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Giuliani: the man to defend American culture

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AMERICA NEEDS a Pym Fortuyn, and Rudolph Giuliani may be the man for the job.

Pim Fortuyn, you may recall, was the gay, flamboyant sociology professor turned "right-wing" Dutch politician who took a hard-line position against immigration and Islamic extremism — two issues inextricably linked in a country where whole communities have become enclaves of Sharia law. Fortuyn was labeled as right wing by identity-politics leftists for his unapologetic view that the Netherlands should stay both liberal and libertine.

His basic view was that the Netherlands has a culture too, and there's no shame in defending civil liberties, free expression and tolerance against their opponents, even if those opponents exploit liberal guilt by casting themselves as victims. In other words, Fortuyn wanted to keep the party going, and that meant taking a strong line against the killjoys. That Fortuyn could be both libertarian and tough-minded caused great cognitive dissonance in the media and on the left — there and here. He was assassinated by a left-wing extremist.

The United States is not the Netherlands, and Rudy Giuliani is no Pim Fortuyn in his personal life. But Giuliani is still a social liberal, as Americans define the term these days. He's for same-sex unions, though not gay marriage. He's pro-choice. A Catholic, he's been married three times. His first marriage was annulled on dubious grounds — he suddenly discovered his wife was his second cousin. And his second marriage ended in a tabloid divorce of biblical proportions. Giuliani also has a decidedly liberal record on immigration; how could a mayor of New York not?

But Giuliani was considered a raging right-winger as mayor. No doubt this had a lot to do with the fact that the city's political center is so far to the left. But there was a lot more to Giuliani's philosophy. When I grew up in New York in the 1970s and 1980s, the job of mayor was, essentially, to manage the city's decline. Crime was not only seen as permanent, some on the left even tried to rationalize it as part of the city's charm.

By the time Giuliani arrived, social chaos was seen as the natural order of things. Giuliani heroically challenged these assumptions on almost all fronts. He and his first police commissioner, William J. Bratton (now chief of the LAPD), refused to accept that mere containment was the best that crime fighters could hope for.

By now, many are familiar with the story of Giuliani's quality-of-life campaign against turnstile jumpers, welfare cheats, squeegee men, graffiti artists and porn shops. But what is forgotten is that Giuliani was reviled for all these efforts by the New York Times, the entertainment industry and the intellectual left — whose numbers are so great in the Big Apple that they actually constitute a voting bloc — and that every day he leaped back into the breach.

But Giuliani's stellar performance after 9/11 has erased this story from the public memory banks. And that's a problem, because for Giuliani to have any chance of winning the Republican nomination, he'll need to remind conservatives — the people who vote in GOP primaries — that he's more than just the feel-good mayor everyone suddenly loved after 9/11. To do this, he not only needs to convince conservatives that he made all the right enemies on the left, he also needs to explain how his actions in New York were consistent with conservative philosophy.

I think — and polls corroborate — that the conservative movement is more open to this pitch than either some of its self-interested leaders or those who report on them claim. First, observers make a grave mistake when they discount how seriously the religious right takes the war on terror. Whoever is the most plausible war president will have a good shot at the nomination. Moreover, conservatives love to talk about philosophy in the same way liberal activists love to talk about action. And contrary to the caricatures of rigid religious zealots in the mainstream press, social conservatives are often quite open to libertarian and small-government arguments.

But such arguments need to be made in the context of what Vice President George H.W. Bush once derisively called "the vision thing." Giuliani needs to articulate a Fortuynish vision for the American context. This might mean a zero-tolerance attitude on terror, a crackdown on crime (including corporate graft) and explaining how his mayoralty actually had socially conservative effects by liberating New York from the stranglehold of the identify-politics left.

Giuliani needs to tell a story of how he beat Al Sharpton at every turn. Giuliani's cheery immigrant story and his personal liberalism make him a particularly formidable spokesman for such a vision. Yes, taken piecemeal, his views on social issues could be a real albatross in GOP primaries (though it's worth noting that Giuliani, while personally pro-choice, signals that he would appoint judges in the mold of Supreme Court justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas). But if Giuliani can make those sorts of issues seem secondary to a broader defense of American civilization, he's got a chance to go all the way.

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jgoldberg@latimescolumnists.com

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