May 12, 2007
Giuliani's Straight Talk Express
Posted by: Chris
It's very refreshing to see Rudy Giuliani finally coming clean on his less-than-conservative views on hot-button social issues. In a speech on Friday at Houston Baptist College, Giuliani made his case for a new GOP that focuses more on fighting terrorism and growing the economy, and less on fighting each other on guns, God and gays — my words not his. From a report in the New York Times:
In a forceful summation of the substantive and political case for his candidacy, the former mayor of New York acknowledged that his views on social issues were out of line with those of many Republican primary voters.
But he argued that there were even greater matters at stake in the election, starting with which party would better protect the nation from terrorism. Mr. Giuliani suggested that his record in New York, which included leading the city after the attacks of Sept. 11 and overseeing a decline in violent crime during his eight years in office, made him the most electable of the Republican candidates, no matter his stand on social issues like abortion.
“If we don’t find a way of uniting around broad principles that will appeal to a large segment of this country, if we can’t figure that out, we are going to lose this election,” he said.
The excerpt that ran alongside the Times report only dealt with Rudy's views on abortion, about which he takes a principled stand of personal moral opposition to the procedure but respect for those who disagree and a belief that government should let each woman decide.
The speech earned Giuliani a standing ovation, which may show he's the "Straight Talk Express" candidate in this year's GOP race: respected for sticking with his views, even if it means sticking it to the religious right. He was certainly more tactful than the original straight talker, John McCain, who in 2000 famously called Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson "agents of intolerance."
That choice phrasing cost McCain the South Carolina primary and a shot at the nomination, and the Arizona senator has since bent over so backward to win the right back that he has alienated those who respected him before. Still, Giuliani did not pull punches like he could have in his speech on Friday, and in provocative fashion suggested moral equivalence between those on both sides of the abortion debate:
[I]n a country like ours, where people of good faith, people who are equally decent, equally moral and equally religious, when they come to different conclusions about this, about something so very very personal, I believe you have to respect their viewpoint. You give them a level of choice here. Because I think ultimately even if you disagree, you have to respect the fact that their conscience is as strong as yours is about this, and they’re the ones that are most affected by it. So therefore I would grant women the right to make that choice.
From everything I know about conservative Christians — and I know quite a lot — that was not the way to play it. He would have been much better off saying those who choose abortion are commiting serious moral error, but the government should not decide that question for them.
On gay issues, at least from the Times report, Giuliani was not as depthful, saying "he remained firmly committed to the idea that marriage should be between a man and woman, but that he was equally committed to protecting the rights of gay men and lesbians," in particular "domestic partnerships."
That doesn't exactly represent Giuliani talking straight. In the past, he has said he favors "civil unions," which as enacted in Vermont, Connecticut and New Jersey (and soon to be New Hampshire) include all the rights and benefits of marriage except the name. "Domestic partnerships" presumably include more limited rights, but in reality run the gamut from health insurance benefits and hospital visitation, to something very close to civil unions themselves as adopted in D.C., California and Oregon.
In a story a couple of weeks ago, the New York Sun nailed Giuliani on the semi-flip-flop:
On a February 2004 edition of Fox News's "The O'Reilly Factor," Mr. Giuliani told Bill O'Reilly, when asked if he supported gay marriage, "I'm in favor of … civil unions." …
Asked by Mr. O'Reilly in the interview how he would respond to gay Americans who said being denied access to the institution of marriage violated their rights, Mr. Giuliani said: "That's why you have civil partnerships. So now you have a civil partnership, domestic partnership, civil union, whatever you want to call it, and that takes care of the imbalance, the discrimination, which we shouldn't have."
But in a statement the Giuliani campaign issued to the Sun, the candidate backed off of civil unions as too close to marriage:
"Mayor Giuliani believes marriage is between one man and one woman. Domestic partnerships are the appropriate way to ensure that people are treated fairly," the Giuliani campaign said in a written response to a question from the Sun. "In this specific case the law states same sex civil unions are the equivalent of marriage and recognizes same sex unions from outside states. This goes too far and Mayor Giuliani does not support it."
Of course any attempt to cast Giuliani, who dumped his second wife in a press conference in the midst of an adulterous affair, as a defender of traditional marriage is downright laughable. But if he sticks to support for non-discrimination, hate crimes and domestic partnerships, Giuliani will be by far the most gay friendly of any major league GOP presidential contender.
Giuliani's somewhat straight talk on abortion and gay rights stands in marked contrast to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who has abandoned his pro-choice, somewhat pro-gay past in a rush to pander to conservative Christians. Now Romney is portraying a GOP with no room for those who are only conservative on terrorism and taxes, but not social issues. From a report in yesterday's New York Times:
In Iowa, Mr. Romney introduced to audiences the metaphor of a three-legged stool, reflecting what he described as core conservative Republican principles: “strong military, strong economy, strong families.”
“In my view, you’ve got to talk about all three for the Republican stool to stand,” he said. “Two won’t hold it up.”
If the Republican contest for the White House shapes of as a choice between Rudy's big tent and Romney's three-legged stool, then the Log Cabin Republicans are right to put their early vocal support behind the former mayor of New York. A nomination victory for Giuliani legitimizes social moderates on abortion and gay rights for the first time as mainstream Republicans, which could make it as important and defining for the party as Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Ronald Reagan in 1980 — albeit in the opposite direction.