The Liberal Candidate

Is Rudy Giuliani a new Barry Goldwater or a new Bobby Kennedy?


One afternoon in 1957, a 13-year-old Rudy Giuliani switched on his family's TV and watched a lawyer pick a fight. Jimmy Hoffa, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, had been called before the U.S. Senate's Labor Rackets Committee to answer charges of corruption, extortion, and stealing from the pension funds of union members. He settled in his chair to face Robert F. Kennedy, the special committee lawyer, only 32 years old and a brutal interrogator.

"The Teamster case meant a lot to me," Giuliani writes in Leadership, the popular memoir he published in 2002. "Hearing Bobby Kennedy's withering confrontation with Jimmy Hoffa left a mark on me, at an impressionable time of life."

It's no wonder why: Hoffa scoffed at the hearings, calling his inquisitor "Bob" and dodging his questions. Kennedy gave as good as he got, darkly dramatizing the threat Hoffa posed to Americans, warning that "the life of every person in the United States is in the hands of Hoffa and his Teamsters." Hoffa outsmarted Kennedy: No one could prove the union boss's ties to organized crime, and he walked. But he had made a powerful enemy. When Kennedy's brother handed him the Department of Justice in 1961, Hoffa was investigated and watched like a hawk. A decade after the Senate hearings, he was convicted, finally, of mail fraud and bribing a juror.

A lesser politician would have walked away wounded from the hearings. Not Kennedy. The white-knuckled Hoffa confrontations added to Kennedy's fame from his counsel work with Wisconsin Sen. Joseph McCarthy's committees. He wrote a memoir, The Enemy Within, about the case. His reputation was bolstered for his 1961 nomination to become his brother's attorney general. Young Rudy Giuliani watched the Kennedys rise to the top of American politics, and it stirred something in him. As an undergraduate at Manhattan College he worked on Bobby Kennedy's carpetbagging 1964 campaign for the U.S. Senate. Back on campus, he told a girlfriend that "Rudolph William Louis Giuliani the Third" would be the first Italian-American Catholic president of the United States.

Bobby Kennedy made an inspiring political role model, his big-hearted liberal philosophy shaping Giuliani's first forays into politics. In the Quadrangle, the Manhattan College newspaper that young Giuliani had taken over with two friends, he published columns lambasting the GOP and praising the Democrats. While Giuliani's future mentor (and future employer) Ronald Reagan was stumping for Barry Goldwater, the college kid used his "Ars Politica" column to lampoon the 1964 Republican candidate as an "incompetent, confused, and idiotic man." The problem with Goldwater, for Giuliani, was that his view of government was coldhearted, standoffish. "The Republicans," he wrote, "must find men who will adequately address themselves to the problems of discrimination, of poverty, of education, of public housing and the many more problems that Senator Goldwater and company throw aside in the name of small laissez-faire government."

Giuliani took a "lonely, arduous, and even painful" path from liberalism, he writes in Leadership. The liberals of the 1970s were too weak on communism, he avers. Only after he got to work in Gerald Ford's administration did he realize that Republicans didn't get their kicks by setting paupers on fire: "The image I had of Republicans, as morally inferior to Democrats, came from being a prejudiced New Yorker."

But as much as liberals grew to loathe him as mayor of New York City, Giuliani never fully abandoned his liberalism. His theory of urban governance was written by neoconservatives—as the joke goes, liberals who had been mugged by reality. Their policies recognized the failure of the Great Society but saw a role for City Hall in making the city livable and its citizens better-behaved. Mayor Giuliani alternately thrilled and thwarted libertarians. He cut taxes and sold off public services, but he also sued the gun industry for "deliberately" producing too many guns, "flooding" New York with weapons, and not making their products safe enough. (During the battles over the 1994 Crime Bill he called the National Rifle Association (NRA) "extremists.") The statistics clearly show that he cut crime throughout the '90s, but he arguably allowed cops to get sloppier and more aggressive, tripling the size of a Street Crimes Unit that would be disbanded under a cloud of scandal. He crossed swords with the New York Civil Liberties Union more than two dozen times over issues as petty as why the Yankees could have a victory rally on the steps of City Hall but political activists couldn't take over those steps for a protest.

Since becoming a candidate for president Giuliani has lurched to the right, sometimes for better but mostly for worse. On the bright side, he has mollified the NRA by promising not to push for new gun laws and supporting a federal appeals court reversal of the Washington, D.C., handgun ban. Less impressively, the man who used to say undocumented immigrants were good for New York—"they are here, and they're going to remain here"—now talks about "ending illegal immigration" and building cement walls and "technological fences" on the Mexican border. And he has dialed back the socially liberal side of his persona too, playing down the support for same-sex civil unions he expressed in the 1990s.

Some observers say this is the best deal a major presidential candidate has offered libertarians in decades. The Atlantic Monthly's Ross Douthat, a conservative, theorizes that Giuliani "may invite Americans with libertarian inclinations to accept an expansive interpretation of executive power and a dim view of civil liberties in exchange for lower dividend tax rates and the right to abortion." (Giuliani's campaign declined to make him available to reason for an interview.)

Some of Giuliani's positions are libertarian, but the man himself is not. He has never looked over his shoulder and declared that Goldwater was right. Goldwater thought he was elected to repeal laws, not pass them. Giuliani, generally, likes to expand the boundaries of the state. He has no interest in rolling back the government to where it was before the Great Society, let alone the New Deal.

"We believe in giving freedom to people," Giuliani said in a March speech to the Conservative Political Action Committee. "The Republican Party makes its greatest contribution when it's giving more freedom to people." Giuliani does not, however, view freedom as the absence of state control. "Freedom is not a concept in which people can do anything they want," he said in a 1994 speech two months after becoming mayor. "Freedom is about the willingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority."

As the presidential primary heated up in September, Giuliani remained the GOP's front-runner, to the general amazement of pundits. Only Fred Thompson, the actor and former senator from Tennessee, challenges his supremacy in national polls. Giuliani had long argued that the civil libertarians and traditional conservatives who criticize him are out of their league, second-guessing the decisions he made in "saving" New York. But his record goes back further than that. A more complete picture of Giuliani's career and of his evolving philosophy shows a man who considers the crusading Kennedy the model for how to use power.

The Prosecutor
In 1970, fresh from his clerkship with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, Giuliani won appointment as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. The timing was perfect. New York Mayor John Lindsay had just established the Knapp Commission, a blue-ribbon investigation into police corruption, turning the U.S. Attorney's Office loose on crooked cops and the mafia figures who controlled them. At 26, Giuliani was interviewing police officers who'd sold drugs, killed prostitutes, and otherwise soiled the image of the NYPD. "I had this youthful conviction that all human beings were basically good," Giuliani recalls in Leadership. "I came to realize that rationality does not necessarily rule and that some people were simply evil."

The corruption that gripped New York in those years was a sensation, molded by screenwriters into films like Serpico and plundered by prime time television hacks for the decade's police dramas. Giuliani thrived on the attention. In 1972, during a corruption investigation of Rep. Bertram Podell (D-N.Y.), Giuliani flew to Nicaragua and personally subpoenaed U.S. Ambassador Shelton Turner, who was accused of assisting Podell's efforts to illegally aid, and profit from, tiny Florida Atlantic Airlines. Giuliani's rise was slowed a little when Democrats won the White House, but that turned out to be a speed bump: In 1981 Ronald Reagan made him an associate attorney general.

In the Carter years the Justice Department had concentrated on white-collar crimes, leading to a dip in overall prosecution numbers. The White House told Giuliani to analyze and market a possible solution to the slump: a new arrangement between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration that would give the FBI's director more power to go after drug dealers. He supported it unreservedly and successfully lobbied Congress to approve it. (The first joint drug war operations between the two agencies kicked off in 1984.) The man who'd made liberals swoon with his investigations of police officers was starting to worry them. Giuliani had his first real clash with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) over a 1981 crime bill that aimed to abolish parole for federal prisoners, bolster gun control laws, and construct new prisons.

Giuliani's DOJ job was a high-profile position, and it allowed him to do a lot. But when the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York resigned in 1983, Giuliani offered to take the less prestigious, lower-salary job.

It was a good call: Giuliani was born for the U.S. Attorney's Office. He was a low-wattage star in the D.C. political press, but the move to New York offered the chance of real media stardom. And instead of running interference for the Reagan administration, Giuliani would be able to apply the law as he liked. In a 1984 interview on PBS he spelled out his philosophy by defending another tough crime bill that had just worked its way through Congress. "I consider myself a very firm believer in due process, and a libertarian in that sense," Giuliani said. "But I think we became almost stupid in our excessiveness in the way in which we were protecting, overprotecting the rights of people, to the disadvantage of other people."

Giuliani's office was prosecuting the old Bobby Kennedy foes, of course—the crooked union bosses, the mafia. In 1986 Giuliani donned a leather Hell's Angels vest and went with Sen. Al D'Amato (R-N.Y.), similarly "disguised," to buy crack on West 160th Street. It was pure theater, with photos that wouldn't be matched in their sublime weirdness until Mayor Giuliani dressed in drag and smooched Donald Trump in 2000. But Giuliani was learning more and more about spectacle. And he was thinking big about the intersection of his power in the media and his power in the courts. Giuliani was intimately familiar with the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, passed in 1970, which made it easier for prosecutors to nail mobsters if they'd committed certain crimes twice within 10 years. He was constantly getting tips about Wall Street fraud, and he knew how slippery wealthy traders could be when they faced prosecution. But what if they were vulnerable to RICO charges?

Giuliani's office was relentless, charging suspects with multiple counts of crimes, shaking down minor traders to get what he wanted from the big players: Dennis Levine, Ivan Boesky, Michael Milken. If his crusade resembled the way cops went after mobsters, that was intentional. Feds appeared at the offices of indicted traders to put them in handcuffs, marching them to court as their colleagues gawked. "I'm not in this job to do the safe thing," Giuliani said in 1986. "If you never try to accomplish anything, you never fail. I'd rather fail."

That was the approach he took with Richard Wigton, a 57-year-old arbitrageur at Kidder, Peabody & Company who was arrested on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange and whose indictment was representative in both style and outcome. Wigton was charged with bilking clients, and three months later the charges were dropped. "The U.S. Attorney's Office kept asking me if I'd make a deal," says Stanley Arkin, Wigton's attorney. "I told them I never would: They had no evidence. It was a ruthless act."

The insider trading arrests were sensational, but they were for the most part directed against people who were tangentially related to any crimes. Some targets submitted: In December 1988, Drexel Burnham, the big fish of the insider trading scandals, settled for $650 million to avoid RICO charges. (To this day, lawyers debate whether the firm would have actually been found guilty.) But during the next few years dozens of the indicted traders were acquitted or freed when the government dropped charges against them. By then Giuliani had moved on: He was a candidate for mayor.

After Giuliani left the U.S. Attorney's Office, The New York Times editorialized that "New Yorkers have seen enough to hope that one day he'll return to public service." The first Marist Institute poll on the 1989 mayoral race showed Giuliani leading the incumbent, Ed Koch—past his prime but gunning for a fourth term—by 27 points. The former U.S. attorney's appeal cut across party lines, and he ran as a good-government liberal—a cleaner, tougher, more effective version of Koch. "You may know me by the reputation I've earned fighting for justice," Giuliani thundered in a stump speech, "but my commitment to justice goes beyond the courtroom. My commitment goes to the social justice we all want for the less fortunate and for each other. A prosecutor cannot ease crushing poverty or end homelessness or treat drug addicts or help people with AIDS. But a mayor can. And a mayor must."

It was a perfect anti-Koch message; unfortunately, Koch was skunked in the Democratic primary by the black Manhattan Borough President David Dinkins. Giuliani's team wasn't quite ready to win a white-on-black, reformer-on-reformer campaign, and Dinkins came out on top in the nasty general election, winning by four points. During the next four years Giuliani marinated in urban policy. He talked with scholars from the neoconservative Manhattan Institute and pored over its magazine, City Journal, especially its Spring 1992 issue on "the quality of urban life." In April 1993 Giuliani lauded "Defining Deviancy Down," Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan's report on the slow moral and social suicide of the American city. The rematch campaign against Dinkins was streamlined, hard-edged, a direct challenge to what voters had increasingly come to see as Dinkins' muddled, failed, racially fraught liberalism. Giuliani reversed the 1989 margin and won.

The Mayor
During the campaign Giuliani had argued with his adviser Larry Kudlow (now the cable news guru of supply-side economics) about when to cut taxes. Kudlow wanted the new mayor to pass immediate, sweeping cuts. Giuliani argued that he needed to "establish credibility" on crime before he could touch taxes. And crime was already starting to drop when the new mayor entered Gracie Mansion.

One reason: Ray Kelly, David Dinkins' police commissioner (and the current holder of the position, appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2002). From the start of Dinkins' term through Giuliani's inauguration, burglary fell nearly 18 percent, car theft fell nearly 24 percent, and murder—the measure of the city's health that prompted the most concern—fell by 14 percent. Kelly had studied under the urban policy academic and consultant George Kelling, co-author with the neoconservative sociologist James Q. Wilson of the 1982 Atlantic Monthly article "Broken Windows," which argued that ignoring relatively small crimes such as car radio theft leads to higher rates of serious crimes such as random murders.

"The first impact you saw from implementing 'broken windows' was in the subway," Kelling says. "In 1989 the subways were purgatory. Homeless people slept in the tunnels. There was graffiti all over the cars. Kelly applied 'broken windows' and cleaned up the subways, and right away you could see the impact. By 1993 they were under control."

Giuliani understood the theory far better than Dinkins. During the campaign he had promised to rid the city of "squeegee men"—derelicts, many of them mentally ill, who used dirty rags to "clean" the windows of cars stopped at red lights or in traffic and then demanded payment. During the mayoral campaign Giuliani had called the car cleaners a "menace" and pledged to use police power to oust them, while Dinkins called them a distraction. "Killers and rapists are a city's real public enemies," he said, "not squeegee pests and homeless mothers."

Mayor Giuliani and his new police commissioner, Boston-trained William Bratton, ordered the arrest of squeegee men on charges of jaywalking. Some of the perpetrators were locked up, and some abandoned their squeegees for fear of getting arrested. By summer all of the squeegee men—there were just 75 of them, it turned out —were gone.

Bratton and the mayor basked in the credit for the squeegee solution; ACLU types sounded shrill when they attacked the "scapegoating" of the squeegee men. Ray Kelly had plotted the strategy for taking down the squeegee bunch, so Giuliani wasn't marching into the unknown, but George Kelling doesn't deny the Republican mayor credit for what happened. "Rudy had the political courage to take ideas that were coming to be relatively popular and take political hurt for supporting them," he says. Giuliani knew what Dinkins didn't know: how to stretch the laws like a trapeze net, catching criminals and nuisances who had thought themselves invulnerable.

Early on Giuliani and Bratton launched a program of comprehensive statistics, or CompStat, in which law enforcement officials met daily to pore over crime numbers and identify what was working, what wasn't, where the police presence needed to increase, and where it could be reduced. It was hands-on, and it worked; Giuliani evangelized the program to other cities and cloned it in the corrections system.

Dinkins' problems could be traced to his diffident public image, the way he handled the Crown Heights riot (when a rabbinical student was murdered by young blacks and the mayor was slow to respond), the way he doled out city jobs based on race, the way he alternately feuded with or got played by the self-appointed black spokesman Al Sharpton. Giuliani created a very different image. Eight days after being sworn in he ordered police to search a Nation of Islam mosque where the faithful were holding a police radio and gun. Black leaders called him a fascist; Giuliani told them to "learn how to discipline themselves in the way in which they speak."

It was another minor battle, but Giuliani understood the power of small victories. Voters had just rejected a mayor who shied away from confrontations, called the city a "glorious mosaic" of races, and seemed uncomfortable ordering around police, even as he was seeking the funds to put more of them on the beat. The city's Democratic leaders had never grown comfortable with Dinkins either. Giuliani's display of power made him look like a man they could do business with. "We worked together a lot more than we clashed," remembers the Queens Democrat Peter Vallone, former speaker of the New York City Council. "I recognized early on that this was a brilliant guy. I still call him the brain of the city."

Giuliani certainly was able to outfox Vallone's colleagues. In Leadership Giuliani boasts about "promising strategically" in budget fights, projecting the worst possible scenario if the city didn't act on his team's recommendations. In 1993 he warned the city council that a $2.3 billion budget shortfall would bulge to $3.4 billion in five years. The city's fiscal picture was suddenly more than grim; it was a crisis. And how could the city's Democratic politicians drag their feet in the face of a crisis? It was the first effective use of a technique the mayor would use again and again: "By assuming low revenues," Giuliani wrote in 2002, "I could forcefully argue against unnecessary expenditures and maintain a frugal culture."

The stage was set for Giuliani's first tax cut, and he picked a tax Democrats and their union backers were willing to attack: the 21.5 percent levy on hotel rooms, a Frankenstein's monster of five state and local fees. He convinced the state legislature and the city council to slash it by a third. Small taxes fell under the guillotine. Thirteen years later, according to Kudlow, Giuliani would tell his old economic adviser that the tax cuts "proved that the Laffer curve works in the real world." At the start of his second term Giuliani orchestrated two "sales tax vacations," single days when consumers didn't have to pay sales taxes, and watched store receipts surge. It became that much harder for restive city council members to argue against him.

The tax cuts—by the end of his tenure, 23 taxes were slashed or snuffed out—were largely popular. Welfare reform was tougher: Giuliani actually opposed the 1996 federal welfare reform bill on the grounds that it unfairly penalized illegal immigrants and didn't provide day care for welfare-to-work clients. But he had almost unilateral powers to kick off his own reforms. City Hall commanded welfare administrators to recertify everyone who claimed a check, and 20 percent of recipients, revealed as frauds, fell off the rolls. Slowly, inexorably, the mayor changed the city's welfare programs into job programs that connected people on the dole with public- and private-sector work. By the end of his mayoralty welfare rolls were nearly halved, from more than 1.1 million names to under 600,000. If his 2008 opponents have seen an opening to attack him for his hedging on federal welfare reform, they haven't dared to use it.

The Second Term
Giuliani clashed publicly and privately with Police Commissioner Bratton, feuding over details as small as a promotion ceremony Bratton held without inviting the mayor. Before Giuliani fired him in 1995, polls showed most of the city giving Bratton credit for the crime drop. That was never again the case, and until Giuliani won a crushing re-election in 1997, those who tried to make an issue out of the mayor's ego were dismissed as churls. Giuliani gave them more to work with after he won. New York magazine rolled out a series of post-election bus ads that tweaked the mayor by calling itself "possibly the only good thing in New York Rudy hasn't taken credit for." The mayor directed the Metropolitan Transit Authority to strip the ads. New York sued the MTA and won; Giuliani, incredibly, appealed to the 2nd Circuit Court.

It was the perfect overture to Giuliani's second term, four years when the city boomed and its mayor's goals became increasingly erratic. Before the election, Giuliani expanded the city's war on drugs, proposing the hiring of 1,000 new cops to tackle drug crimes. During the campaign he ratcheted up an assault on porn shops (often used, to be sure, as criminal fronts) and pilloried his Democratic opponent, Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger, when she argued that the shops gave some neighborhoods "character." After the election he confounded New Yorkers by focusing his energy on petty "quality of life" crimes. The connection between dilapidated Mad Max storefronts and violent crime was obvious and intuitive. It was harder to draw a straight line from jaywalking to knifepoint mugging.

A 1998 City Journal article by New York Post editorial writer Jonathan Foreman called "Toward a More Civil City" told Giuliani where he wanted to go. "Quality of life," Giuliani said in February 1998, "from the beginning, was not an isolated campaign but an intrinsic part of our overall strategy to increase public safety, revive the City, and create a common social culture." The solutions he proposed were immediately controversial: speed bumps to slow down traffic, harsher penalties for reckless bicyclists, a crackdown on jaywalkers. The resemblance to the problems described in Foreman's article was slight.

"It was interesting," Foreman remembers, "because he took some of the article and not the rest of it. The article was about the city leading the way on civility, which meant going after petty crimes, but it also meant public officials using sir and ma'am and easing tensions at that level of society. That was never taken up." The "civil society" effort was ridiculed by the press. "I think his own, authoritarian-seeming personality in some ways undermined the public perception of the policies," Foreman says.

But in the weeks after the September 11 attacks the mayor's approval ratings hit the stratosphere: One New York Times poll suggested that almost 60 percent of the city would give him a third term if not for term limits. Fifteen percent of Republican voters wrote his name on their ballots in the October primary. Giuliani had the chance to play Cincinnatus and assure the city it could go on without him. He didn't take it. "I couldn't walk away," he told CBS News anchor Dan Rather in 2001. "I would feel like I was walking out on my duty and obligation." He lobbied publicly for a three-month extension of his term; when that hit resistance, he mulled an offer from the state's Conservative Party to run as its candidate for a new four-year term. Both ideas were scrapped by the Democrat-controlled state Assembly, which refused to change the constitution.

Of course, Giuliani's push for more time in office isn't what most people remember about the end of his time as mayor. His response to the 9/11 attacks utterly transformed his reputation. All the traits that had irritated his enemies—grandstanding, linking himself to the city's police force—became assets again. Six years later the halo has hardly dimmed. Explosive reports about the poor disaster planning that preceded the attack and broadsides from the International Association of Firefighters (on topics such as the slow recovery of corpses from the debris) have grabbed some headlines and cable news coverage, then been swiftly forgotten.

It had been a long while since a national politician had to perform on the spot like that, sans speechwriters, and came over so convincingly. More than anyone else, it recalled Robert F. Kennedy in 1968. When Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Kennedy spoke without notes and delivered a tear-wrenching speech before a mostly black audience in Indianapolis about tolerance and forgiveness that served as King's eulogy. Giuliani owned 9/11 in the same way. His masterful press conference hours after the attack even echoed Kennedy's message to would-be rioters in the King aftermath.

"Nobody should blame any group of people or any nationality or any ethnic group," Giuliani said. "The particular individuals responsible or the groups responsible, that's up to law enforcement and it's up to the United States government to figure out. And citizens of New York should, even if they have anger, which is understandable, and very, very strong emotions about this, it isn't their place to get involved in this. Then they're just participating in the kind of activity we just witnessed. And New Yorkers are not like that."

It was powerful stuff, and not just because of the way the White House bungled its immediate public response to the attacks and created a vacuum for Giuliani. (President Bush made a statement 30 minutes after the attacks and then disappeared for 11 hours.) The mayor's performance cut against an image that had been crafted over 30 years. Giuliani was tough but never empathetic. Sometimes his toughness had led to cruel comments and gaffes. In 1999, when special NYPD units killed young black club-goer Patrick Dorismond, Giuliani immediately sided with police, averring that the deceased was "no altar boy"; he was humiliated when it came out that Dorismond had in fact lit the altar at his church.

New Yorkers were stunned and enthralled by the empathy that Giuliani summoned in the month of the 9/11 attacks. They were shocked to find themselves liking him again.

The Candidate
Giuliani has never served in uniform, never engaged in foreign policy more complicated than booting Yasser Arafat out of a New York Philharmonic performance. In a May 2007 speech to the Heritage Foundation and later in an article for Foreign Affairs, he defended the theory of pre-emptive war and the reconstruction by force of the Middle East. His long-term proposal: the "Stabilization and Reconstruction Corps," a venture of the civilian government and the military that would plan for long-term occupations and nation-building efforts. Iraq, for Giuliani, was not a mistake. It was a missed opportunity. He has defended the foreign and domestic policies of the Bush administration with reservations, happily letting Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) outflank him on supporting the troop surge in Iraq. Like the rest of the GOP field, Giuliani has instead focused on 9/11 and put Iraq into that context: Al Qaeda's attacks, he says, were the beginning of "the terrorists' war against us."

The day after the third Republican debate in New Hampshire, Giuliani's campaign bus made its way along the Atlantic coast to speak in the tiny town of New Castle. George Carlisle, a New Hampshire Republican who emceed the event, explained that before Giuliani cleaned up the city, "New York was off the table. I wouldn't even take my family there." A radiologist named Jim Rini, whose only sticking point with Giuliani concerns whether he'd defend the Second Amendment, said he was drawn to the former mayor because he thinks he's tough. John McCain lost Rini's vote when he repeatedly, vehemently opposed the Bush administration on the torture of terrorists. "McCain is on the wrong side of interrogation," said Rini.

And why did he trust Giuliani on that issue over a military veteran who was actually, famously, tortured for five years? "This is a war," Rini said. "You can't worry about what other countries will think of us, what is and isn't torture. You need to be ready to interrogate those terrorists to their last, demonic breaths."

Rini joined in the standing ovation when Giuliani strutted into the room, squinting and grinning ear to ear as he took the stage. He started with a joke about the recent debate's frequent "show of hands" questions: "Do you want to use nuclear weapons? Right now? Yes or no?" He did a little Buster Keaton pantomime, jutting his hand up, throwing it behind his back as he ducked, smirking. The rest of the event was given over to Giuliani's grand plans for America, for the war, for government agencies, for taxes, for everything. The biggest surprise was how little of the speech and the Q&A dealt with the September 11 attacks. Instead it focused on Giuliani's prosecutions of mobsters, his reforms of the NYPD, his tax cuts, and CompStat.

"We took [CompStat] and we applied it to just about every other city agency," Giuliani said. "We'll get that kind of accountability in January 2009, when I become president, on my first day." Big applause. "We can do BorderStat, to measure the success we're having of stopping people illegally entering this country. If the CompStat program can reduce murder in the murder capital of the United States, it can secure our border." Bigger applause. "You can take that same program, you can apply it to terror." Listening to Rudy, you realize there is no problem CompStat can't solve. It can fix federal spending. It can win the war on terror. It can steady his own presidential campaign.

If any of this sounds like micromanagement, well, that's fine. "When I was mayor I had a sign on my desk that said 'I'm responsible,'?" Giuliani said. "I still have that sign. It reminds me that I'm responsible for everything that happens."

President Giuliani would take on all manner of enemies, all kinds of "establishments," and some of those fights might be worth having. Conservatives have long speculated about what Ronald Reagan could have been if he'd won the presidency when he was slightly younger and less exhausted. During the 2005 battle over Social Security, pro-privatization activists who'd spent decades setting up the debate became convinced that George W. Bush was too listless and incompetent to force through change.

Americans have a certain disdain for political crusading. Movements burn out and leaders overreach, and the hotter the moment the faster the cycle works. That's not how Rudy Giuliani operates. In 1988, wrapping up his career as a U.S. attorney, he announced a lawsuit against the Teamsters and drew quotes from Kennedy's report on the corruption hearings, The Enemy Within. Kennedy, Giuliani said, took heat for aggressively attacking the union and for basking in the media's spotlight. But Kennedy's strategy paid off.

"He was ridiculed," Giuliani said. "He was vilified. He was hated irrationally. But he was right." Anyone who wants to criticize Giuliani for his ego, his love of power, his view of an interventionist state, his view of America as a transformative military power, or his particular sense of freedom should study those words. He wants to be remembered the very same way.

David Weigel is an associate editor of Reason.