Giuliani veers off course

March 27, 2000|By Jack W. Germond and Jules Witcover

WASHINGTON -- Republican leaders like to talk about how their party is a big tent. The goal, they keep assuring everyone, is to be inclusionary rather than exclusionary.

Then along comes a Republican as prominent as Mayor Rudolph Giuliani of New York who blows their cover with his ham-handed treatment of a case involving an unarmed black man shot down by police in very murky circumstances. Indeed, his handling of the incident has been so insensitive it has revived all the talk about his talent for self-immolation.

And that, in turn, has led some political professionals, Republican as well as Democrat, to begin to wonder if Hillary Rodham Clinton might not defeat Mr. Giuliani for the Senate after all. Polls show the contest essentially even but a little more vintage Mr. Giuliani and that could change radically.

On the face of it, the proper and politically prudent course for Mr. Giuliani was obvious. Without making any judgment about who was guilty of what, the mayor should have extended his sympathy to the family of the victim and promised to find out whether or not the shooting was justified.

Instead, Mr. Giuliani chose to trash the victim, Patrick Dorismond. He ordered the release of his juvenile police record and concluded aloud that Mr. Dorismond was no altar boy. The one thing the mayor did not explain, however, was why the police were justified in killing an unarmed man. Was the fact that he had an unsavory police record enough reason? And did that record mean the family was not entitled to sympathy for their loss?

Mr. Giuliani's handling of the whole episode was so bizarre that even the Hillary Clinton campaign, notoriously slow on the uptake, caught wise. If he is leading the rush to judgment in New York, how can we trust him to exercise good judgment in Washington, Mrs. Clinton asked rhetorically.

There is nothing surprising about the mayor's inclination to support the police against their critics. He is, after all, a former prosecutor. And his prime boast as mayor has been his success in reducing the crime rate so sharply.

But the picture of Mr. Giuliani as a politician who goes out of control and who encourages divisiveness and hostility is not one his managers want to project. What it suggests, quite beyond a dark attitude about members of minority groups, is that he is out of touch with many Americans.

On many social and cultural questions, this seems to be a common problem for conservative Republicans and one that can be extremely costly to them.

It is obvious in too many areas for the health of the Republican Party. One week their designated nominee for president, Gov. George W. Bush of Texas, goes to Bob Jones University in South Carolina, a center of anti-Catholicism, and then is obliged to explain that he didn't mean anything by it.

A couple of weeks later, Speaker Dennis Hastert blocks the selection of the first Catholic priest as the chaplain of the House of Representatives, then is obliged to back off and apologize. No one thinks that Rudy Giuliani approves of his police killing black people without cause. Nor does anyone who knows them believe that the two top figures in the party, the presidential candidate-apparent and the speaker of the House, are anti-Catholic.

But anyone might be forgiven for seeing the Republican Party as an organization of white middle-class Protestants rather than a big tent welcoming others.

Jack W. Germond and Jules Witcover write from

cf01 The Sun's Washington Bureau.

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