The Prodigal Son - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
The Prodigal Son

The other night I was having dinner with two friends in an Upper West Side restaurant when an extraordinarily loud group of about a dozen people settled into the next table.

Before we knew what had happened, one man had sat down at our table and started filling out a questionnaire. I was about to ask him to leave when the female of our group, being more conciliatory, asked him what he was doing. Turns out it was the local Democratic club and he was filling out a ballot on who he liked for President.

This kicked off a political discussion and before long the subject of Rudy Giuliani came up. Our uninvited guest was scornful. “Giuliani was the worst mayor we’ve had in the last fifty years,” he announced.

Didn’t he revive the city? Didn’t he stop crime? Wouldn’t his group be worried about walking home tonight if it hadn’t been for Giuliani?

“Do you know anything about demographics?” our guest asked patronizingly. “Who commit crimes? It’s young men between the ages of 16 and 24, right? All that happened in the 1990s is that the population of 16-to-24-year-olds declined. That’s why crime went down. Giuliani had nothing to do with it.”

I won’t bore you with the rest of the conversation but you can imagine how it went. New York liberals are an amazing lot. Their politics come right out of The Nation and the editorial pages of the New York Times. Logic never penetrates. Did the population of New York City really decline 60 percent in the 1990s to match the 60 percent decline in crime? Did it decline at all? Oh well, it’s not the facts that count, just the smug certainty that nothing is ever what it seems.

“A prophet is always without honor in his own country.” I’ve always liked Jesus’ first apothegm in the Bible. While the rest of the country is falling in love with Rudy Giuliani, he is an outcast in his own home city — at least the elite portion of it — and will remain so probably right up until November 2008, when he may become the first mayor ever to catapult directly into the White House.

THE LONG KNIVES HAVE BEEN out for Giuliani ever since he started proving liberals wrong in the 1990s, and it’s only going to get worse. “Him?” was the one-word headline on the cover story in New York last week, followed by, “New Yorkers may be surprised by how far Rudy Giuliani has come already. But that’s only because we know him.”

As a footnote, it should be pointed out that Giuliani won a landslide re-election in 1997 in a city that is less than 20 percent Republican. Polls are already showing Rudy running even with fellow New Yorker Hillary Clinton and winning New Jersey, a more representative Democratic state. When New York refers to “New Yorkers,” it is only describing a very isolated, self-satisfied slice of the population.

Nonetheless, the collective wisdom among this smug sector has been that once the rest of the country really understands Giuliani, they will reject him. Strangely, the portion they expect the rest of the country to reject is his liberal views. (Somehow this logic never applies to Democratic candidates.) Wait until those yokels find out Rudy supports abortion. Wait until they discover he roomed with a gay couple. Then he will be toast.

To everyone’s astonishment — in Manhattan, at least — it isn’t happening. For some strange reason those country bumpkins aren’t proving so dumb after all. They understand a Presidential election can’t be a referendum on abortion. They may even be more tolerant of gay couples than the stand-up comedians tell us. And remember, all this is only operative for the Republican primaries. If Giuliani gets into a general election, he may even be perceived as tolerant. In the end, voters look for character and leadership, not a menu of position papers. That would put the Democrats in big trouble.

Just to show how far off-base liberals already stand, Stephen Rodrick, author of the New York piece, clinches his argument by quoting Bob Shrum, the famed Democratic consultant who insisted on calling John Kerry “Mr. President” early on November 2, 2004, and has never won an election before or since. “There’s a reason Giuliani’s using 9/11 as an asset,” says Schrum. “It’s his only asset. He’s not even running on his mayoral record. He’s running on a few weeks [after] September 11.”

Is this guy kidding? Just before Giuliani was elected in 1993, Time ran a cover story on “The Rotting Apple.” Three years later, Giuliani was on the cover as “The Man Who Saved New York.” (It was only five years later he became “Man of the Year” in 2001.) Read Fred Siegel’s Prince of the City and you will find 90 percent of Giuliani’s accomplishments came before September 11th. He cut murders from 2,100 a year to less than 800. He drove the mafia out of the Fulton Fish Market — even though a few city officials almost got killed in the process. He cut taxes in a city that had never seen a tax cut. He cut spending (ditto). He faced off against every municipal union in the city — including the police, who rioted against him. He pulled New York’s economy so far out of the depths that for the first time since the 1950s the city grew faster than the rest of the country. (Under David Dinkins and Mario Cuomo, New York had lost one out of every five jobs during the 1991 recession.)

THE CRIME THING IS SO SURE to come up over and over in the campaign that’s it’s worth retelling what really happened. In the 1960s, the U.S. Supreme Court and general social trends softened up law enforcement so that crime took off, almost tripling during the 1970s and 1980s. Liberals chattered about finding the “root causes of crime,” but sentences were drastically reduced and the police were told to lay off “victimless” crimes such as loitering, public drunkenness, and low-level drug dealing.

In 1982, James Q. Wilson and George Kelling wrote an article for the Atlantic Monthly called “Broken Windows,” which posited that policing small infractions and maintaining public order was the key to controlling larger crimes. When small things went unenforced, the public became fearful and the bad guys concluded they could get away with bigger things. The thesis rattled around policy circles for more than a decade without much effect.

In 1992, Herb London, head of the Gallatin School at NYU and a conservative candidate for mayor, made a radical suggestion in the pages of the New York Post. “Let’s choose one place in New York and try to restore order by policing anti-social behavior,” he said. London proposed Washington Square Park, where until the 1960s it had been illegal to lie on the grass. At this point, people were dealing drugs and urinating in public. London’s suggestion went unheeded.

Two years later, Giuliani was elected. Before taking office, he sat through a few prepping conferences at the Manhattan Institute absorbing conservative ideas. “Broken Windows” was one of them. From day one Giuliani began putting it into practice. The “squeegee men” (who used to harass motorists at stop light) were gone in days. Turnstile jumping — which had reached more than 50 percent in some stations — was halted. Within weeks the results began to take effect. A frightened populace began to come out of hiding. Before Giuliani people had been afraid to walk their dogs. Within six months they were strolling at night on the Brooklyn Bridge.

Crime plummeted and didn’t stop falling until it returned to 1965 levels. In no other city did this happen — only in New York. By the time President Clinton ran for re-election in 1996 he was bragging about national crime reduction — even though the entire drop was due to falling rates in New York. Gradually other cities picked up the idea — although in some like New Orleans and Detroit it never happened.

Was all this due to demographics? Was it because (as Clinton claimed) the federal government had funded a few thousand police officers? Was it — as University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt scurrilously suggests in Freakonomics — the result of abortion? No. The entire trend is directly traceable to Giuliani’s crime policies.

Rudy Giuliani would be a serious candidate for President even if September 11th had never occurred. To the despair of the New York intelligentsia, the local boy may be about to make good. Don’t expect any tickertape parades.


I’ve been criticizing the conduct of the war recently and taking a lot of flak from Spectator readers who say I’m just another East Coast elitist watching the conflict on CNN without any idea of what’s really going on. So I’ve decided to take them up on it. I’ll be flying into Iraq Thursday for a two week embed with the 82nd Airborne. I don’t have an agenda. I just want to see what the troops are saying. I’ll be reporting soon from Baghdad.

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