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A Fate Worse Than Bush


Rudolph Giuliani and the politics of personality

Published in the August 2007 issue of Harper’s Magazine, “A Fate Worse Than Bush” profiles Rudolph Giuliani, former New York mayor and current candidate for secretary of state. Read the full story here.


From a New York Times article, published November 24, 2016, on Donald Trump’s candidates for secretary of state.

The debate inside Mr. Trump’s wide circle of formal and informal advisers — pitting supporters of one leading contender, Mitt Romney, against those of another, Rudolph W. Giuliani — has led to the kind of dramatic airing of differences that characterized Mr. Trump’s unconventional and often squabbling campaign team.

In retrospect, it is clear that Giuliani’s handling of the attack on September 11, 2001, and its aftermath was largely a debacle. Our image of “Rudy” as the hero of that day—as “America’s mayor”—is the residue of the uncharacteristic gravitas and responsibility he displayed in those first few days, the grace note he struck when he stood before the television cameras and told the world that the “number of casualties will be more than any of us can bear,” but that “New York is still here,” and that we “should act bravely, we should act in a tolerant way.”

Giuliani himself was fortunate to still be there. Against the advice of numerous security experts, he had insisted on situating a lavish, $61 million emergency “command bunker” on the twenty-third floor of the forty-seven-story 7 World Trade Center tower. The tower contained no fewer than sixteen different emergency generators and sat over 109,000 gallons of oil in a Con Ed substation; the command bunker added another, unprotected, 6,000- gallon fuel tank suspended above the mezzanine. When burning debris from the twin towers fell on 7 World Trade, it went up like “a blowtorch,” in the words of investigative reporters Wayne Barrett and Dan Collins, who note in Grand Illusion, The Untold Story of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11 that Giuliani’s defenseless fuel tank acted as a giant fuse.

The Office of Emergency Management that Giuliani created failed utterly to coordinate rescue efforts between the city’s Police and Fire Departments. Even worse, it also failed to ensure that the New York Fire Department had an effective system for communicating with itself—a deficiency that had been exposed by the original 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, and one that led eight years later to hundreds of firefighters being cut off in the towers, without any way of receiving word that the buildings were about to collapse. Giuliani, onsite throughout the disaster, made no attempt to devise any other means to keep the firefighters informed. In 2004, as New York Times reporters Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn make clear in their book 102 Minutes, Giuliani lied against the memory of these men, falsely testifying before a fawning 9/11 Commission that they had refused orders to evacuate.

In the days and weeks after the attack, Giuliani failed to ensure that the workers digging out Ground Zero had adequate protection against hazardous waste, an oversight that it now seems may have led to serious, long-term health consequences for thousands; proposed that his term in office be arbitrarily extended for an indefinite period in order to deal with the recovery from the attack; and placed his mistress and future third wife, Judith Nathan, on the board of a charitable fund for families of the attack’s victims. Giuliani would later urge his police commissioner at the time of 9/11, Bernard Kerik, to accept a job training the new Iraqi police force, a task he failed at dismally before scurrying back to New York. Kerik was then nominated on Giuliani’s recommendation to become the new head of Homeland Security, before background probes uncovered a thicket of legal and ethical improprieties. These included Kerik’s appropriation of an apartment designated a rest area for exhausted World Trade Center excavators as a trysting place for his affair with his publisher, Judith Regan.

Yet the indelible political image of 9/11 remains that of the heroic Rudy. All of the ugliness, all of the racial divisiveness and the relentless bullying, was buried under the rubble of the twin towers, granting Giuliani a remark- able new lease on life. In the wake of the terrorist attack, the whole issue of race would be more deeply repressed in the American consciousness than it had been in at least the past sixty years. Giuliani himself could be safely “relaunched,” rebranded as the very embodiment of post-ideological strength, competence, and heroism. What was more, the entire city he led, one that often had been the focus of Americans’ most profound suspicions and prejudices in the past, could be reborn with him, as the object of not only our deepest sympathies but also our greatest desires.

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