Giuliani’s commitments not enough

Rudy Giuliani’s recently unveiled campaign platform of “12 Commitments to The American People” is a big disappointment. If that list of platitudinous bullet points is all he’s offering, the Republican Party should look beyond the front-runner for real leadership.

At a time when the GOP is burdened with the image of being little more than a narrow-minded and big-spending “war party” — at least in the minds of many swing voters — future leaders of the party must offer a broader, deeper and more honest vision of where they’d take America. Because the nominee will lead our party in the years ahead, even if not elected, we must demand a more comprehensive grasp of issues than Giuliani’s portends.

Initially, I expected much from Giuliani’s candidacy. The former mayor seems creative and innovative. While other candidates may be satisfied simply enumerating their top issues in speeches and on websites, Rudy’s promise to make firm and binding “commitments” seemed like an exciting and differentiating approach to running for the presidency. But the reality of what Giuliani actually offers is unimpressive or unrealistic.

For example, he pledges to “restore fiscal discipline and cut wasteful Washington spending” and “impose accountability on Washington.” The text of the campaign’s website provides few innovative or realistic ideas for how he’ll do this. Rather, it advocates tired impossibilities like a constitutional amendment for the line-item veto or extols what Rudy did in New York. The latter is especially troubling if the mayor thinks cutting a federal budget of almost $3 trillion, one that was set by Republicans for the last six years, will be as easy as pruning the $50 billion budget of a liberal municipality.

Videotaped speeches on Giuliani’s website may reassure some skeptics, but not much. Rudy boldly pledges in one to “require” agency heads to present 5 percent to 20 percent cuts in their annual budgets. But he says nothing about how he’ll get a Democratic Congress to go along. He also says he’ll retire 20 percent of the federal workforce but undercuts his message by admitting that 42 percent of federal workers will retire anyway over the next eight to 10 years. He also champions private-sector downsizing strategies that won’t work in government. It’s just rhetoric, and it’s not believable.
Even Ronald Reagan was stymied above all else in trying to trim the federal workforce. Rudy cannot do what the Gipper couldn’t, especially with the Democrats controlling Congress.

Similar missing details stymie the credibility of most every one of the other 10 commitments made by Giuliani. Moreover, details are not all that’s missing. Some major, big-picture issues are altogether ignored. For example, not a word is said about the environment or conservation, Israel, ethics, the economic and military threats posed by Asian powers, or the role of faith in politics. These are topics that one or more other GOP presidential candidates include in their own issue agendas.

Giuliani’s agenda isn’t really a coherent set of ideas. Rather, it seems to be a stilted platform designed either to reveal his biography or to placate ideological opponents. Commitments like “winning the war on terror” remind of Sept. 11. The promise of good judges jogs our minds that Giuliani served in Reagan’s Justice Department. The pledge to promote adoption is a disingenuous move to distract the pro-life majority of Republicans.

The commitments also seem to be the product of extensive polling and focus groups. Looking over the list and the rhetorical style of the language, it’s certain that the Giuliani campaign won’t be accused of having policy wonks or think tanks ghostwrite his issue positions. Instead, they appear to have been parsed by focus groupers responding moment-by-moment through small handheld computers as the videotape of Rudy ran.

Republicans deserve better.

Hill is director of Hill Research Consultants, a Texas-based firm that has polled for GOP candidates and causes since 1988.