Whenever you see Peter J. Boyer's byline, make sure you read what follows. Boyer is my favorite reporter still writing for The New Yorker. (The lifetime distinction goes to Joseph Mitchell, who died in 1996 after 58 years of reporting to the office.)
With 13,606 words in this week's magazine, Boyer waxes about what's become one of my favorite subjects -- the mistaken popularity and haphazard success of anti-moralist Rudy Giuliani.
Boyer opens with the scene from this spring of Giuliani approaching the capitol of staunchly conservative South Carolina, over which the Rebel flag stills flies and where this year the state house of reps passed laws banning gay civil unions and requiring women to see an ultrasound of their unborn child before receiving an abortion.
It was here that Rudolph Giuliani, New York’s thrice-married, anti-gun, pro-gay, pro-choice former mayor, found himself one morning in April, in what appeared to be a critical moment in his young campaign for the Republican Presidential nomination. The previous day, during a campaign stop in Florida, he was asked by CNN’s Dana Bash if he supported the public funding of abortions. Giuliani seemed flustered by the question and finally answered, “If that’s the status of the law, I would, yes.”
Even before Giuliani began his run for the Presidency, the consensus, sounded in news columns, blogs, and political journals, was that he could not survive scrutiny of his political heterodoxy and his personal imperfections by the Republican Party’s conservative base.
Why then does a man who was recently described by a Vanity Fair contributor as literally insane remain the Republican front-runner? Boyer writes that it is not just Rudy's image as the hero of 9/11, but his standing as the caped crusader of Gotham.
The common refrain among New Yorkers is that although Giuliani showed leadership on the day of the terrorist attacks, in the preceding months he had been a spent and isolated lame duck, his viability sapped by churlishness and the spectacle of his unattractive personal dramas. But to many in the heartland Giuliani was heroic for what he did in New York before September 11th: his policy prescriptions and, mostly, his taming of the city’s liberal political culture—his famous crackdown on squeegee-men panhandlers, his workfare program, his attacks on controversial museum exhibits (“The idea of . . . so-called works of art in which people are throwing elephant dung at a picture of the Virgin Mary is sick!”), and the like. Speaking before the Alabama legislature this spring, he received a standing ovation, and Governor Bob Riley told him, “One of these days, you have to tell me how you really cleaned up New York.” To conservatives, pre-Giuliani New York was a study in failed liberalism, a city that had surrendered to moral and physical decay, crime, racial hucksterism, and ruinous economic pathologies. Perhaps the most common words that Giuliani heard when he travelled around the country this spring were epithets aimed at his city (“a crime-infested cesspool,” one Southern politician declared), offered without fear of giving offense. Giuliani cheerfully agreed.I still don't understand how Giuliani can go the distance without the endorsement of evangelical leaders, which has been essential to Republican candidates going back to Reagan and which the Democrats are now clamoring for. But Romney doesn't have it either.