Rebuttal to Criticism

My posts on Oval Office are supposed to be objective thoughts about the race. This post is advocacy, so it goes here.

Rudy Giuliani is going to take some criticism for his handling of 9/11 in the next few days – inadequate radio communication between NYPD and FDNY; the Mayor walking the streets instead of hunkering down in a safe bunker with communication equipment; locating an emergency command center within the World Trade Center after it had been attacked in 1993. There is lingering resentment over the pace of the clean-up operations and the failure of the SAR parties to extract all the human remains from Ground Zero before major debris removal began. And, there will be criticism of him that he lacks substantial governmental experience; his official resume is as the #3 guy in the Justice Department, then U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and then Mayor of New York City; that he badly estimated Bernie Kerik’s corruption; and everything else Rudy has been saying about himself has been exploiting 9/11.

My expectation is that, especially if Rudy posts impressive numbers in tomorrow’s FEC fundraising disclosures, these attacks will intensify.

It seems to me that substantial defenses can be offered to all of the criticisms. Last one first, you don’t really get to know the quality of a person until you see them in extreme circumstances. We got that with Rudy and everyone was, and remains, impressed. It’s simply not exploiting 9/11 to remind people that Rudy did a good job leading New York City through some extraordinarily difficult times. Rudy acquitted himself very well and he is right to extol his accomplishments on that day – he has always been extraordinarily respectful of the memories of those who lost their lives that day and continues to be so. I defy partisans of any of the other candidates to proffer reasons why their people would have done any better than Rudy if they had been mayor. Most of the other candidates’ leadership skills have been demonstrated by leading their own legislative staffers to happy hour at the Palm on Capitol Hill.

Locating the emergency response center in the WTC in retrospect posed some significant disadvantages as things actually unfolded. But remember that the 1993 attack on the WTC failed to achieve any kind of structural damage to the building. Remember how unthinkable the actual event was when you watched it on TV. No one anticipated this sort of thing outside the realm of military fiction. Without the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, this was not a bad decision to have made.

Should Rudy have gone to a safe location? I think it was a good thing that Rudy was on the ground, seeing things with his own eyes – communications networks were disrupted anyway, so Rudy in a bunker would have been even more blind and deaf than he was several blocks away from where the buildings were coming down. He did the right thing by going to the scene.

Communications among the first responders? NYPD and FDNY didn’t want compatible radio systems and actively resisted the idea when it was floated. Should Rudy have forced them, kicking and screaming, to integrate their systems? I question exactly how much good that would have done. Would more firefighters and police have been saved had they been able to talk to one another directly rather than relaying information through a command center? The sad answer is, probably not.

Bernie Kerik? Yeah, turns out he was not altogether a good guy, which I realize is something of an understatement. But then again, we’ve seen plenty of Presidents in the recent past have people who aren’t such good guys around them, too. Scooter Libby. Sandy Berger. David Rosen. And other candidates have personal involvement in some questionable dealings in their pasts. Others lack many years of substantial political experience, at least at the federal level, on both sides of the aisle. If you’re going to hold Rudy Giuliani accountable for not having held Federal elected office in the past, you need to also criticize the relative inexperience with Federal politics of Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, or John Edwards, and the lack of executive or managerial experience against John McCain or Hillary Clinton. So none of the major candidates offers the kind of substantial Federal executive background that, for instance, a Vice-President or Secretary of State could offer.

As for the cleanup, that had to start at some point. Cleanup crews are still finding body parts in the rubble at Fresh Kills and even at Ground Zero. If the city had waited until all the body parts had been found, the ruins of the site would still be there today. It wasn’t disrespectful to the fallen to start clearing the area; but it would have been disrespectful to the living to not get up and start rebuilding. It was a triage situation. There was simply no other choice to be made.

The criticisms I’ve heard floated so far seem to be demanding perfection. No one can offer that – not the current President, not Giuliani, not Clinton, not anyone. It’s all well and good to criticize the response to the disaster in retrospect. But the real measure of Rudy’s leadership in those dark hours should be based on the information available at the time. We cannot know the challenges that the future will throw at us as a nation. But we can, this one time, know the quality of the person we pick to lead us through those challenges.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.