A New New York
I very much enjoyed reading David Bertelsen's take on "New York, New York!" (TFR, August/September 1999). I largely agree with David's overview of the city's sad political history, and have done some complaining myself through the years ("Straight Outta Brooklyn," Liberty, May 1995). But as a lifelong New Yorker... er... New Yawker — a Brooklynite, actually — I think David has seriously misidentified Rudy Giuliani as a "neo-fascist." He's a very complex politician. And make no mistake about it — Rudy Giuliani is a politician. Like most politicians, he is a man of mixed premises. Some libertarians will never forgive him for going after Michael Milken during the "insider-trader" scandals of the 1980's, when he was with the U. S. Justice Department. As a mayor, he sure is rude, brash, and over the top — to some extent, a personification of all the stereotypical characteristics of the quintessential New Yorker. And yes, Rudy's police force has had a number of high profile brutality cases (though the actual instances of police brutality have decreased relatively). In some instances, civil liberties have been especially affected in the administration's use of zoning laws to push pornographers out of Times Square, or anti-drug laws to control crime.
But the decline in crime is real, and it has allowed individuals more freedom to walk unscathed on the city streets. Moreover, Rudy has a libertarian side that can't be overlooked. The New York Times (Sunday, August 1, 1999) cites Rudy's disdain for welfare statism: "'The collectivist urge of the Democratic Party, I think is very destructive,' [states Rudy]. 'The Republican Party, when it functions correctly, has more confidence in the individual human being, and more willingness to allow the individual human being to emerge.'" The Times continues: "At the bottom of Giuliani's politics is an almost Ayn Randian sense of the supremacy of the individual will, which accounts for his libertarian position on matters like abortion and gay rights."
Indeed, Rudy is one of the few politicians within the socially conservative Republican party to openly embrace that small contingent known as the "Log Cabin Republicans," a group of gay Republican activists, who are fiscally "conservative" and socially "liberal." He recently addressed their convention, declaring that just as government needs to get out of the business of regulating the economy, so too should government get out of peoples' bedrooms. Giuliani declared: "It comes down to respect for human freedom. That is why it is not at all inconsistent for me to say that a Republican should support gay rights legislation. Republicans should basically say that our party is all about economic freedom, personal freedom, and therefore with regard to people's sexual orientation, with regard to the decisions they make about their lives, their personal lives, government should be as far removed from that as we possibly can."
This attitude has led Rudy to champion individual rights for gay people, while also championing lower taxes. He has, in fact, lowered many business and sales taxes in the city (most notably the hotel occupancy tax, and the sales tax on clothing purchases, a tax which will expire in the year 2000). He has broken the hold of monopoly unions and organized crime on various municipal industries. His assault on the educational and health care bureaucracies is well-known; he has declared war on the mediocrity of the city university and public school systems, and has moved the debate forward over the introduction of private school vouchers for educational competition. He also yearns to privatize many municipal hospitals. A serious rollback in the welfare rolls has ensued, along with a 70% drop in the murder rate, and a halving of the overall crime rate, making New York a more livable city and a more civil society. Largely from a massive increase in private investment, in an atmosphere of lower crime, greater civility (a stress on "quality of life"), and fewer taxes, the city is booming with renewed vigor and economic activity. In many respects, though, Rudy's accomplishments have been ideological: after years of a liberal Democratic Party stranglehold on City Hall, he has shifted the debate so profoundly that New York politics will never be the same. Rudy Giuliani is neither a libertarian nor a neo-fascist. But like Ronald Reagan, his libertarian rhetoric is important, for in the long-run, the city has heard a "new" idea — the celebration of individual initiative — and this idea is affecting significantly the state of our political culture. It is the kind of ideological shift that portends well for the future of New York City. We've got a long way to go, obviously. Ultimately, though, the city prospers not because of how its politicians act, or speak, but because of the vitality of its individual citizens. And if David really wants to see New York at its best, and Brooklyn, in particular, this is a standing invitation for him to look me up next time he comes to Fun City. I give a great tour.
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