Why Giuliani's candidacy could be a good thing for the GOP.
By Anna Quindlen
One of the complaints you hear a lot from readers when you're in my line of work and live in my part of the country is that you can't understand America from the vantage point of New York City. I'm beginning to think there's some truth to that, and it's all because of the candidacy of Rudy Giuliani.
Ever since the presidency was a mere gleam in his eye, lots of New Yorkers have been predicting that Rudy, like a toddler or a genuine bagel, would not travel well across the country. It wasn't just the quasi-liberal positions on abortion, gay rights and gun control: he could massage those, and sometimes has. It was his private life, which his former constituents have watched with all the avidity of a soaps addict tuning in to "All My Children." There was the annulment from the first wife, who was his second cousin, the press conference he used to inform the second wife that she was history, the girlfriend he met in the cigar bar who became wife number three, and the very public estrangement from his children, both of whom have suggested that they won't be stumping for Dad. To which the candidate recently responded at a town-hall meeting, "Leave my family alone, just like I'll leave your family alone."
This would be a reasonable response were Giuliani not a member of the Republican Party, which in the last three decades has often been less about public policy and more about moral judgment. It wasn't always so. Once the GOP was moderate and secular. But then the '60s arrived. Society divided itself neatly into the button-down and the tie-dyed, and the Republican Party rallied around something called "family values." It's a phrase that has appeared in every party platform since 1976 and is often accompanied by the adjective "traditional," which translated means that if you don't have a stay-at-home mommy, a dominant daddy, some kids, a marriage license and a church membership, you're disinvited to the party.
Combined with the ascendancy of the religious right, which had the distinct political advantage of insisting that even its most uncharitable positions were beamed down from above, what developed was a neat political dichotomy. The Democrats were godless liberals—"contemporary socialism" was how the 1992 GOP platform put it—no matter how often they went to church or voted for war. And the Republicans were the party of old-fashioned values, less constitutional than canonical. Barry Goldwater, once known as Mr. Conservative, decried this shift before he died: Christian conservatives were, he said, "trying to take the Republican Party away from the Republican Party, and make a religious organization out of it."
It took some sleight of hand to reinforce this positioning. You have to give credit to the spin-sters who portrayed Ronald Reagan as a paterfamilias (although he had distant relationships with his children) guided by God (although he scarcely ever went to church). By contrast, while the Clintons were inveterate churchgoers and involved parents, and decided to keep their marriage together after consulting with Billy Graham, it was easy in the wake of the Lewinsky scandal to demonize their personal lives. Bill Clinton alone helped to keep the Republican Church of Moral Certainty alive longer than it might have been, and Hillary Clinton's candidacy has given its fringes a second wind.
But a shift has slowly been brewing. The Republican platform of 1992 had the family-values section at its very beginning; by 2004 it appeared at the end. National security had trumped the wacky emphasis on whether kids can sue their parents. Perhaps in part this was because even Republican families have changed in the last 30 years. The vice president became enraged when he was asked by a reporter about his daughter, a lesbian with a longtime partner, who gave birth to their first child not long ago. Maybe Dick Cheney genuinely thinks there is no conflict between being the standard-bearer of a party that has been hostile to gay rights and the father of a person who might need them. But if you run on family values, both your values and your family will inevitably be subject to scrutiny. Be careful what you wish for: it might get you.
A Giuliani victory wouldn't be a good thing for this country, but his candidacy may wind up being a very good thing for his party. The poll numbers that show him consistently ahead come as a surprise to many of us in the city where he was once mayor—and where he once bunked with a gay couple after leaving his second wife. But perhaps they indicate that the end is nigh for the stranglehold the Leviticus lobby has had on the GOP. All those who joined the Republican Party for smaller government, not fire and brimstone, may be ready to take back the power, to say that health care is more important than creationism, that the disintegration of Social Security is more critical than a ban on gay marriage. Maybe Republicans are finally ready to be members of a political party again, the kind Barry Goldwater could embrace, one that knows the difference between a podium and a pulpit.