In Mervyn Leroy’s 1931 film Little Caesar, Edward G. Robinson plays a crook named Caesar, nicknamed Rico. Belligerent and ambitious, Rico claws his way to the top, but his best friend betrays him and the media turn on him. He dies, shot down when he has nothing left, uttering one of the most famous lines of early sound cinema.
Rico Giuliani has yet to utter any Famous Last Words, but he will. Maybe later today. Still, he always was a “little” Caesar, a mean-spirited, vindictive man loyal only to his inner circle—much like Robinson’s character in the movie.
There will be no mea culpa from “America’s mayor,” for he’s one of those who things happen to, who never does wrong—not in his own mind, at least. But the reasons for Giuliani’s failure aren’t hard to deduce. He even pointed to one in his Florida concession speech last night:
Elections are about a lot more than just candidates. Elections are about fighting for a cause larger than ourselves. They’re about identifying the great challenges of our time and proposing new solutions.
Exactly. And that is exactly what Rudy did not do. His campaign was all about him, and the more people saw of him, the less they liked him. Because of the national reputation he gathered by walking towards Ground Zero rather than away on 9/11 (not an act of bravery, but an attempt to get to his poorly placed emergency command center in the WTC), Giuliana had a name recognition among the American population, and an association with defense of the nation, that his competitors couldn’t match:
He led the Republican field in polls conducted by The New York Times and CBS News throughout the summer, as his support peaked in August at 38 percent nationally in a four-way fight with Mr. McCain, Mr. Romney and Fred D. Thompson. That put him 20 points ahead of his next closest competitor, Mr. Thompson.
But there was no vision, nothing beyond Rudy himself, his ambition, and 9/11. As Joe Biden so aptly put it, “There’s only three things he mentions in a sentence: a noun, and a verb and 9/11.” And there’s no “cause” in 9/11, just reaction to a tragic and unwarranted (and ineffective, though successful) attack. And the only “solution” Giuliani ever really proposed to anything was punishment.
Over the last six months, the people of the United States have come to see the Rudy that those of us who lived in New York during his mayoralty have long reviled. A petty, small man, Giuliani viewed the city as “his,” and acted on that, seeing any opposition as a personal affront. He is a petty autocrat, a would-be Caesar who claimed the accomplishments of others as his own. A man with much more of an affinity to fascism than to democracy, he even went so far as to suggest that the mayoral election after 9/11 be canceled so that he could remain in power.
Rico was “betrayed” by his dancer pal who put his own potential career and the law ahead of friendship. Rudy, too, was betrayed by a pal, Bernard Kerik, who put his own greed ahead of loyalty to the man who had “made” him. Rico’s ambition led him beyond his ability, condemning him to never rising above “little” Caesar status. Rudy, too, was “crawlin’ way past… [his] speed,” as the Leiber and Stoller lyrics to the old Clovers song put it.
It will be good to see him gone.