David Greenberg: Rudy a Lefty? Yeah, Right.

Roundup: Historians' Take

You wouldn't know it from reading the papers, but the favorite to win the Republican presidential nomination is a confirmed right-winger. On issues such as free speech and religion, secrecy and due process, civil rights and civil liberties, pornography and democracy, this moralist and self-styled lawman has exhibited all the key hallmarks of Bush-era conservatism.

That candidate is Rudolph W. Giuliani.

As any New Yorker can tell you, the last word anyone in the 1990s would have attached to the brash, furniture- breaking mayor was "liberal" -- and the second-to-last was "moderate." With his take-many-prisoners approach to crime and his unerring pro-police instincts, the prosecutor-turned-proconsul made his mark on the city not by embracing its social liberalism but by trying to crush it.

Somehow, though, Giuliani is being introduced to the rest of America as a liberal. And the people pinning the L-word on him aren't just far-right spokesmen such as James Dobson or Richard Viguerie, to whom even the Bush administration looks squishily centrist. No, it's supposedly objective journalists who've been using the label. ABC News reporter Jake Tapper recently spoke offhandedly about the mayor's "liberal views on social issues." Echoed NPR's Mara Liasson: "Giuliani has liberal views on a number of social issues, including abortion." On washingtonpost.com, political blogger Chris Cillizza referred to the mayor's "liberal positions on social issues," even though Giuliani supports only limited abortion rights and gay rights.

To a New Yorker, the idea of Rudy as a liberal or even a moderate is unreal, topsy-turvy -- like describing George McGovern as a hawk or Pat Buchanan as a Zionist. The case for Giuliani's moderation rests mainly on three overblown issues -- guns, gay rights and abortion -- and even in those cases, his deviation from conservative orthodoxy is far milder than is usually suggested....

Related Links

  • David Greenberg replies to criticism of his piece by KC Johnson (with links to Johnson's piece)

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    Thomas Fleming - 11/3/2007

    As someone who also attended Catholic schools for 16 years, I can assure your readers that Mr. Judis's claim that Rudy G. spent half of each day at Bishop Loughlin High School studying religion is balderdash. I once wrote an article for the Saturday Evening Post, suggesting that the Catholics should close all their schools. Why? Because they did not teach enough religion to make the expense of running them worth while, from the Church's point of view. In my Catholic schools, religion got about ten minutes a day of the teacher's and students' attention. Mr. Judis simply has no idea what went on in American Catholic schools. When I was at Fordham, our English literature teacher, a Jesuit, suggested we shouldn't read the New Yorker because it was too "secular." We LAUGHED in the man's face. Right there in the classroom!