The Devil is in the Details: the foolish cult of Giuliani


    One of Shakespeare’s most oft-quoted phrases (probably second only to “To be or not to be…”) comes out of the mouth of Malvolio when speaking to Olivia in Twelfth Night: “Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” When Rudy Giuliani comes to mind, one of the strongest of the GOP’s early presidential hopefuls for 2008, it is difficult to know which of those categories he would fall into, or better still with which he would flatter himself.

 

     Would it be born great as he comes close to implying in the preface to his unreadable book Leadership with “I was prepared to handle September 11 precisely because I was the same person who had been doing his best to take on challenges my whole career”; Achieving greatness as he for years basked in glory for turning New York City into a real estate mogul’s utopia while dismissing anyone, including police commissioners who dared share the spotlight; or having greatness thrust upon him as he makes a point of writing in Leadership that he read the chapters of Roy Jenkins’ Churchill biography that describe Churchill’s ascension to Prime Minister after arriving at his friend’s apartment the night after 9/11 (while comparing on the same page “present day” Israel to London under Nazi bombardment)?

 

     The fitting irony of Shakespeare’s phrase, used for countless inspirational speeches and other hallmark moments, is that it is spoken in one of his greatest comedies and when heard on stage humorously goes like this:

 

Malvolio: Be not afraid of greatness-twas well writ

Olivia: What mean’st thou by that, Molvolio?

Malvolio: Some are born great-

Olivia: Ha!

Malvolio: Some achieve greatness-

Olivia: What say’st thou?

Malvolio: And some have greatness thrust upon them.

Olivia: Heaven restore thee

 

     Malvolio being the victim of a practical joke set up by vengeful associates is almost a perfect parallel for the foolishness of the cult of Giuliani, Over the past decade Giuliani has been honored with accolades ranging from super crime fighter, prophet of terrorism, and American Churchill, to “Mayor of the World” – the latter the title of his Time magazine 2001 “Person of the Year” profile.

 

     It is true enough that New York in its current age resembles an urban suburb with its organic supermarkets and conversion of any remaining factories into luxury condos (to the obvious detriment of the city’s working class remnant) – while at the same time minority communities continue to be victims of unjustified police shootings and other racial profiling and the city’s public schools largely remain a mess.

 

     However it was on 9/11 where Giuliani’s aura was truly established (mostly by a worshipping media with the predictable fawning by the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Barbara Walters). In the 2001 Time profile it was stated of Giuliani on that day:

 

 

When the day of infamy came, Giuliani seized it as if

he had been waiting for it all his life, taking on half a

dozen critical roles and performing each masterfully.

Improvising on the fly, he became ‘America’s homeland-

security boss’, as well as its ‘gutsy decision

maker’ and ‘crisis manager’

 

     Such is the sentiment that has become accepted wisdom even years after the fact (and financially profitable accepted wisdom at that as Giuliani has collected millions in consulting fees through his firm Giuliani Partners and millions more in speaking fees, mostly on the basis of his perceived leadership and organization on that day).

 

     Yet it was as mayor that Giuliani disregarded the advice of the head of the Office of Emergency Management (an agency Giuliani created and endlessly boasted of since as the main example of his foresight on terrorism), Jerry Hauer, among many others, and the Office’s command center built at WTC 7 rendering completely useless on 9/11 when most needed (it was the large amount of fuel underneath the building used to supply the command center that did the most to make the building collapse). Current mayor Michael Bloomberg has since moved the command center to Brooklyn where Giuliani had rejected a technologically advanced and more secure site because it wasn’t within walking distance of City Hall.

 

     Potential repercussions of this awful decision can be seen in a quote from 9/11 Commission senior counsel John Farmer referring to the location of the command center (as quoted in Wayne Barrett and Dan Collins’ book Grand Illusion): “I really think it would have made a difference. Maybe the failure to communicate among the agencies doesn’t happen that day because that thing is functioning…I’ve never been convinced that they could have done much better with civilians, but I think the number of responder deaths could have been greatly reduced. That’s where I think the real tragedy is.”

 

     Strangely the lack of an adequate command center, and therefore divided police and fire commands, allowed Giuliani, attempting to originally reach WTC 7 to become a heroic legend by his mere coincidental presence in lower Manhattan and as time went on allowed him to distort the truth and portray himself bravely rushing to the scene of the crime.

 

     Added to the useless command center was the mix of corporate cronyism and pettiness that led to firefighters using inadequate radios that were unable to relay calls of evacuation that may have gotten some out of the inferno before the South Tower collapsed.

 

     Perhaps the worst facet of Giuliani’s 9/11 record, one that cannot be defended with emotional, nerve wrecking contexts, is his hasty, hard-headed decision to reopen lower Manhattan only a week after the attacks. The Time profile claimed “He was the gutsy decision maker, balancing security against symbolism, overruling those who wanted to keep the city buttoned up tight, pushing key institutions- from the New York Stock Exchange to Major League Baseball- to reopen and prove that New Yorkers were getting on with life.” Yet it was this brazenness, along with misleading statements from the EPA, that reopened Wall Street and exposed thousands to toxic fumes from still raging fires. As documented by New York Journalist Juan Gonzalez, even as Giuliani, the EPA, and the New York City Department of Health were assuring the public about the air quality their own tests revealed otherwise while at the same time safety standards not being enforced at Ground Zero left rescue and clean up workers unprotected from toxic releases. While the long term effects of the exposure are yet to be known, early studies and reports of all sorts of repertory ailments suffered by firefighters and other Ground Zero workers indicate that the true 9/11 heroes will suffer some measure of health problems in the future (New Yorkers may remember that 9/11 wasn’t the first time Giuliani was careless with public health by recalling his large scale pesticide-spraying campaign against West Nile virus. The spraying left hundreds of people sick and thousands of fish dead).

 

     It was largely on this record that Giuliani traveled the post-9/11 world to great esteem from Mexico City to Israel to the Republican Convention. Giuliani visited Israel shortly after 9/11 on a mission of proclaimed solidarity, something he has long and uncritically expressed with the Israeli government. The extent of this support can be ascertained with a project run by a panel put together by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz called “The Israel Factor: Ranking the presidential candidates” that keeps a monthly ranking of the best American presidential candidates “for Israel”. Since its inception earlier this year Giuliani, probably as a result of his post 9/11 ultra-hawk rhetoric as well as his absurd dismissal of Arafat from a concert in Lincoln Center celebrating the UN anniversary in 1995, has received the highest ranking and was found the most likely to order future military action against Iran. It was Giuliani who gave none other than Ariel Sharon, among other world leaders including Vladimir Putin, a tour of the ground zero wreckage. One may be forgiven for shuddering when imagining the conversation between Giuliani and Sharon on that day. How stoic and impressive a veteran of unleashing terror must have been to the tough guy mayor who it can be suggested suffers from a case of penis envy for likes of an old general. As ridiculous as the phrase “Giuliani presidency” sounds, it must be pondered how dim the odds would be for a just peace in Palestine with Giuliani in charge.      

 

     While it is true that Rudy Giuliani faced as grave a crisis as any local elected official in American history on 9/11, his record of poor operational mediocrity is surpassed only by his unreflective arrogance and lack of honesty needed to make vital improvements to urban security and preparation. Rather than admit shortcomings in preparation for a greater understanding, Giuliani has consistently gone out of his way to glorify his role both as a leader and hawk to great financial profit and political acclaim. Such are not the characteristics great leader but of a second rate huckster who Americans should not allow near the White House.       

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