Two libertarian writers whom I respect (and, full disclosure, whom I know personally) have diametrically opposed views about former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and whether he deserves to be the Republican presidential candidate in 2008.
On the pro-Rudy side is Deroy Murdock, an adjunct fellow at the Atlas Economic Research Foundation and a frequent guest on TV chat shows like the syndicated Chris Matthews Show. A New York-based syndicated columnist whose work appears in the Washington Times and other newspapers, Murdock wrote a gushing piece about Rudy Giuliani in the National Review back in March. In it, he provides details of the successes during Giuliani's eight years as Gotham mayor, including these compelling figures:
...Giuliani governed as a Reaganesque supply-sider:In conversations with me, Murdock has told of his amazement at the way Giuliani, at press conferences introducing the city budget, was able to field questions about nearly every detail of New York's fiscal situation. According to Murdock, Giuliani is a master of detail, with much more innate intelligence than the average politician. Moreover, given the political demographics of New York City -- Republicans and conservatives are a minuscule minority -- Giuliani's achievements are even more remarkable, because he was able to accomplish so much, through sheer force of personality and adherence to principle, against otherwise unrelenting opposition.
Giuliani scrapped three taxes and slashed 20 others, lowering Gotham’s tax burden by 17 percent and saving individual and business taxpayers $9.8 billion. A family of four earning $50,000 saw its local taxes plummet 23.7 percent.
While inflation averaged 3.9 percent, Giuliani’s average spending grew 2.9 percent annually. If the departed GOP Congress were that fiscally disciplined, the next federal budget would be $2.275 trillion — $625 billion cheaper, Cato Institute fiscal analyst Stephen Slivinski calculates.
While hiring 12 percent more cops and 12.8 percent more teachers, Giuliani sliced other positions 17.2 percent. Overall, municipal headcount fell 3.1 percent.
These policies helped cut local unemployment from 10.4 percent in 1993 to 5.7 percent in 2001. Tourist arrivals rose 32 percent in that period, while the Big Apple’s population grew 9.3 percent. People who came stuck around, and those already here stopped evacuating, as they were doing before Giuliani Time. Not insignificantly, the personal incomes of New Yorkers ballooned 53 percent during Giuliani’s tenure.
Coming from the other side -- the anti-Rudy side -- is David Boaz, executive vice president of the Cato Institute in Washington and author of Libertarianism: A Primer. He has an op-ed piece in today's New York Daily News entitled "Libertarians, beware the rigid reign of Rudy."
Boaz acknowledges the same accomplishments that Murdock touts, but he adds some warnings:
Throughout his career, Giuliani has displayed an authoritarian streak that would be all the more problematic in a man who would assume executive powers vastly expanded by President Bush.* * *
And it should distress many conservatives that Giuliani took umbrage at affronts to his dignity, perhaps most notoriously when he tried to stop city buses from carrying a New York magazine ad saying the publication was "possibly the only good thing in New York Rudy hasn't taken credit for." The First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams notes in his book, "Speaking Freely," that "over 35 separate successful lawsuits were brought against the city under Giuliani's stewardship arising out of his insistence on doing the one thing that the First Amendment most clearly forbids: using the power of government to restrict or punish speech critical of government itself."
As a presidential hopeful, Giuliani's authoritarian streak is as strong as ever. He defends the Bush administration's domestic surveillance program. He endorses the President's power to arrest American citizens, declare them enemy combatants and hold them without access to a lawyer or a judge. He thinks the President has "the inherent authority to support the troops" even if Congress were to cut off war funding, a claim of presidential authority so sweeping that even Bush and his supporters have not tried to make it.
Giuliani's view of power would be dangerous at any time, but especially after two terms of relentless Bush efforts to weaken the constitutional checks and balances that safeguard our liberty.
In 1964, Barry Goldwater declared it "the cause of Republicanism to resist concentrations of power." George W. Bush has forgotten that; Rudy Giuliani rejects it.
Both Boaz and Murdock are correct in their assessments of Rudy Giuliani. The question libertarian Republicans must ask themselves is, which side of Giuliani is more important to us? Are we swayed by the Rudy who transformed New York and made it livable and economically viable? Or are we repulsed by the Rudy who shows little respect for the limits of power and the individual rights and liberties enshrined in the Constitution?