If you want to test a conservative, put him in charge of New York City. If he can make it there (this is not your cue to sing), one suspects he can handle an assortment of infantile conservative activists.
And we’ll soon see, because said infantile activists – not Hillary Clinton – appear to be Rudy Giuliani’s primary obstacle to the presidency.
Giuliani is a conservative, a pragmatist and a politician. This separates him from Republican rivals Fred Thompson and John McCain only in the sense that Giuliani has actually had the task of governing something – and that something was a very large and very liberal place.
Giuliani’s achievements of conservative governance in one of the world’s largest liberal meccas are of almost heroic proportions. These achievements would have been impossible if not for the fact that Giuliani is also a pragmatist, which is not to be confused with what rock-ribbed conservative ideologues refer to as a squish.
A squish is a moderate – someone who caves to liberal pressure for no reason other than lack of conviction and inability to stand the heat. A pragmatist is a smart politician who knows how to pick the right battles, forge the right alliances, choose the right times to compromise and use all this to achieve your big objectives.
Giuliani’s conservative priorities were tax cuts, spending restraint, deregulation and law enforcement. In 1993, he took over a city that had just enacted a massive tax increase, and in which spending was through the roof, red tape was forcing businesses to relocate and crime was out of control.
Giuliani insisted on cutting taxes, and when the liberal city council and the hostile local media balked, Giuliani stood firm. And he won. He also put the clamps on the growth of spending, holding increases during his tenure below the rate of inflation and below the population growth of the city.
That is an achievement of which Ronald Reagan could only dream. So is this: Giuliani stripped the city’s regulatory agencies of their authority to govern 21 of 72 business categories, undertook 60 successful privatization initiatives and sold thousands of city-owned assets and properties back to the private sector.
He also learned as he governed. An ardent opponent of school-choice initiatives when he took office, Giuliani witnessed the failure of the city’s public schools and evolved during his tenure into an eloquent proponent of school choice.
As president, Giuliani pledges to pursue supply-side economic policies, free-market health care reforms, the appointment of strict constructionist judges and the aggressive prosecution of what he calls “the terrorists’ war on us.”
His reward for all this? A typical comment of the conservative activist community came recently from a respected colleague of mine – a supporter of Fred Thompson’s candidacy: “Giuliani is a liberal.”
Giuliani was far from a perfect conservative as mayor. He fought the presidential line-item veto to protect federal funding for New York City. He opposed ending rent control to avoid having to spend political capital on the issue. He sued gun manufacturers as a grandstanding element of his larger (and successful) effort to reduce crime.
For eight years, Giuliani governed in a liberal environment, and made a choice to pursue certain conservative priorities at the expense of others. It was his only play. That he achieved any of it was nothing short of remarkable.
As a matter of personal philosophy, there is no doubt he was far less conservative at the beginning of his tenure than he was at the end. Eight years of witnessing firsthand the failures of liberalism will do that to you.
Conservatives like their candidates ideologically blameless. It is one reason many support Thompson, who had a reasonably conservative voting record as a senator, and one reason a handful support Rep. Duncan Hunter, whose conservative voting record is virtually without blemish.
But amassing a legislative voting record is not the same as governing. It is easy to look into the record of anyone who has served as a governor or mayor and find examples of compromise and ideological impurity. If you want to, it is easy to completely ignore the big picture of what the person accomplished throughout his tenure.