What happened to Fighting Rudy?

Highlights from an old radio show remind us of a guy who loved a good brawl. Why won't he pummel James Dobson the way he smacked around ferret owners?

Published October 5, 2007 9:02PM (EDT)

I loved this story today: Rudy Giuliani, radio host. The New York Times looked at the glory years, when the mayor had his own weekly radio show on WABC-AM, from 1994 to 2001. Mostly the Giuliani we see on the campaign trail today seems to have lost his mojo, and maybe it's because he's trying so hard to suppress the fully alive Rudy of old. Sure, he could be a bully and a braggart, but he also had a damn good time running Manhattan, and it showed. Michael Powell captures Rudy practicing psychology without a license many times -- he enjoyed telling his critics they were crazy in a variety of colorful ways.

"David, your compulsion, your excessive concern for weasels is a sign of something wrong in your personality," the mayor told the head of Ferret Rights' Advocacy, who opposed Giuliani's ban on having ferrets as pets, a legendary milestone in the Giuliani years. "I am giving you the benefit of 55 years of experience -- having handled insanity defenses, you need help." When a caller complained about one of Giuliani's ethically challenged friends in 1999 (the story doesn't say which one; there were a few), the mayor let him have it: "Why don't you seek counseling somewhere, Bob? I think you could use some help. I can see the direction we're going in -- there are people so upset and so disturbed that they use radios for these sick little attacks on people. I hope you take this in the right spirit, Bob. You should go to a hospital. You should see a psychiatrist." The radio show also captures Giuliani's political evolution -- from a relative centrist who opposed the National Rifle Association's crusade on behalf of assault weapons, who supported Mario Cuomo over George Pataki in 1994 and praised Hillary Clinton's healthcare reform efforts, to a guy who suddenly tried to cast himself as a Ronald Reagan Republican when gearing up for an abortive Senate race against Clinton.

Sadly for Giuliani, all of that self-re-creation isn't working. Focus on the Family's James Dobson confirmed Michael Scherer's scoop from last weekend, in a Thursday Times Op-Ed explaining why leading religious conservatives won't support any candidate who favors abortion rights. It didn't mention Giuliani but it put a bull's-eye on his back. In an interesting column today Kathleen Parker asked a question I've had for a while: Why don't Dobson and Co. line up behind former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, if they hate Giuliani so much? Huckabee's got everything they want: He's a staunch opponent of abortion, gay marriage and stem-cell research; he's an ordained Baptist minister. "What Huckabee doesn't have is the golden coffer, which means that electability is, in fact, a Christian concern," Parker noted. I'd say Huckabee lacks one other asset that seems important to Dobson and his ilk: He's just not a hater. Huckabee talks about poverty, praises the Clintons for staying married, and has come out and said that if Republicans want a divisive candidate who'll campaign on hate, they shouldn't vote for him.

It's clear that the religious right is poised to reap what it has sown in 2008, in so many ways. They're gunning for Giuliani, despite his electoral appeal, and many can't get comfortable with the other front-runner in the race, former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, because he's a Mormon. A Washington Post/ABC News poll this week found that a shocking 57 percent of Americans say they won't vote for Romney, and that includes many Christian conservatives who distrust Romney's Mormon faith. (Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton had the lowest negatives of all the major candidates, by the way, good news for anyone who fears the country isn't ready to elect a woman or an African-American.)

Will any Republican stand up to the bullies of the Christian right? Wouldn't you love to hear Rudy Giuliani recover his fighting spirit and blast James Dobson the way he did David, the guy from Ferret Rights' Advocacy? I'll be on MSNBC's "Countdown With Keith Olbermann" at 8 EDT tonight, talking about all of this.

By Joan Walsh

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Barack Obama Hillary Rodham Clinton Rudy Giuliani