You’ve heard this one before: A famously insensitive lame-duck politician answers a national tragedy with unexpected compassion. His steady leadership temporarily silences his critics, and earns him Time’s Man of the Year award and the immortal honorific of “America’s Mayor.” Overnight this man, Rudolph Giuliani, becomes, as Wayne Barrett and Dan Collins write in Grand Illusion, “an expert on terrorism who had foreseen the threat, prepared for it, and knew what needed to be done to avert a similar disaster in the future.”
As history, it’s a stirring tale—more appealing than the one about a president who sat paralyzed with second graders after learning about the WTC attack. Giuliani, who was at breakfast when he got the news, “left the restaurant far faster than the president left the classroom.” Yet the Giuliani legend, as Barrett and Collins explain, also grants opportune cover to eight years of abysmal policy making that rendered New York less prepared than it had to be.
Barrett, a veteran Voice reporter, already deconstructed the Giuliani mystique in Rudy!, and Grand Illusion is more than another well-researched lob against a likely 2008 presidential candidate; it’s a badly needed corrective to the worship of false idols. Early chapters focus on specific blunders—e.g., the way Giuliani’s administration “rolled over on two of the most important safety issues at the WTC—fireproofing and stairwells.” Later chapters look at the ex-mayor as a paid consultant who abets his client Nextel in suppressing their miscreant role in 9-11 telecommunication debacles.
Barrett and Collins acknowledge that September 11 “is a day of real heroes—both rescue workers and civilians.” But Giuliani belongs instead with those “who behaved as well as they could under terrible pressure, but whose failure to plan ahead caused them to make critical errors at the worst possible moment.”