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The GOP's Giuliani problem

| Friday, Feb. 23, 2007

We are told that Rudy Giuliani -- supposedly "America's mayor" for his calming speeches and commanding presence after the 9/11 attack on New York -- is that special Republican someone who can beat the nearly invincible Sen. Hillary Clinton.

I dread Hillary as much as the next guy and am not fooled by her carefully orchestrated "moderation" as a senator. Once in office, we can expect her to push hard for socialized health care and other policies that expand the size and power of government.

But it seems foolish and unprincipled to advance a Republican alternative who is at least equally as committed as the Democrat, and maybe even more so, to a muscular, intrusive and virtually unlimited government.

Sure, Giuliani spoke at the convention about his successes in trimming New York's once unmanageable bureaucracy, in cutting taxes and in reducing the city's crime rate. Those are tangible and laudable accomplishments.

To Giuliani's advocates, his main political problem is his liberal stance on social issues -- necessary as a mayor of the nation's biggest city, but trouble when he, say, tries to win primary support in places such as Iowa and South Carolina. Supporters eagerly await his rapprochement with the religious right.

But the debate over social issues, although of some significance, does not accurately define the fault lines of the Republican Party. The real long-standing divide in the GOP is not between pro-lifers and pro-choicers but between libertarian-oriented Republicans who believe in the Reaganite admonition that "government is not the solution but the problem" and law-and-order Republicans who believe that "if you've done nothing wrong, you've got nothing to hide from the government."

It's always been an uncomfortable alliance, one that worked politically during the Reagan years thanks mostly to Reagan's rhetorical skills, but has become uneasy in recent years. After 9/11, those of us who understand that controlling government is the key founding concept of this nation have been routed by those who believe the opposite.

Under George W. Bush, the United States has embarked on the decidedly nonlibertarian tasks of (a) fighting foreign wars, (b) limiting civil liberties at home as a way to root out potential threats at home, (c) expanding government programs, and (d) promoting the idea that government planners will protect and help us if only we respect and obey them.

Few politicians epitomize this Government Knows Best ideology more than Giuliani. He is a man who believes in centralizing power, in using the full extent of that power regardless of the effect on liberty. The consistent strands throughout Giuliani's public life revolve around his arrogance and lust for power.

Unfortunately, there are no big-name Republican presidential choices that come from the freedom side of the party. Sen. John McCain is an ardent war supporter with a short-fuse temperament that has caused me to term him "most likely to blow up the world." He veers left on many environmental and economic issues, and is co-author of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law, which clamps down on political speech during political campaigns. That assault on the First Amendment alone should disqualify McCain from being president, given that the president is sworn to uphold rather than destroy the U.S. Constitution.

The final GOP choice, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, has so far talked mainly in vague generalities about America's greatness and has stuck by traditional conservative themes on tax-cutting and defense. But he signed into law a "universal" health-care plan in his state, of the sort that would make Hillary Clinton proud.

If Giuliani (or McCain or Romney) is the answer, then Republicans are asking the wrong question.

Steven Greenhut is senior editorial writer and columnist for the Orange County (Calif.) Register. Dimitri Vassilaros is off today.

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