Giuliani and History

My latest column on Giuliani’s 2008 presidential prospects is up at the American Spectator site.

An excerpt:

With Rudy Giuliani crisscrossing the country in support of Republican candidates and raising money for his new political action committee, it is beginning to look inevitable that he will seek the presidency in 2008. Despite his lead in many early polls, skeptics still dismiss his chances of winning the Republican nomination given his personal background and liberal views on social issues. There is no doubt that these will be obstacles for Giuliani, but compared to the forces that will propel him into the White House, they are small potatoes.

As the saying goes, read the whole thing.

Giuliani and History

With Rudy Giuliani crisscrossing the country in support of Republican candidates and raising money for his new political action committee, it is beginning to look inevitable that he will seek the presidency in 2008. Despite his lead in many early polls, skeptics still dismiss his chances of winning the Republican nomination given his personal background and liberal views on social issues. There is no doubt that these will be obstacles for Giuliani, but compared to the forces that will propel him into the White House, they are small potatoes.

“History is in motion, and those moving with it are so caught up that they cannot always see its broad outlines,” Mark Helprin once wrote. Those who count out Giuliani because of the politics of abortion and gay rights have lost sight of the broad outlines of our age. The fight against terrorism is not only the defining issue of our time, but it represents an epic event in the history of Western civilization. Giuliani is the best leader available to confront the terrorist threat, which is why the course of history points to his becoming president.

Epic periods in history have a tendency to produce leaders who may have once seemed improbable. Winston Churchill was considered washed-up in the 1930s when he spoke of the rising Nazi menace. But history took its inevitable course, and by 1940 Churchill had ascended to the role of Prime Minister, because he was the ideal leader to fight Germany.

LIKE CHURCHILL, Giuliani is a survivor, a fighter, and a man of tremendous will. And just as Churchill’s words guided the British public through solemn hours of German air bombardment, Giuliani became the spokesman for American resolve on the darkest day of the nation’s history.

The mere fact that there is a serious debate over whether or not Giuliani could be elected is a remarkable testament to how inspired Americans were by his leadership on that day. Normally we discuss vice presidents, governors, senators or military leaders as possible presidential candidates. It is rare, if not unprecedented, for a former mayor to be considered as a presidential candidate so earnestly by so many people.

Though it has been nearly five years since Giuliani’s leadership on Sept. 11, a March Quinnipiac University poll found that Giuliani was America’s most popular politician. Despite his stances on social issues, a Gallup Poll earlier this month found him leading all potential Republican primary opponents. On June 13 in Manhattan, Giuliani demonstrated his fundraising potential by raking in $2 million for his new political action committee, Solutions America, in a single evening. That was twice the amount that his chief rival for the Republican nomination, John McCain, raised in New York City the day before.

Sept. 11 was not Giuliani’s first brush with Islamic extremism, and in a sense, his whole career has been building toward a confrontation with terrorism. As a U.S. Attorney, Giuliani investigated the 1985 murder of Leon Klinghoffer, the Jewish New Yorker who was sitting in his wheelchair when he was thrown overboard from the Achille Lauro cruise ship by Palestinian terrorists. Giuliani dedicated a good portion of his 1994 mayoral inauguration speech to the first attack on the World Trade Center. Despite being ridiculed as paranoid, Giuliani built an emergency command center in New York City to prepare for an attack. (The center was poorly located in 7 World Trade Center, which was destroyed with the Twin Towers, but the fact that he was preparing for such threats before Sept. 11 demonstrates that Giuliani was ahead of his time.)

AS HE FOUGHT TO TRANSFORM New York City, the New York Times editorial board and liberal interest groups denounced him every step of the way. Giuliani’s style of forcefully stating his position and going on the offensive during press conferences will win him the respect of conservative primary voters who are fed up with pandering Republican politicians. In fact, this may be the main factor that ends up separating him from McCain, whose reputation as a maverick has been built on taking positions that made him into a liberal media darling.

Giuliani is more than just a tough talker. Throughout his career, whether it was as a mob prosecutor, a crime fighting mayor or an entrepreneur, Giuliani has shown an ability to think creatively about solving problems. And since Sept. 11, no politician has spoken with more depth or intelligence about the nature of the terrorist threat. This will become apparent during any televised debate with Republican opponents.

Two years is an eternity in politics, no doubt. But no matter what happens between now and then, the threat of terrorism, unfortunately, will still be with us and remain the defining issue of the campaign. Given Giuliani’s record of overcoming long odds, of achieving things that many people once viewed as impossible, it is startling that anybody would dismiss his chances of becoming president. Those who do so are not only severely underestimating the man, but they are misjudging the trajectory of history.

Philip Klein writes from New York. You can contact him through his website:

Berg’s Post-Traumatic Bush Disorder

The spectacle of Michael Berg appearing on national television to lament the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the man who decapitated his son, will probably end up as nothing more than a bizarre footnote in the War on Terror.

But Berg’s statements provide a window into the psychological state of those whose hatred of the president has grown into an obsession. It is one thing to dislike President Bush or think that the Iraq War was a colossal mistake. But Berg despises the President so much, that it leads him to sympathize with his son’s murderer.

“Well, my reaction is I’m sorry whenever any human being dies,” Berg told CNN when asked about the death of Iraq’s leading terrorist. “Zarqawi is a human being. He has a family who are reacting just as my family reacted when Nick was killed, and I feel bad for that.”

The world should need little reminder of the grisly video in which Zarqawi saws off the head of a screaming Nick Berg, and holds it up to the camera. Zarqawi’s group took credit for the May 2004 beheading and the video was published with a caption reading, “Abu Musab al-Zarqawi slaughtering an American.”

Berg describes himself as a “pacifist,” yet on Fox News, he excused Zarqawi’s use of violence. Berg said it was “to defend his region of the country from American invaders.” The statement makes even less sense given the fact that Zarqawi was Jordanian.

Perhaps if Nick Berg were a soldier who was killed in action as a direct result of Bush’s decision to send troops into Iraq, his father’s anger toward Bush would be easier to understand. But his son went to Iraq voluntarily, to make money as a contractor after the invasion.

Given that it’s difficult to explain Berg’s statements from a logical standpoint, we are forced to examine them within the context of the psychological trauma he experienced.

Psychologists have found that one of the most dominant feelings experienced by those who have been through traumatic events is an overwhelming sense of helplessness and powerlessness. This has been found to be true for Holocaust survivors, combat veterans, abused children and a host of other groups of people who have suffered directly or witnessed others suffer.

Victims of trauma will use many psychological mechanisms in an effort to regain a sense that they are in control of events. This is one of the causes of the phenomenon known as “survivor guilt.” By blaming themselves for a tragic event, people become convinced that outcomes are the result of their own actions, and they shield themselves from their raw emotions.

It is difficult to conceive of an event that would make a father feel more powerless than watching his captive son cry for help as a madman across the globe cuts off his head.

Michael Berg experienced something most of us cannot even conceive of, and viewing him as a victim of trauma makes his comments less surprising. He doesn’t have any control over the Muslim fundamentalists in Iraq who murdered his son. But by speaking out against Bush and the war, and running for Congress as a Green Party candidate in Delaware, Berg has found a way to empower himself.

In much the same way that Berg reacted to his son’s death, the radical anti-Bush crowd reacted to the national trauma of Sept. 11. It is really difficult to come to grips with why people would want to take over commercial airplanes and fly them into buildings in an effort to kill as many civilians as possible. As a result, some people opted for the easier explanation that it could only happen because of something America did. Whether it was having troops in the Persian Gulf, supporting Israel or electing George W. Bush. By fixating on Bush and protesting the war, they have shifted their emotions to a realm that they feel more control over.

President Bush deserves honest criticism, no doubt. But the type of criticism offered by Berg, who declared that Saddam Hussein was “no worse than George Bush,” is another matter entirely.

Hamas Ends Truce

This news is no surprise. The best way that Hamas can win back the support of the West is to kill Israelis so that Israel has no choice but to respond, leading to images of Israeli tanks rolling into Palestinian villages, and using that as propaganda to make Israel look like the aggressor. It also helps them gain an upper hand in the internal struggle against rival Fatah by showing themselves to be more willing to kill Israelis.

According to Hamas, the inciting incident was an errant Israeli artillery shell that killed 7 Palestinian beachgoers in Gaza. A tragedy no doubt, but that’s what happens when Israel is forced to respond to the daily rocket attacks directed toward Israel from Gaza.

It’s also worth contrasting the way Israelis view innocent life, with the way Palestinians do.

In response to the incident, Israelis expressed deep regret, saying:

“Harming innocent civilians is of course totally unacceptable and we will do whatever we can to avoid civilian loss of life,” said Mark Regev, an Israeli foreign ministry spokesman.

A skeptic may argue that, “Of course Israel is going to say that publicly for PR reasons, any government would to make themselves look better.”

But I know one government that wouldn’t issue such a statement–the Hamas-led government of the Palestinians. Back in April, Palestinian suicide bombers specifically targeted civilians, killing nine people by a Tel Aviv fast food stand. Far from condemning the attack, the Palestinian government said it was self-defense:

Hamas spokesman Sami abu-Zohari said that the attack was an act of self defense: “Our public is carrying out defensive fighting and it has every right to use all means to defend itself.”

Back then, many Israelis wanted a stronger response to the attack by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s new government, but the government decided to show restraint instead:

Israel’s leaders held the Hamas-led Palestinian government responsible Tuesday for the deadliest suicide bombing in 20 months, but decided against a large-scale military operation in an attempt to avoid escalating violence.

Meanwhile, today the so-called militant “wing” of Hamas has vowed more such suicide bombings are on the way:

“The earthquake in the Zionist towns will start again and the aggressors will have no choice but to prepare their coffins or their luggage.”

Stay tuned.

Marriage and the States

With the Marriage Protection Amendment coming up for a Senate vote this Tuesday, there is a renewed debate over whether the proposed amendment is necessary, or the issue is better left to the states.

While the issue is understandably contentious, there are many compelling reasons why conservatives should support a federalist approach.

There are two main objections to leaving the matter to the states. The first is that an institution as fundamental as marriage is of such importance that it rises to the level of being a federal matter.

But once conservatives begin to interpret federal power broadly in cases where an issue is important enough to them, it paves the way for liberals to use federal power in ways that conservatives would find objectionable.

If a Democratic Congress wanted to amend the Constitution to outlaw the death penalty, conservatives would rightly argue that it should be left to the states. But what would prevent liberals from arguing that life and death is such a fundamental moral issue facing our society that it necessitates a federal solution?

Conservatives have long argued that Roe v. Wade should be overturned so that abortion can be a state matter. In his dissent in the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision, Justice Scalia argued against “the imposition of a rigid national rule instead of allowing for regional differences” with regard to abortion. If conservatives are willing to accept a nation in which abortion is illegal in Utah and legal in, say, Massachusetts, it shouldn’t be considered unconscionable to accept a world in which gay marriage is lawful in some states.

THIS LEADS TO the second main objection to a federalist approach to gay marriage. Some conservatives argue that they’d love to leave marriage to the states, but this is impossible because liberal activist judges will overturn bills passed by state legislatures banning gay marriage. Also, courts may overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, which was enacted in 1996 to make sure that no state would be required to recognize same-sex marriages from other states.

But these issues can be resolved by crafting a different kind of marriage amendment. Instead of banning gay marriage at the national level, an amendment could be written to empower states to decide the issue for themselves, without the interference of courts.

Michael Greve of the American Enterprise Institute has already suggested an amendment that would effectively write the Defense of Marriage Act into the U.S. Constitution so that states wouldn’t be forced to recognize out of state marriages. Such an amendment would be aimed at preempting challenges under Article IV of the U.S. Constitution, which says, “Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State.”

Greve’s amendment could always be expanded to specify that the definition of marriage shall be determined by each state legislature, or, by a statewide referendum. And it could be written in such a way to make sure that a court cannot interpret the law so as to require a state to legalize same-sex marriage.

Some may respond that such an amendment would still be intrusive on state power by specifying which branch of state government should decide an issue, and by telling courts how they have to interpret the law.

But it is far less meddlesome than the text of the proposed amendment up for vote in the Senate, which reads, “Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any State, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman.”

Such an approach deprives any state from ever allowing gay marriage, even if a majority of the population, and the state legislature, supports legalizing it.

BUT THERE IS A FAR more practical reason to tailor the amendment to allow each state to set its own policy. The amendment currently under consideration by the Senate does not have the support of two-thirds of the Senate, which is required to amend the Constitution.

If the amendment were altered as I have suggested, it may attract the votes of senators such as John McCain who say they are voting against the current amendment because they think marriage should be left to the states. Those who are unwilling to compromise on the language of the amendment are accomplishing nothing but guaranteeing the status quo.

It’s easy for someone to favor state’s rights when doing so benefits one’s own position, but the true test of whether somebody is serious about state’s rights is if that person is willing to tolerate outcomes in other states that conflict with one’s own views. By allowing states to define marriage on their own terms, conservatives would be proving that federalism is not a tactic, but a principle.

Philip Klein writes from New York. He can be contacted through his website: