New York

Romancing the Right


Read the actual letter from Giuliani.

My dad died on Martin Luther King Day. A nuclear physicist with patents on irradiated hardwood flooring and foods, he had his own company in Lynchburg, Virginia, where he raised six children and, like most of his neighbors, saw himself as a Reagan Republican. Twenty-one years after I started writing at the Voice, he’d never read one of my pieces. It was a parental act of mercy.

When he got the contract to supply the gym floor at Liberty Baptist College years ago, one of Jerry Falwell’s minions suggested he make a 3 percent contribution to the nationally prominent minister’s church or school. My dad, who took me to 6 a.m. Mass daily during Lent and put me through nearly 16 years of Catholic education, laughed at the idea. Falwell may have run the town and founded the Moral Majority, but no Baptist would ever get a dime from Dad.

Shortly before he died, Dad got an eight-page solicitation letter signed by Rudy Giuliani. An attachment, asking that contributions of up to $1000 be sent to Giuliani headquarters at 250 Broadway, indicated that Rudy planned to “travel to the Lynchburg area” and asked my father if he’d “like to be invited to meet” him. Dad’s health, more than his politics, prevented him from checking the box.

Richard Viguerie, the right-wing direct-mail guru hired by Giuliani to carry his anti-Hillary message to heartland donors, founded the Moral Majority with Falwell. Viguerie launched his Manassas, Virginia-based direct-mail business right after his candidate, Barry Goldwater, lost the presidential race of 1964. Lynchburg voted for Goldwater seven to one. Combined with the rise of Falwell, that kind of plurality has made my hometown the natural repository for a swill of Viguerie mailings.

The letter sent to my father was clearly designed for Christian Coalition Catholics and never mentioned Giuliani’s positions on abortion, gay rights, or gun control—the constellation of issues that made him acceptable enough to a narrow majority of New York City voters to become its mayor. Neither did the letter refer to his three-time endorsement by the Liberal Party, which gave him his margin of victory in 1993. In fact, the only use of the word “liberal” in the letter was as a pejorative, alternating with “far-left,” “left-wing elite,” “ultra-left,” and the just plain “left,” which were collectively used 18 breathless times to describe the Clinton forces.

What may come as a surprise to even New Yorkers who have followed the many reincarnations of Rudy Giuliani is that he is now a champion of school prayer, as well as the posting in public schools of the Ten Commandments (or maybe, in his case, only nine). “In the minds of left-wing activists like Hillary Clinton,” the letter charged, “the government can fund attacks on religion, but apparently not pro-religious expression.”

Examples of what Giuliani called “a relentless 30-year war the left-wing elite has waged against America’s religious heritage” included: “Liberal judges have banned the posting of even the Ten Commandments in our public schools.

“School children are harassed by school officials for praying on their own time because schools are terrified of lawsuits by the ACLU.”

Citing these examples and Hillary’s “attack” on George W. Bush’s “idea that we should look toward America’s faith-based charities to address social problems,” the letter assailed Clinton’s supposed “hostility toward America’s religious traditions.” The man who resolutely refuses to answer a question about his own marriage advanced himself as a godly stalwart: “I think America needs more faith and more respect for religious traditions . . . not less.”

Just a year and a half ago, Giuliani defended a city teacher fired for leading her 11-year-old students in prayer and asking them to accept Jesus Christ as their savior. But the mayor said she should’ve been warned, not fired, adding: “Sure, you should not pray in public school.”

Though Giuliani’s never spoken out on the Ten Commandments, his letter invoked a growing fundamentalist demand, which culminated in a bill that just passed the Colorado State Senate’s education committee requiring the posting of the commandments in all public classrooms. A similar bill was recently proposed in New Mexico, and presidential candidates Alan Keyes and Gary Bauer have been raising the issue on the campaign trail. The ACLU filed suit in November against three Kentucky school systems that suddenly began to display the commandments. It’s a “heart cry” movement, claims Janet Parshall, spokeswoman for Bauer’s Family Research Council, which has distributed 750,000 Ten Commandment book covers.

The Giuliani letter also devoted two pages to a particularly rabid rendition of the war over the Brooklyn Museum’s “Sensation” exhibit, which Giuliani branded “an aggressively hateful anti-religion exhibit” that “desecrates the Virgin Mary!” At the end of a passage that used the word “hateful” or “hate-filled” three times, amid references to “pornographic” and “disgusting,” Giuliani’s letter said Clinton’s “free speech” objections to his defunding of the exhibit were rank “hypocrisy.”

“I guess it’s okay to use taxpayer funds to subsidize religious expression,” he concluded, “so long as it involves the desecration of religious symbols.” The mayor never revealed that he did not merely attempt to defund the exhibit, but removed the museum’s entire city subsidy. Neither did he mention that a federal judge ruled his actions unconstitutional. On the hypocrisy front, the use of his Brooklyn Museum position to raise millions for his campaign now turns his earlier attack on the museum’s “Sensation” profiteering into a sour joke.

Not all the letter’s surprises about this new Rudy, though, involve his religious conversion. The candidate who did all he could in 1989 and 1993 to distance himself from the Reagan administration which had employed him—saying, “I was never a partisan Republican; I was not involved in the Reagan election campaign”—changed his tune in the letter: “I guess what I’m most angry about is how the Clintons have attacked and belittled Ronald Reagan and his legacy.”

He then launched into a 10-paragraph salute to Reagan’s achievements, citing the former president’s tax cuts and military buildup without ever mentioning his budget-wrecking deficits. Giuliani even praised Reagan’s “steadfast commitment to the SDI anti-missile system” twice, signaling his own support for this long-stymied Republican boondoggle.

“The left-wing elite opposes me,” he wrote, “because I have shown that a Republican can win elections by wide margins even in a Democratic stronghold like New York City with a bold unapologetic Ronald Reagan-style conservative agenda.” Of course he’s only won one election by a wide margin, though with the lowest total vote in a two-way mayoral contest in 74 years.

That was in 1997, when he never mentioned his party or Reagan, ran as a Liberal, featured his endorsement by a hundred Democrats in his television commercial, and got the backing of the Central Labor Council. It was the year after he maddened Republicans by making a last-minute, nominal endorsement of Bob Dole, the Republican opposing Bill Clinton, whose crime and budget policies he’d openly supported in defiance of the GOP leadership.

The letter also denounced Ed Koch, whose 1993 endorsement was indispensable to Giuliani’s first election, by his own account. “I can vividly recall the 1970s and 1980s when left-wing Democratic administrations, with their ‘soft-on-crime’ approach,” he concluded, “allowed violent criminals and drug lords to rule our streets.”

Finally, he juxtaposed Clinton’s “Big Government Socialized Medicine Plan” with his own preference that “Americans should be able to make their own health care choices,” an indication that he has no program of his own.

Rudy managed, with one letter, to squeeze my own bisected life into a single frame, transcending regions and time to weld together what once seemed like antithetical politics. My first newspaper job—in 1963—was at the Lynchburg Daily Advance, then owned by the descendants of former U.S. senator Carter Glass. The paper’s policy, inscribed on a sign in the photo lab, was that it would not print an integrated picture, unless it was one of a cop and a perpetrator. Only white people were born, married, and buried in its pages. When Pennsylvania governor William Scranton opposed Goldwater in the primaries, the paper called the moderate Republican a “pinko.” Much has changed there in 35 years, including the paper, but the city is still a citadel of conservatism.

I never would’ve believed a mayor of New York could raise money there, plan to visit, and sell himself as the man whose “tough law-and-order policies have succeeded in making New York City great again,” throwing phrases around like “our current bureaucratic welfare state” and “putting criminals behind bars.” I never would’ve believed that this mayor, who ran three times in New York City as a nonpartisan centrist, could get away now with seeking donations from what his letter described as “exactly the kind of respected, politically active conservative I need on my campaign team.”

My father was a rigidly honest and devout man. This letter was a deathbed con, portraying a Rudy no one in New York would recognize. Giuliani scornfully dismisses Hillary’s charge that his fundraising is tainted by “arch-conservative” money. But this letter was sent by his Senate committee—not, like others cited in prior stories, by an unaffiliated support group. His own words lay bare his cynical transformation, even as he did a record number of Sunday morning national shows this weekend presenting himself as an anti-politician who takes only principled stands, bowing to neither polls nor pressure.

When Tim Russert on Meet the Press ticked off half a dozen key issues that Rudy and Hillary agree on and asked him how his mailings could nonetheless position him as her opposite, he laughed it off. He said she ought to stop talking about him as a member of a right-wing conspiracy then, which, of course, she’s done only in reaction to his postal assault. It is all a sound-bite game now to Rudy, and no moral compass guides his tactics.

Read the actual letter from Giuliani.

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