by Virginia Postrel • Aug 31, 2004 at 1:10 pm
I'm in L.A., where the work day doesn't cooperate with East Coast showtimes, so I watched Rudy Giuliani's speech on tape delay, a.k.a. a C-Span rerun. By the time I saw the actual speech, I'd seen his jokes about John Kerry's fickleness several times. Judging from the coverage on all the cable networks, I thought the whole speech had been an attack on Kerry.
It wasn't, of course. It was an extraordinarily comfortable, even conversational, argument about foreign policy and leadership. Giuliani argued for George Bush and also for himself--for fighting bad guys by being a stubborn hard ass. The core of the speech is not the jokes about John Kerry. It's this passage:
Terrorism did not start on September 11, 2001. It had been festering for many years.
And the world had created a response to it that allowed it to succeed. The attack on the Israeli team at the Munich Olympics was in 1972. And the pattern had already begun.
The three surviving terrorists were arrested and within two months released by the German government.
Action like this became the rule, not the exception.
Terrorists came to learn they could attack and often not face consequences.
In 1985, terrorists attacked the Achille Lauro and murdered an American citizen who was in a wheelchair, Leon Klinghoffer.
They marked him for murder solely because he was Jewish.
Some of those terrorist were released and some of the remaining terrorists allowed to escape by the Italian government because of fear of reprisals.
So terrorists learned they could intimidate the world community and too often the response, particularly in Europe, was "accommodation, appeasement and compromise."
And worse the terrorists also learned that their cause would be taken more seriously, almost in direct proportion to the barbarity of the attack.
Terrorist acts became a ticket to the international bargaining table.
How else to explain Yasser Arafat winning the Nobel Peace Prize when he was supporting a terrorist plague in the Middle East that undermined any chance of peace?
Before September 11, we were living with an unrealistic view of the world much like our observing Europe appease Hitler or trying to accommodate ourselves to peaceful co-existence with the Soviet Union through mutually assured destruction.
President Bush decided that we could no longer be just on defense against global terrorism but we must also be on offense.
On September 20, 2001, President Bush stood before a joint session of Congress, a still grieving and shocked nation and a confused world and he did change the direction of our ship of state.
He dedicated America under his leadership to destroying global terrorism.
The President announced the Bush Doctrine when he said: "Our war on terror begins with Al Qaeda, but it does not end there.
It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.
"Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists."
And since September 11th President Bush has remained rock solid.
It doesn't matter how he is demonized.
It doesn't matter what the media does to ridicule him or misinterpret him or defeat him.
They ridiculed Winston Churchill. They belittled Ronald Reagan.
But like President Bush, they were optimists; leaders must be optimists. Their vision was beyond the present and set on a future of real peace and true freedom.
Some call it stubbornness. I call it principled leadership.
One could tell a similar story about crime in New York City. Giuliani probably assumed listeners would make the connection, though I'm not sure how many people outside New York did. (Based on what I saw on TV, pundits weren't providing much context.) The speech might also remind New Yorkers, especially those who dislike Bush, why, before 9/11, they may have disliked Giuliani. Stubornness is useful in the face of determined evil, but it also tends to run over innocent--or, in some cases, less guilty--bystanders.
When Giuliani talks about terrorism, I think he's right, and persuasively so. When he was making headlines with dubious Wall Street prosecutions--most famously of Michael Milken--I thought he was a dangerous fanatic. Even as mayor, I distrusted his authoritarianism. But like most people who prefer their streets clean(ish) and safe, I do prefer New York today to New York before Giuliani. Unfortunately, the two sides of his crime-fighting persona are inseparable.
What to make of all this? The usual lessons, I suppose: Life is full of tradeoffs. Power requires checks and balances. And you probably don't want John Lindsay fighting terrorism.
The most remarkable thing about the speech wasn't its content but how it was delivered. Giuliani spoke fluidly, but in an utterly conversational way, as though he had no text. Instead of trying for old-style oratory, which works for few contemporary speakers, he gave a model 21st-century performance. If you didn't see the speech, check out the video, available via this C-Span page.