For those who grew up in the 1950’s and 60’s (or for those with access to Nick at Night or TV Land in later decades), the show Leave It To Beaver epitomized the way a healthy, normal suburban family should work. Most notably, the ideal parents in this post-War sitcom, Ward and June Cleaver, have become the golden standard of wholesome child-rearing. It should come as no surprise then, that many Americans want those same Cleaver-esque qualities in our leaders, especially our President. There’s something heart-warming about photo ops of our Commander-in-Chief finding the time to play catch or throw the ol’ pig skin around with his children. Polls have shown that the most likeable First Ladies are those who are most June Cleaver-esque: quiet, submissive, noncontroversial, modest, and matronly.
Well, to put it straight and honest: Rudy Giuliani is no Ward Cleaver. At least not in the public eye. There’s no doubt that Rudy really does love Andrew and Caroline as much as Ward loved Beaver and Wally. Rudy is fiercely protective of his kids, and he tells the political paparazzi where they can stick it when they violate his children’s privacy. However, Rudy Giuliani has made several big mistakes in regards to his personal and family life, and he takes the heat for them everywhere he goes.
Let’s get it all out in the open: In 1968, after graduating from college, Rudy married his second cousin, Regina Peruggi. After a trial separation in the latter half of the 70’s, they got their marriage annulled in 1982. In 1984, Rudy married local television reporter Donna Hanover. Together they had two children (the aforementioned Andrew and Caroline). The latter half of the 90’s saw Rudy and Donna’s marriage slowly fall apart, leading to a separation. Tabloids raging with rumors of secret affairs, the entire ordeal culminated in a messy 2002 divorce, which Rudy announced in a public press conference before telling Donna. Rudy revealed that he had begun a relationship with a friend of his who had been helping him through his prostate cancer treatment, nurse Judith Nathan. Rudy tried to move Judy into Gracie Mansion (NYC’s mayoral home), Donna protested and won, and Rudy was out of the house. After that, a couple of Rudy’s gay friends offered him a place to stay, and in 2003, Rudy officially married Judy. Rudy’s relationship with Ms. Hanover and their children has been visibly strained over the past several years, and for one period of time, Rudy and Andrew didn’t speak for almost a whole year. Both children have said they won’t actively campaign on their father’s behalf (Andrew citing his attempts at starting a career in professional golf, and Caroline being in school). In fact, Rudy’s daughter (a self-described “liberal”) has even expressed some level of support for Barack Obama!
How on earth, one must ask, could a man who divorced his wife so publicly, who had started a relationship with another woman before he’d even finalized his divorce, who has had such strained relationships with his children, and whose own daughter doesn’t even support his political ideals be fit to lead this nation, much less this political party? Surely a man with this kind of personal history would do unthinkable damage to the institution of the family in America. Surely, a man with so many private mistakes would be incapable of attending to such higher duties as the Oval Office would require. But, perhaps, it’s not so sure.
We conservatives tend to idealize and immortalize our most successful leaders: Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich. We remember them favorably, and curiously forget the shortcomings of their personal lives. We forget the rocky marriage of Abe and Mary Lincoln, we mentally erase from history Reagan’s made-for-tabloids divorce of his first wife and his painfully distant relationships with his wayward children, and we amnestically overlook the mastermind of the 1994 Republican Revolution’s embarrassing indiscretions. It is unthinkable, nay impossible, to assume that God and destiny would use such deeply flawed, morally wanting, thoroughly human people to accomplish such great things, right?
Conservatives drink up the magazine gossip about Judy Giuliani, who reportedly (and unverifiably) uses her position as Rudy’s wife to push people around and is so arrogant to actually demand an extra airplane seat for her Louis Vuitton handbag. Could a man with such a choice in women really make good decisions in a time of war? Of course, people retrospectively praise Abraham Lincoln’s almost divinely providential victory in the Civil War, concurrently ignoring Mary Todd Lincoln’s reputation as the White House “hell-cat,” the eccentric and difficult First Lady who reportedly used taxpayer money to fund her lavish personal shopping sprees, who (it was rumored) used her influence to subvert her husband’s policy-making decisions, and who was later committed to an insane asylum by her own son. Hardly a 19th century equivalent to the Cleavers.
The Christian right vehemently denounces Rudy’s conduct in divorcing Ms. Hanover and finds grounds enough for rejecting him in his strained family life alone. Could a man with so many mistakes in raising his children be trusted to run a government? Of course, we conservatives politically deify Ronald Reagan for his strong foreign policy, his unwaveringly supply-side economics, and his promotion of culturally conservative family values, but how often in our discussions of the Gipper does it come up about how he divorced his first wife (Jane Wyman) in typical Hollywood apathy in front of all the tabloids and how distant he was from his own children during his political years? We moralizers scoff at Giuliani because his daughter joins an Obama Facebook group, yet conspicuously never mention how Reagan’s daughter went off and posed nude for a Playboy cover. We values voters laugh off Giuliani because his son chooses not to publicly campaign for his father, yet conveniently sweep Ron Reagan, Jr. (a self described “liberal atheist” activist) under the rug. Surely a man who demonstrated such masterful control of conservative governance would evidence an equal immaculacy in the leadership of his own household.
We evangelical activists can’t fathom claiming Rudy Giuliani, a man who carried on a public affair and has taken two women to divorce court, as a leader of the conservative movement. Could a man who showed such carelessness and unrestraint in his personal life at one point in time possibly be expected to restrain the growth and spending of a now-massively outsized federal government? Of course, we conservatives reminisce nostalgically about the leadership that Newt Gingrich provided Republicans in 1994 when he led us to historic victory and we laud him as one of the greatest conservative thinkers of our time, but hesitant are we to mention how someone who accomplished something so great carelessly treated his second wife, when he came to her hospital bed when she was suffering of cancer not to console her but to discuss divorce proceedings. We pat Newt on the back for getting the adulterous, perjuring Bill Clinton impeached, but reluctant are we to mention Speaker Gingrich’s equally abominable affair that he was carrying on at the same time. Why is it again we are so eager to claim Mr. Gingrich as a spokesperson for our beliefs and values?
We are told to disregard Rudy Giuliani’s appeal to look more at his public record as prosecutor, US Attorney, and Mayor, and less at his personal shortcomings. But really, when we are perfectly honest and realistic with ourselves, we have to ask the question: Lincoln, Reagan, and Gingrich were all three no Ward Cleavers–but how did it affect their leadership? Lincoln unified a country and ended one of the most vile forms of oppression in human history. Reagan re-energized a nation and stared down an evil empire. Gingrich brought conservative values back to the forefront of the Republican Party and gave us a long-awaited majority in Congress. These were some of our most imperfect people, and yet they were used to accomplish some of our greatest successes.
Now, with 2008 fast approaching, presidential candidates are playing into this unrealistic perception that they must have the most Cleaver-esque family — that family-life stability somehow directly translates into governability and leadership material. When candidates release Norman Rockwellian home videos of their family Christmases with the grandchildren, it’s certainly heartwarming. And it’s hard not to like a candidate whose kids get together to tour the country like the Partridge Family in order to help their pop get elected. However, how much does it actually help these candidates in the long run?
True, you can’t help but smile a little when you see stories like this, but deep down, there’s something just a little bit disconcerting. Every other normal person in America came from a family that was dysfunctional in one way or another. You and I, normal average real American folks, had problems. We had fights with our siblings, we had issues with the way our parents raised us, we had schisms in the family sometimes. To many, whether we admit it or not, a candidate and his or her family who try to cast themselves as the Brady Bunch smells a little bit of dishonesty. It maybe just makes that candidate seem unrealistic or inhuman. For some reason, it’s just harder to relate to a candidate who has, apparently, never made a single identifiable mistake as a parent.
Also, candidates who play this role run another risk — that of setting the bar too high. If you want to make yourself the trademark of all things wholesome and perfect, you’d better be expected to live up to that standard. And when you make Ward and June Cleaver your standard, any slip-up or cracks that might appear become a big deal for you in a way that they wouldn’t be for other candidates whose private lives had already been vetted by the media.
Here’s the real question: Why do some voters think it important for a candidate to have a neat ‘n’ tidy personal/family life in the first place? One answer: Because, they want their leaders to use their influence to strengthen the societal institution of the family. Can Giuliani do that? Let’s see:
Finding Homes For Children
Giuliani has actually made the strengthening of the American family a seminal part of his campaign. Rudy often points out that hundreds of thousands of children are currently in foster care, and though many of them are up for adoption, it is extremely difficult for families wishing to adopt to cut through all the red tape. Rudy has committed to making the promotion of adoption a significant aim of his presidency, and he will do this by streamlining the process and cutting federal bureaucracy. He did this as Mayor of New York, when he created the Administration for Children’s Services, the first NYC government agency of its kind. While Giuliani had a tendency toward reducing the size of government (he cut city-funded bureaucracy by nearly 20% as Mayor), he did increase focus on children’s services, education, and law enforcement. This resulted in a 133% increase in adoption during Rudy’s administration over the previous 8 years (as a side-note, the increase in adoption also contributed to NYC’s decline in abortions, which fell even faster than the national rate while Rudy was Mayor). As President, Rudy has vowed to fix the problems of unreliable court schedules and overburdened case workers, give states control of child welfare spending instead of the federal government, make sure pregnant women are fully informed about the realities of an abortion and the benefits of putting the child up for adoption instead, and build partnerships with faith-based organizations to encourage adoption and provide assistance to women who choose adoption. Also, being the tax-cutter he is, Rudy has proposed making permanent a $10,000 tax incentive for adoptions. A President Giuliani means more orphaned children getting into good homes, faster, and he has the record to back up the rhetoric.
Part of Rudy’s approach to strengthening the family means helping to create an environment where wholesome families can flourish. A big piece of that means reducing crime and combatting drug use. Rudy proposes sustaining drug prevention funding levels in the federal budget, which would otherwise be cut, and he wants to reform and focus interstate and intergovernmental cooperation in going after drug dealers and traffickers. We can trust Rudy on this because he has the record to back it up–not just because he took down some of the most infamous drug and crime rings as a New York prosecutor, but because he remarkably cleaned up New York City while Mayor. Using innovative Compstat programs that tracked and pinpointed the most effective ways to combat crime, as well as the “Broken Windows” approach that created an environment inherently inhospitable to criminal activity, Rudy and his Police Chief Bill Bratton dramatically cut crime in half, and now localities across the country are taking their lead. However, perhaps the most notable success Mayor Giuliani had in his battle for cultural conservatism, was the turn-around in Times Square, the face of the city, where he cleaned up the dump of sex shops, porno theaters, and prostitution by using creative zoning laws. When other candidates speak of cleaning up pornography and promiscuity in America, they speak idealogically, but Rudy has actually done it, and any one who has been in New York pre- and post-Giuliani can attest to the night-and-day difference in the cultural atmosphere. When Rudy took over the city, it was the crime capital of America, and when he left, the FBI declared it the “safest large city” in America. A President Giuliani means preserving the innocence of our children, and he has the record to back up the rhetoric.
Protecting Children From Predators and Abusers
Rudy is fierce when it comes to protecting children, and his vitriol against child abusers, predators, and pedophiles has been cultivated from his years as a tough-as-nails prosecutor who brought such creeps and scum to justice. Rudy has committed to ensuring the full implementation of the Adam Walsh Act of 2006, which will expand the national sex offender registry, toughen federal penalties for crimes against children, make it much harder for predators to reach our kids online, create a child abuse registry, and require investigators to do background checks on adoptive/foster parents before they take custody of a child. Rudy will also toughen child porn, abuse, and trafficking laws, he will work with private organizations to kick sexual predators and pedophiles off social networking sites, and he will undertake coordinated international efforts to bring an end to sex tourism, human trafficking, and Internet child porn. When Rudy talks about cracking down on creeps, he speaks from extensive experience in the justice system doing just that. A President Giuliani means preserving the safety of our children, and he has the record to back up the rhetoric.
Encouraging Parental Responsibility
Finally, Rudy also emphasizes the need for parents to take responsibility for their children. This means that parents need to be working, need to have more opportunities to create a successful life for their family, need to have more options in educating their children, and need to be held accountable for their legal responsibilities to their children. As Mayor, Giuliani was known for his crackdown on bum dads who didn’t pay child support, but he also realized the need to create as much incentive as possible for parents to be as responsible as possible. Rudy did this by creating an economy and an education system that allowed and encouraged parents to raise their child in the best possible way. By slashing the individual citizen’s tax burden by 22% and moving 60% of the city welfare rolls into employment via a “workfare” system, Rudy encouraged parents to work harder toward providing a better future for their families. Rudy is also a crusading pioneer of school choice–he established the nation’s first and most generous charter school fund, and opened school choice to many New York families for the first time ever. By allowing families to spend their hard-earned paychecks in the way best suited to their needs, and by allowing parents greater choice in where to send their children, Rudy promoted possibly the most key family values of them all: the benefit of hard work, and the dignity of personal responsibility. A President Giuliani means stronger, freer families, and he has the record to back up the rhetoric.
So, we know that Rudy Giuliani, as a policy-maker, would make the absolute right choices for our nation’s families, however, there is another answer to our question that must be addressed. The question is: Why do some voters think it important for a candidate to have a tidy personal/family life? The second answer: They want a leader who is decent.
Giuliani’s private failures must be seen in their proper context. The fact is, Giuliani has admitted that he has made mistakes in dealing with his wife and children, and he’s talked about how he’s learned from those mistakes. Often, those with acknowledged mistakes under their belt are the wisest. But those who can’t acknowledge any mistakes in their personal or family life raise an interesting question about themselves: Would they know how to deal with a tough personal issue when it arises if they’ve apparently been so spotless all their life? But, acknowledged mistakes or no, the desire is a rational one. We want our President to be a decent person. And by that, we mean that we want him or her to be respectable, modest, fair, kind, generous, and appropriate.
One can sit and read through the tabloid accounts of Rudy’s second divorce, and say, “Gosh, well, Rudy certainly wasn’t fair or kind here… What he did here certainly wasn’t respectable… And that there was totally inappropriate.” However, we must not forget that a decent man is still capable of being disrespectful, immodest, unfair, unkind, selfish, and inappropriate. He is capable of being those things once, twice, or many times throughout his life. But, what we really want to know is: Is this man, at his core, a decent person? When all is said and done, is he still, deep down inside, decent?
It’s certainly hard to picture Rudy Giuliani embodying all those aforelisted qualities of “decency” when you look at the specific chapter of his life that included his divorce with Donna Hanover. However, we must understand that people slip up, good people do bad things, and sometimes really truly decent people do things that are contrary to how they normally act. There is one chapter of Rudy’s life in particular that really gives us a glimpse into his soul, his core being, who he really is deep down inside, and that is 9/11.
I realize that the last thing anyone wants, including me, is for the “9/11 card” to be overplayed on behalf of Rudy. What happened on September 11th, 2001 is a national tragedy, whose sorrow and remembrace belongs to all Americans, regardless of their political party, political philosophy, or whom they’re supporting for President. However, to bar Rudy Giuliani from talking about the events that happened on 9/11, and what they revealed about him, and how they influenced him, is as inane as barring George Washington from talking about his leadership at Valley Forge, or Dwight Eisenhower from talking about his leadership on D-Day. The truth is that the events of September 11th opened, quite possibly, the clearest and purest view into the innermost soul of Rudy Giuliani that we ever have, and ever will, see. It is said that as flame tests metal, so also the deepest view into a man’s soul can be seen when he is under the most intense pressure.
When his very life is in imminent danger, how does he respond to the needs of others? An indecent man would put his own survival first and shut his ears to the suffering of others. A decent man has a sense of duty and responsibility that would compel him to walk into the very flames of hell if necessary in order to ensure the safety of others.
When he has nothing to lose and nothing to gain, what roles and responsibilities does he take on? An indecent man cares only about covering his own hide, trying to ditch as much responsibility as possible onto others. A decent man rises to the occasion, and does anything and everything in his power to do what’s right.
When he is going through the most emotionally trying time of his life, how sensitive is he to the feelings of others? An indecent man spends all his time weeping and bemoaning his own problems, while not caring about the problems of others. A decent man has a genuine love for human beings that compels him to console and support as many people as he can.
Here’s what Rudy Giuliani isn’t: Rudy Giuliani is no Ward Cleaver, but he is a decent man.
Here’s what Rudy Giuliani is: Rudy Giuliani is an occasionally-insensitive, sometimes-selfish, oftentimes-egocentric, and historically-tempermental man. He is a man who, as NYC historian Fred Siegel put it, “made his own enormous ego serve [his] city’s well-being.” Rudy Giuliani injected his flaws into the service of overarching ideals that transcend politics as usual.
It’s not unreasonable to desire a President who has a nice family life. However, we should also want a President who we know has the focus and moral sense of obligation to do what’s right for the country, no matter what personal difficulties may arise during that President’s tenure. We should want a President who learns from their mistakes and applies that gained wisdom in the most positive ways possible. We should want a President who is real with us about just how human he is, and a President who will do what’s right for the nation, even if he once did what was wrong in his own personal life.
Rudy Giuliani may not be the most flawless man, but he is the most experienced, the most tested, the most focused, and the most capable to lead, and that’s what should really count.