Commentary

Clinton and Giuliani Would Grab Even More Power Than Bush Did

The latest news from presidential front-runners Hillary Clinton and Rudolph Giuliani illustrates their very different views of power and the presidency.

Clinton, always eager to wield power on behalf of her vision of the public good, has just endorsed new government mandates on health care and energy along with a $50 billion spending program for global AIDS. Meanwhile, revelations about Giuliani’s secretive use of New York City police and his refusal to allow the city comptroller to audit his security spending reflect his lifelong affinity for using and abusing power.

Clinton calls herself a “government junkie.” She says, “There is no such thing as other people’s children” and promises to work on “redefining who we are as human beings in the post-modern age.”

Running for President, she’s full of ideas about how to use the power of the federal government. Indeed, she says, “I have a million ideas. The country can’t afford them all.” That’s good to hear. But the ones she apparently thinks we can afford still include a national health care plan, a $50 billion program of energy subsidies, more money for local schools and local roads and bridges, a bailout fund for mortgage borrowers, $25 billion for “American Retirement Accounts,” and more. She still has the government junkie’s love for a nurturing and nannying government.

Seeking the presidential nomination of a Democratic Party furious at President Bush’s vast expansion of presidential power, she says that she would “restore the checks and balances and the separation of powers.” But back in 2003, she told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, “I’m a strong believer in executive authority. I wish that, when my husband was President, people in Congress had been more willing to recognize presidential authority.” She encouraged President Clinton to intervene in Haiti and Bosnia and to bomb Serbia, all without congressional authorization.

Giuliani seems much less committed to any particular vision of government’s role. Rather, throughout his career Giuliani has displayed an authoritarian streak that is deeply troubling in a potential President who would assume executive powers vastly expanded by President Bush. As U.S. attorney, he pioneered the use of the midday, televised “perp walk” for white-collar defendants who posed no threat to the community. It was a brutal way to treat people who were, after all, innocent until proven guilty.

Giuliani wants power concentrated in whatever position he holds at the time, and Clinton wants the federal government to have vast powers to do good as she sees it.”

As mayor he was so keen to “clean up the city” and crack down on dissent that he lost 35 First Amendment lawsuits. He fought against any oversight of his activities; he resisted investigations and audits by the Independent Budget Office and the New York State Comptroller. As Rachel Morris reported in the Washington Monthly, “Over the past 40 years, only two commissions had been held to revise New York’s governing document. During his time in office, Giuliani convened three.” And he stacked the commissions with close allies and pressed them to eliminate the IBO and the city ombudsman.

He released details from the sealed criminal records of police critics, in clear defiance of state law. But he did manage to seal the records of his own administration by transferring them to a private foundation, even though mayoral records are legally city property.

And to top it all off he simply couldn’t believe New Yorkers would want any other mayor, so he tried to repeal the city’s two-term limit on mayors. When that effort failed, he tried to get the legislature simply to award him more time in the job after the 9/11 attacks.

Now, as a presidential candidate, his authoritarian streak is still there. He defends the Bush administration’s domestic surveillance. He endorses the President’s power to arrest American citizens and hold them without access to a lawyer or a judge. He thinks the President has “the inherent authority to support the troops” even if Congress cut off funding for the war, a claim of presidential authority so sweeping that even President Bush and his supporters have not tried to make it.

Giuliani wants power concentrated in whatever position he holds at the time, and Clinton wants the federal government to have vast powers to do good as she sees it. Not a happy choice for the voters in a free country.

David Boaz is executive vice president of the Cato Institute and author of the forthcoming book The Politics of Freedom.