worker. This makes him dangerous so that is why the media is dog-piling on the man.

So far he hasn't shown me anything I don't like. Except for his NYC gun ban but the 2nd Amendment seems safe for now and Rudy has "rethunk" his position.

"Except for his NYC gun ban"
Ends justify the means?

Who needs principles?

Where do you get this?
The gun ban did nothing to improve life in NYC. Your comment on principles is idiotic. Rudy has principles and he doesn't run away from his past stances.

As President I seriously doubt he would impose a federal gun ban and I am sure that since we have a more Constitutional Supreme Court that sure an act would quickly be overturned if it even made it past the Congress.

Rudy HAS shown that he doesn't back down from hard issues and has consistently shown that he has an economic Conservative. He is more libertarian than hard right and I like that.

Unlike you I have the ability to judge the whole of a person and, unlike you, I have the ability to prioritize my likes and dislikes. Rudy is the best one out there and has a real chance of defeating any of the socialists in the Democrat lineup.

"Gun ban did nothing to improve life in NYC"
Why did he do it?

Gun bans violate the 2nd Amendment.

Principles are not important?

If Rudy is willing to violate the Constitution to achieve his objective, he is no different than Chavez.

You have high hopes on SCOTUS
I wish your hopes come true in the current 2nd amendment case in front of SCOTUS and that the SCOTUS will spell out once and for all that the Right to bear arms is an individual Right as are all other Rights, specifically enumerated in the Bill of Rights or not.

But I am not so hopeful as I recently read somewhere that one of the 9 wise was thinking about how to extract Group Rights in another case.

If that is the mindset of one of the 9 wise, redemption is too far away for mankind.

NYC gun laws
As I understand it NYC never banned handguns, but had some regulations beyond those in federal law. Does anybody know just what the NYC law states?

always to the mean
Sure they revert to the mean. They'll never vote for anybody even a little different, like Ron Paul now. So they just follow the trend of more statism, bigger government, more entitlements, etc. Remember even when Reagen was in, he wanted to get rid of the dept. of education, but could get away with it. People are too scared of change, so like the sheep they admire, they follow the herd. I guess none of the founding fathers could ever get voted in these days.

Because he was a Republican mayor of an extremely liberal city and he believed it would solve the crime in his city. You have to remember how powerful the anti-gun lobby was at this time. Besides, the legislation can be sent before the court system to define Constitutionality.

Also, according to the Constitution, local governments have the ability to decide local issues. If a majority of people believed a gun ban was needed, which they did, then they can create rules for gun ownership. It was a de facto gun ban but it was worded as regulation. There is a whole world of rulings on what violates the 2nd Amendment and they range from the belief that everyone should be able to possess gun with no restrictions to those that ban all guns outside the military.

I understand a politician who has to play politics. You on the other hand, do not.

Now if this constitutes a serious lack of principles in your eyes then by all means do not vote for him. But to say he is no different than Chavez to be just plain ol stupid. Rudy is hardly an anti-gun zealot.

Too bad he didn't try to 'regulate' the New York Times.
A free press is dangerous. Especially when they print lies and cover up stories or reveal state secrets.

NYC gun laws
"As I understand it NYC never banned handguns, but had some regulations beyond those in federal law. Does anybody know just what the NYC law states?"

I'm no expert, but my first job moving to NYC in 1981 was tending bar at a place right beside the courthouse downtown. Anyway, our customers were cops waiting for cases to come up. Having just moved from Nevada, where there was little gun control, I remember getting the impression from the cops that NYC had an outright gun ban. Maybe it just seemed that way to me compared to Nevada, I'm not sure. I always thought NYC and DC had the strictest gun laws in the country.

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