Friday, July 22, 2005

Fred's Take on New York and Rudy

Well, I've been horribly remiss in posting, but being as how I'm supposedly on vacation, have been involved heavily in preparations for the DLC's annual meeting, and am getting dragged into a discussion of Thomas Frank's What's the Matter With Kansas on the TPMCafe site, I'm not exactly violating the Protestant Work Ethic or anything.

At any rate, I wanted to say a word about a new book that's recently gotten a couple of major reviews, in the New York Times and in The New Republic: Fred Siegel's Prince of the City, which is ostensibly a biography of Rudy Guiuliani.

I say "ostensibly," because Fred Siegel's take on Rudy is really a take on New York's peculiar political culture in the distant and recent past. And it's a take worth reading and absorbing in detail.

By way of full disclosure, I should mention that Fred's a friend and mentor of mine, and the most remarkable polymath I have ever known. For years I used to play "stump Fred" by asking him questions about any and every conceivable topic of social, political, literary, and even sports history, and never found a subject he didn't know a lot about. His particular area of expertise is American urban history, and he brings the full weight of his knowledge to bear on that subject in Prince of the City.

Both the reviews I linked to above treat Fred's book as a lionization of Guiliani. But I disagree. While he has a lot of positive things to say about Rudy's initial assault on New York's entrenched problems and powers, and later, about Hizzoner's famous apotheosis on and after 9/11, I think the book's theme is essentially tragic: by the end of his two terms in office, Guiliani was beginning to succumb to the same temptations of fiscal profligacy and interest-group tending as his predecessors. And he was succeeded by a Mayor, Mike Bloomberg, who exhibited the same vices without many of Rudy's virtues.

Fred's a lifelong Democrat, if often a heretical Democrat, and I think the most important message of his book is about how a city with a 4-1 Democratic registration margin has voted three straight times for Republican mayors, and if current polls are any indication, may do so again later this year. It takes a lot of Democratic dysfunction to make that happen, even if the beneficiary is a man with so many progressive impulses as Rudy, and especially if it's Mike Bloomberg. Prince of the City is, more than anything else, a matchless cautionary tale for Democrats everywhere.
-- Posted at 10:09 PM | Link to this post | Email this post

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