Saturday, October 08, 2005

Rudy Giuliani for president?

As momentum starts to build for Rudy Giuliani for president, I have reservations.

They are not the reservations I've heard elsewhere. The major Republican criticism of Giuliani is his liberal leaning on social issues. That doesn't bother me. (Sure he's a pro-choice Republican. I'm largely on board with his views. I'm part of an odd breed of pro-choice people who think Roe v. Wade was a bad decision.)

And I concur in much of the praise people have sent Giuliani's way: strong leadership, inspirational crisis management after 9/11 (Yes, lived in Manhattan at the time), willingness to take risks, talk straight and stand up to his opponents.

My problems with Giuliani are two-fold:
  • First (and probably less important), in his days as a prosecutor, I found Giuliani to be too aggressive and "innovative" in using laws to prosecute targets that those laws were never intended to touch. He should not have used RICO, a law intended for organized crime, to go after financial companies wholly unrelated to the mob.

  • Second, I found Giuliani the mayor to be lacking key public relations/empathy skills as a politician, particularly pre-9/11 . This was largely forgotten after 9/11.

    For example, Giuliani did an outstanding job of overseeing an improved approach to policing which led to lower crime and higher quality of life for New Yorkers. But in the midst of this, there were two high profile, horrific screw-ups by the NYPD. One involved the ghastly abuse of a suspect, the other the killing of an unarmed man. And the media, as the media are wont to do, focused on these incidents relentlessly.

    And Giuliani handled it terribly. If, just for a press conference or two, he had put on a Clintonian show of biting his lip and feeling the pain of those who suffered, it would have done wonders for his image. Instead, he insisted that these incidents were being dealt with by the appropriate channels, and that the police force overall were doing a stellar job. True enough, but not the only message to convey, particularly to a somewhat hostile media eager to tar a Republican administration with charges of racism and insensitivity.

    Given how much more hostile the national media would be to Giuliani the Republican presidential nominee, or Giuliani the Republican president, this lack of an empathetic PR capability may be enough to keep the man out of office.
I recognize that the latter critique is one of form over substance. But an effective president, and especially an effective presidential candidate, must be a master of both.