The Magazine

"Respect Conservatism"

Rudy Giuliani's distinctive brand?

Mar 5, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 24 • By REIHAN SALAM and ROSS DOUTHAT
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Because Sharpton had no respect for public order, Giuliani had no respect for Sharpton and all those who mimicked Sharpton's contemptuous disregard for authority. Instead, he insisted on subjecting all comers to a single standard, even if it meant taking a political hit. An emblematic moment came in July 1999 when Giuliani, increasingly unpopular over a series of police shootings, faced off on his call-in radio program against Margarita Rosario, the mother of a young man who had been shot and killed by two detectives four years earlier. Rather than accept Rosario's version of events, Giuliani challenged her at every turn, carefully recounting the details of her son's encounter with the police and his long rap sheet. At one point, he bluntly suggested the blame for her son's death might lie with her own poor parenting: "Maybe you should ask yourself some questions about the way he was brought up and the things that happened to him."

It's difficult to imagine a "compassionate conservative" saying anything like this. And such impolitic honesty helps explain why Giuliani spent much of his second term as an unpopular figure--in spite of plunging crime rates and welfare rolls, and New York's economic comeback--before 9/11 transformed him into "America's mayor." Once Giuliani tamed the ungovernable city, he suddenly seemed too tough and hard-edged even for New York.

But after the drift and incompetence of the Bush years, it's easy to see how "respect conservatism" could be presented as a tonic for what ails the country, and as a way for the Giuliani campaign to distinguish its candidate from the incumbent. (One can only imagine how Hizzoner would have reacted to the Abramoff or Enron scandals, or Hurricane Katrina, or the mismanagement of the Iraq war.) A Giuliani domestic agenda that builds on his reputation for tough-minded competence could translate into policies that unite conservatives and independent voters.

On immigration, for instance, a "respect conservatism" might marry Giuliani's avowed support for earned legalization to what Hudson fellow John Fonte has called "civic conservatism," which emphasizes assimilation and civic education and rejects multiculturalism and multilingualism. Instead of Bush-style compassion for new arrivals, civic conservatism would offer them a fair shake--the opportunity to become Americans, but only if they're willing to embrace America's common culture and language.

Moreover, Giuliani could cast any immigration reform as part of a broader effort to reform homeland security, which has become something of a punchline during the Bush years. The national infrastructure--electricity grids, ports, railroads, and highways--presents an inviting target, and the uncertain state of the war on terror makes it likely that many Americans will be looking for a candidate who promises to shore up defenses at home. Giuliani's past makes this a natural campaign issue for him: As a foe of lawbreakers and a tamer of bureaucracies, he's perfectly positioned to make the case for, say, a new push for border security that reduces the threat posed by immigrant gangs, or a reorganization of the Department of Homeland Security to ensure that a Katrina-style debacle never happens again, or a broader plan to shore up infrastructure by strengthening and decentralizing the networks that sustain industrial civilization.

Meanwhile, because "respect conservatism" is premised on treating all people as equals, Giuliani the candidate would be a natural spokesman for a renewed attack on racial preferences, a still potent issue that President Bush abandoned, finding it ill-suited to his "compassion" agenda. But attacking preferences and offering nothing in their place is a narrow strategy that's unlikely to inspire voters, particularly younger voters deeply invested in the dramatic gains made by women and minorities in recent years. By proposing a grand bargain that replaces preferences with either class-based affirmative action or wage subsidies designed to expand the middle class, Giuliani could take the fight to liberalism: Why do you want to divide the disadvantaged by race, he could ask, when you can include them in a flourishing economy?