Rudy Giuliani might have been an inspiration in the days after 9/11, but what relevance does that have now? He might have cleaned up New York City, but why should most Americans care whether, say, Bryant Park is a drug-dealer-infested nightmare or a pleasant place for office workers on a lunch break? The power of Giuliani’s presidential candidacy is in neither of these things per se, but in the allure of executive prowess.
Giuliani demonstrated it in New York. He ran the fourth-largest government in the country, from an office that had awesome powers (unlike the governorship of Texas), at a time when the city was in crisis, without a strong party to back him and in the teeth of a hostile press. And he succeeded. That, in a few phrases, is the appeal of Rudy Giuliani.
Fred Siegel describes him in his book “Prince of the City” as having “a mathematical and military cast of mind,” and quotes a former aide who explains that Giuliani is such a baseball fan because the game brings “together three things that he loves: statistics, teamwork and individual effort.”
Giuliani needed little sleep, which made extra hours available to him that he could pour into work. He had talented people around him whom he forged into an instrument of his executive will. Giuliani had daily 8 a.m. meetings to ensure that his deputies and commissioners were on the same page.
Giuliani’s axioms of governance, described in his book “Leadership,” now read as a kind of rebuttal to Bush’s hands-off management style. One of his rules is “Always Sweat the Small Stuff.” Another is “Prepare Relentlessly.” He delivered annual 90-minute State of the City addresses without a prepared text: “I presented it from my own head and heart, not from a page.” And “Everyone’s Accountable, All of the Time.” Giuliani kept a two-word sign on his desk: “I’M RESPONSIBLE.”
Famously the first CEO president, Bush has had his reputation as an executive trashed by Katrina and Iraq. Bush had seen his role primarily as setting goals, then remaining resolute and confident about them. But the resolution and confidence are self-defeating if the goals aren’t matched with the appropriate means. Bush has been ill-served by his willingness to stand by failed subordinates (thereby eroding any sense of accountability), by his relative lack of interest in details and by his inability to establish coherence within his own government.
This makes the competence primary very important in the Republican nomination contest, and Giuliani is the front-runner in it, although he has competition from former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a successful businessman with strong management skills. This doesn’t mean that Giuliani will excel in the temperament primary. Some of the qualities that made him a successful mayor — the hunger for power, the jealousy of other centers of authority, the egocentric drive — don’t make him the most pleasant person. And the ideological primary will be a major challenge.
But troubled organizations often look to hire an executive who has succeeded elsewhere. Hence the allure of Rudy Giuliani.
Lowry is editor of the National Review.