Rudy Giuliani.

Rudy Giuliani.

Rudy Giuliani.

Taking stock of people and ideas in the news.
Sept. 6 2002 12:40 PM

Rudy Giuliani

He's blowing his chance to make a difference.

Illustration by Charlie Powell

On Sept. 11, 2002, Rudy Giuliani will stand at Ground Zero and begin reading the names of the victims who died in the attacks on the World Trade Center exactly one year before. It will be a fitting moment: Giuliani continuing in the role he filled so ably over the past year, that of chief eulogist for the ordinary men and women who lost their lives that day. But is it too much to ask that he be something more?

Giuliani rightly acquired tremendous political support and moral authority for his leadership in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. But he has yet to use any of it for much beyond enriching himself and doing favors for political candidates who will be expected to repay him later. Granted, Giuliani speaks movingly and eloquently in remembrance of those office workers, police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical workers who died. Remembering the dead is an important service, and it shouldn't be dismissed. But Giuliani has done very little to help those who lived.

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Instead, he's cashed in on his newfound status by speaking on "leadership" to groups such as the Society for Human Resource Management, to a fund-raiser for the University of Colorado at Denver business school, to something called the "i2 Planet" convention of business strategies, for a reported $100,000 a pop. His 2002 income from speaking engagements alone is expected to exceed $8 million. And that doesn't include the $2.7 million advance he received to write two books, the first of which, Leadership, will be published in October. Nor does it include the money Giuliani receives from Merrill Lynch (a reported $200 an hour) as an adviser to help with the firm's negotiations with New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. Nor the money Giuliani receives from his business consulting firm, Giuliani Partners, which the New York Post reported made $7.5 million in June alone.

In the past year, Giuliani has also used his prominence to boost GOP candidates in the November elections. He stumped for Elizabeth Dole in North Carolina, for Jeb Bush in Florida, and for other candidates in Texas, California, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and elsewhere. He delivered the keynote address at a March fund-raiser for the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee that raised $7.5 million. He's the 2002 equivalent of John McCain—squared.

Which is all fine and good. Giuliani needs the money he's earning—to pay the $22,000 in monthly child support he owes as part of his divorce settlement with Donna Hanover, not to mention the $6.8 million he owes her—and he shouldn't be begrudged it. (He's certainly not the first politician to cash in after leaving office.) Nor should he be condemned for aiding his fellow Republicans, which is public service of a kind.

But by being absent from the national debates of the day, Giuliani is missing out on a larger opportunity. He possesses more political capital right now than perhaps any other person in the country—according to a Los Angeles Times poll, 30 percent of Bill Simon's supporters in California's Republican gubernatorial primary said Giuliani's endorsement was a "major influence" on their vote—but he has spent hardly a nickel of it on an issue related to the country's response to Sept. 11.

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How does Giuliani think the nation should fight bioterrorism, or al-Qaida, or Iraq, or Islamic fundamentalism? How does he think the nation should train its cities to prepare for similar emergencies and disasters? So far, his answers are those of a vice-presidential candidate-in-waiting: exactly as the Bush administration is doing it. Giuliani has always harbored national ambitions, and there's still an outside chance he could be appointed secretary of the new Homeland Security Department, and an even more outside chance that he could be picked as Bush's veep were Vice President Cheney's health to worsen appreciably. (Conservative activist Paul Weyrich told the New York Times Thursday that Giuliani's star status might lead conservatives to overlook his positions on abortion and gay rights.) Giuliani bluntly says he plans on returning to politics at some point—some speculate about a Hillary-Rudy rematch on a national scale in 2008—and stepping on President Bush's toes isn't the way to get ahead in the Republican Party in 2002.

There is one issue on which Giuliani speaks out, boldly and publicly and with passion: what to do with Ground Zero, the site of the World Trade Center. In Time magazine this week, he repeated his desire to use "the entire 16 acres as a memorial" for those who died. It's a noble goal, and it's of a piece with the lesson that Giuliani apparently took from Sept. 11: the need to properly remember the dead. "I'm not objective about this," he told MSNBC's Brian Williams in July, "but I think I'm right about it. … Just think if somebody had built office towers over Gettysburg or Normandy."

But Giuliani said something else to Williams, something he's reiterated elsewhere: If Ground Zero is turned into largely commercial space, "people 100 years from now are going to say that this generation did not understand the significance of history and the importance of inspiring other people." But that's what Giuliani has done with himself for most of the past year. He's taken the opportunity presented to him at Ground Zero and gone commercial with it.

There's nothing wrong with that, and there's nothing wrong with looking backward in remembrance. But Giuliani should be looking forward, too, and making the most of his position. Even without a formal government position, he could write op-eds, he could talk on television about the subjects he considers important, he could urge the administration to do a better job preparing Americans for the next attack. Just as Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., has used his status as a medical doctor to carve out a role for himself as an expert on health care and bioterrorism, Giuliani could use his experience to make himself a prominent voice on emergency management and disaster preparedness. Or whatever else his heart desires. Instead, he bides his time in silence, apparently hoping for an unlikely vice-presidential slot in 2004.

Giuliani is right to remember the victims, to mourn for them and their families, and to celebrate the bravery of those who died on Sept. 11. But the topic of Giuliani's $100,000 speeches is "Leadership in Difficult Times." We're in difficult times right now. He should lead.