Do I mean it? Am I in favor of a Giuliani candidacy? No. Unequivocally, no. Giuliani is “pro-choice” and an ally of the homosexual cause. If the Republicans were to nominate him it would signal the death knell for any serious attempt to turn the tide on legal abortion and the homosexual revolution.
I can remember people at that time joking with sad eyes about what some called “modern Potemkin Villages” lining the Cross Bronx Expressway. These were the rows upon rows of deserted and burned-out buildings huddled along the side of the highway with painted scenes of middle class respectability curtains and houseplants placed in the burned-out windows to mitigate the impression that you were entering a war zone as you drove into Manhattan. I can’t remember if this plan was concocted by the Koch or the Dinkins administration. But it wasn’t Giuliani’s modus operandi.
Giuliani would have none of this defeatism. He made no excuses for criminals. He arrested them. He did not blame society for the wolf packs and squeegee men. He ordered the police to get them off the street. It worked. He showed us that street thugs would respond to an application of the same kind of discipline the Christian brothers meted out at Bishop Loughlin High School that they would get the message if you told them cut out the excuses and do the right thing, or meet with stern discipline if they did not.
I can’t think of any public figure in the last 20 years who did more than Giuliani to free us from the behaviorist notion that the criminal is a victim we should seek to understand and commiserate with. He treated criminals as grownups, not victims. He understood that wrongdoers are moral agents responsible for their actions and deserving of punishment. New York City and the country are the better for having learned that lesson. Giuliani has forgotten a good deal of what he learned in the Catholic schools of the 1950s and 1960s but not that. It is not a bad legacy, for Giuliani or the Catholic schools he attended.
(This article originally appeared in The Wanderer and is reprinted with permission. To subscribe call 651-224-5733.)
It would mean that our side has lost the culture wars; that both major parties now believe an electoral consensus has been forged in favor of abortion and “gay” rights.
But I do mean that the Republicans would do well to incorporate large chunks of what Giuliani represents into their platform. Catholic cultural conservatives are now a major segment of the Republican base. In large measure, they are what people mean when they use the term “Reagan Democrats.” In spite of Giuliani’s position on abortion and homosexuality, he brings important Catholic values to the public square. That may be unintentional. I don’t know to what extent he practices his faith any longer. But the man lived with us for a long time. Not everything took, but much of it did.
Giuliani could have been sent from central casting to portray a “Catholic school boy” of the middle years of the last century. The grandson of working-class Italian immigrants, he graduated from Bishop Loughlin High School in Brooklyn in 1961 and Manhattan College in the north Bronx in 1965, schools run by the Brothers of the Christian Schools. And, unlike today, in those years the Christian Brothers actually taught most of the classes at their schools.
What is it that Giuliani “took” from this educational experience? One thing for sure: the Catholic understanding of free will and personal moral responsibility. The schools Giuliani attended would have none of the behaviorist view of human behavior gaining currency in the public schools of the era. Thomas Aquinas was still in the ascendancy over B.F. Skinner. The Catholic schools that Giuliani attended taught their students that they were responsible for their behavior; that it was weak and immature to blame your family background, your neighborhoods or your friends or “society” for personal failings. They were taught that it was their responsibility to overcome whatever roadblocks were placed in their paths and to live as Catholic gentlemen. I can attest to that first-hand. I went to different schools than Giuliani. I was a product of the Marist Brothers and the Jesuits. But there were common denominators for all the Catholic boys' high schools of that era.
Like what? Well, you couldn’t blame the snow or the subway system for being late to class; your part-time jobs for not completing your term papers; peer pressure for being a jerk; or too many beers for being a cad. The brothers and priests could be friendly and compassionate with those facing genuine problems in their lives, but those who were looking for excuses would be cut short with a no-nonsense reprimand and an exhortation to “cut the nonsense,” “to stand tall” and “do the right thing.” Dignity came from forming your character through hard work, self-control and perseverance, not from entreaties for victimhood status.
I don’t mean to imply that Catholic school boys were the only Americans inculcated with this understanding of what it means to be a man. But the face that Giuliani showed to the world was the Catholic school version of it. It is what has made him a public figure to be reckoned with. It gave him the strength of character to deal with the wave of crime that was on its way to swallowing up New York City and much of the rest of the country. The Catholic schools of that era deserve to take a bow.
We should not forget how bad things were in New York City before Giuliani took the reins. A highly complimentary book about Giuliani, The Prince of the City by Fred Siegel, has recently hit the bookstores. (In the coming weeks you will be hearing a lot about it on the talk shows, and the possibility of a Giuliani run for the presidency, unless I miss my guess.) It brings back for us the sorry state of affairs in the Big Apple at the time. There was a reason why movies such as Escape from New York were in vogue. Those films depicted New York as dark and menacing, hopelessly squalid and crime-ridden. Well, that was the way the city looked to many observers. John Leo got it right in a recent column when he wrote, “The city was ungovernable or so everyone said, often with a tone of perverse pride.”
The facts were beyond dispute. Leo:
Before [Giuliani] was elected in 1993, there were more than 2,000 murders a year there, compared with under 600 today. The city’s welfare population, 1.1 million people, was about the size of the entire population of San Diego, the sixth-largest U.S. city. A poll showed that 60 percent of adult New Yorkers would like to leave the city.
Today, New York’s real estate market is one of the hottest in the world.
Leo offers a personal recollection:
Along the four Greenwich Village blocks where I walked my daughter to school each day, there was usually a long trail of freshly broken auto glass, meaning that most of the parked cars had been broken into and would be broken into again, as soon as the glass could be replaced.
Leo is not exaggerating. The auto alarm business was booming, along with the market for fake window decals that pretended you had an auto alarm. Leo’s old neighborhood is now among the hottest in New York’s hot real estate market.
Permit me to offer some of my recollections. I can remember graffiti being everywhere everywhere, on the walls of subway cars and on highway overpasses, on the sides of public buildings and parking garages, leering, ugly smears of paint that seemed designed to mock those who retained the hope that middle-class civility had any place left in the life of the city. There were sophisticated observers who resigned themselves to this degradation as a form of “urban art,” which city-dwellers had no choice but to accept as an ingredient in their life.
One could read regularly in the newspapers of bands of young men who prowled the area around Times Square, assaulting theater-goers and tourists. They were called “wolf packs” by the press, which assured us it was futile to entertain the thought that enough police officers could be hired to stop the muggings. C’est la vie. I had colleagues who routinely carried a few dollars in loose change in one of their pockets when they went to a Broadway play. Their plan was to fork over the quarters and dimes to anyone who accosted them, in the hope that the thug would not bother to check for the greater amount of money and their wallets in their other pockets. They thought it was clever to “trick” their assailants this way. Times Square is now safe and clean, filled with tourists and theater-goers with their children on the way to see plays such as Disney’s The Lion King.
Before Giuliani, if you took the subway or train into midtown Manhattan, grimy homeless men greeted you from all sides in the train stations, demanding money. Others slept in pools of urine in the passageways in Grand Central and Penn Stations. If you drove into the city, more physically imposing men would greet you as you exited the East Side or West Side highways, brandishing wet and dirty rags and “offering” to clean your car windows. You refused at your peril. I can remember reading police reports of one man who would have no part of these “squeegee men.” His glasses were ripped from his face and stomped into shards of glass before his wife’s and children’s eyes.
Once again, the socially conscious observers told us there was nothing anyone could do; that the beggars and squeegee men were entitled to interact with their fellow citizens in a commercial offering; that the streets belonged to the poor as well as the middle class; that it was a failure of the market economy that put these unfortunate people onto the streets.