HH: We begin in New York with our old friend and new editor of Commentary Magazine, the one and the only John Podhoretz. John, congratulations, Commentary is the winner in this one. I’m really looking forward to renewing my subscription under your tutelage.
JP: Thanks so much, Hugh.
HH: Let’s start by letting the audience hear Rudy Giuliani’s new television ad. This is why I want to talk to you about it. Here’s Rudy’s new piece:
RG: New York City is the third or fourth largest government in the country. It’s one of the largest economies in the United States. They used to call it unmanageable, ungovernable. And a large majority of New Yorkers wanted to leave and live somewhere else. It was as city that was in financial crisis, a city that was the crime capitol of America, a city that was the welfare capitol of America, a city that was in a very, very difficult condition when I became the mayor. By the time I left office, New York City was being proclaimed as the best example of conservative government in the country. We turned it into the safest large city in America, the welfare to work capitol of America, and most importantly, the spirit of the people of the city had changed. Instead of being hopeless, the large majority of people had hope. So I believe I’ve been tested in a way in which the American people can look to me. They’re not going to find perfection, but they’re going to find somebody who’s dealt with crisis almost on a regular basis, and has had results. And in many cases, exceptions results, results people thought weren’t possible. I’m Rudy Giuliani, and I approved this message.
HH: John Podhoretz, what did you make of that piece?
JP: Well, I mean, I think it is the case for Rudy Giuliani as the Republican nominee on the domestic side. He is running on his record as an executive, for executive governance, reminding people of this extraordinary eight year record in New York City. It is central to any plausible case you can make for his achieving the nomination and winning the presidency, is he can say I took over an ungovernable city that is in fact larger than most states, and more complicated than most states, and in eight years time, the place turned around in a way that no one ever dreamed was possible. And remember that also, without saying so, it was at the tail end of that mayoralty that we had the horror of 9/11, and the extraordinary response of New Yorkers in New York City to 9/11, which was an outgrowth of the changes for the better that occurred under his tutelage, because the reassertion of civil society in the city over the course of the 90’s made it possible for New Yorkers to respond in the way that they responded.
HH: John Podhoretz, let me tell you one of the sleeper issues I think is out there in ’08, which is education, because public education in America is, in so many places, in complete and total collapse, and people know it. They know they’re warehouses where kids don’t learn, and in fact, what they learn is dysfunction. How did Giuliani do with the New York City school system during his eight years?
JP: Well, there are two issues involved in education with Giuliani. One is the schools, and the other is the city university system. He did an extraordinary job with the city university system, largely on the issue of abolishing bilingual education at the college level, which he did in the teeth, you can imagine, of the entire body of left, liberal opinion and the professoriate of the city college system, with the help of Herman Badillo, who was the first Puerto Rican Congressman in the United States, and was one of his deputy mayors. At the schools level, the New York City schools are notoriously difficult to manage and to run, and the mayor had very little control of them, because of various deals struck by the city council and the state assembly. Rudy pushed and pushed and pushed and pushed to achieve more mayoral control, more responsibility, to institute more responsibility. And that pushing paid off, but not until Michael Bloomberg became mayor. And in the first few months of Bloomberg’s mayoralty, he succeeded in having control of the elementary schools retrocessed to the Mayor’s office. But without Giuliani’s incredibly aggressive efforts in this direction, that probably wouldn’t have happened.
HH: So does he have a good story to tell, then, on the stump with regards to that? And of course, then, what about medical care in the city of New York during his tenure as well?
JP: Well, I mean, you know, I’m not literate enough on that question to answer it, but I think on the stump, particular for Republican audiences, he can say I ended bilingual education in the schools, in the publicly run schools that I had to manage.
HH: You know, this is a little bit harder to answer, but you lived there for all these eight years.
JP: And opened…and by the way, opened enrollment at city college, which was once the jewel of the public university system in the United States, which was destroyed because they would let anybody in regardless of merit. And in fact, he instituted a testing system for the city college system, and the city college system has had this astonishing rebound, you know, wild quality improvements, a little like what happened after CCRI in California.
HH: Now going back to the idea…you lived there through all or most of the Giuliani mayoralship, right?
HH: Could you feel it changing? Would this have happened anyway because of the economy of the 80’s and 90’s?
JP: Absolutely not. I mean, the thing that people have to understand, and I am, I think on margin, I mean, I’m a supporter of Giuliani’s receiving the Republican nomination. But you know, I don’t want to, I’m not speaking as a participant or a member of the campaign, or anything like that. The reason that I feel this way is that the transformation of New York really was largely the work of this one man. Not only the complete overhauling of the police department based on ideas not only from conservative intellectuals like James Q. Wilson, but from his first police commissioner, Bill Bratton. But you know, also a very innovative zoning regime that got rid of porn shops in city neighborhoods, cleaning up the subway system, a whole mess of things, and largely making sure that the police department was defended, publicly and constantly by him as it was going about the difficult labors of reestablishing civil order in the city, in the teeth of Al Sharpton, and again, sort of the liberal body of opinion in New York City that any time there was a controversy involving a cop, they immediately assume that the cop was guilty.
HH: Well, contrast him with, let’s say, the flavor of the month, Mike Huckabee. You know, Mike Huckabee ran Arkansas for ten years, it’s a big place, it’s not a small place. I don’t know what its population is vis-à-vis New York, but he’s a social conservative and Rudy isn’t. How does he make, how does he close the sale with the Huckabee voter that is, you know, threatening to sit it out, go away, not vote for him because of his pro-choice views?
JP: Well, I think you hear his effort in the ad, which is to say you may not think of me as a social conservative, but I governed New York City as a conservative. What happened? 600,000 welfare cases went to work. What happened? Places where people could not live safely, they could then live safely. What was the nature of the city afterwards rather than beforehand? It was a place where people could raise families. There are now a million more families in New York City than there were seven or eight years ago. The population of New Yorkers under the age of five have gone up by 75,000. You have to think about what that means…
JP: …in, you know, what that means mathematically. The city has had a population turnaround in contrast to every other city in the country. And I mean…so I think the case is that he would say, he said, you won’t get…in that ad, he says you won’t get perfection from me. What you’ll get is results. And that is the best case that he can make.
JP: Conservative governance, liberal slaying, also. This is the other thing he can say to, you know, he can say to conservative audiences, which is I spent eight years being attacked in the most vicious fashion by the New York Times, and they did not sway me for one nanosecond.
JP: I did what I thought was right, they came after me, they attacked me, all of liberal opinion attacked me, and I paid no attention.
HH: What did you make of the Robertson endorsement?
JP: Well, I mean, I sort of expected that, because I think more for Robertson’s sake than for Giuliani’s because I think Robertson has been trying to make up for his, you know, noxious comments three days after 9/11 that suggested that the ACLU was responsible for the attacks of 9/11, and that ultimately, the best way he could do that would be to endorse Giuliani. I think what it indicates in a larger sense is this question, which is you know, we can sit here and talk about whether someone should vote, should pass the human rights amendment, or shouldn’t, or the human life amendment, you know, a states version or a Constitutional version, or you can sell well, you know, there isn’t much life to save if we don’t win the war on terror, and Rudy is the best person to win the war on terror.
HH: And given everything you see right now, surveying the whole field, with Romney ahead in Iowa and New Hampshire, and Rudy got leads nationally, who’s going to be the nominee, Podhoretz?
JP: I have no idea.
HH: You and me both.
JP: I really, I have no idea. This is the most interesting political situation I can remember. I mean, I can see scenarios under which Rudy can win, Romney can win, and McCain can win, and Thompson can win. I don’t see how Huckabee can win. But I can see any one of those four.
HH: I only see two of the four, but they’re both very, very interesting, and some people can make them better than others. John Podhoretz from Commentary, a pleasure, I always read you at Contentions, the blog of Commentary. I look forward to talking to you again soon, J-Pod.
End of interview.