The first serious problem is structural and political: A man who fought the inherent limits of his mayoral office as fanatically as Giuliani would construe presidential prerogatives so broadly he'd make George Bush's notions of "unitary" executive power seem soft. Even in the 1980s, as an assistant attorney general in the Reagan Justice Department and U.S. attorney in New York, Giuliani was imperious and overreaching. He perp-walked Wall Streeters right out of their offices in dramatic prosecutions that failed. He made the troubled daughter of a state judge, Hortense Gabel, testify against her mother and former Miss America Bess Meyerson in a failed prosecution charging, among other things, that Meyerson had hired the judge's daughter to bribe her into helping "expedite" a messy divorce case. The jury was so put off by Giuliani's tactics that it acquitted all concerned.
At least, as U.S. attorney, Giuliani served at the pleasure of the president and had to defer to federal judges. Were he president, U.S. attorneys would serve at his pleasure - a dangerous arrangement in the wrong hands, we've learned.
As mayor, Giuliani fielded his closest aides like a fast and sometimes brutal hockey team, micromanaging and bludgeoning city agencies and even bodies that weren't under his control, such as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Board of Education. They deserved it richly enough to make his bravado thrilling to many of us, but it wasn't very productive. And while this Savonarola disdained even would-be allies in other branches of government, he wasn't above cutting indefensible deals with crony contractors and pandering to some Hispanics, neoconservative and Orthodox Jews, and other favored constituencies.
Ironically, his most heroic moments as mayor spotlighted his deepest presidential liability. Giuliani's 9/11 performance was sublime for the unnerving reason that he'd been rehearsing for it all his adult life and remained trapped in that stage role.
What really drove many of his actions as mayor was a zealot's graceless division of everyone into friend or foe and his snarling, sometimes histrionic, vilifications of the foes. Those are operatic emotions, beneath the civic dignity of a great city and its chief magistrate.
I know a few New Yorkers who deserve the Rudy treatment, but only on 9/11 did the whole city become as operatic as the inside of Rudy's mind. For once, New York rearranged itself into a stage fit for, say, Rossini's Le Siege de Corinth or some dark, nationalist epic by Verdi or Puccini.
It's wrong to call New York's 9/11 agonies "operatic," but it was Giuliani who called the Metropolitan Opera only a few days after 9/11 and insisted its performances resume. At the start of one of them, the orchestra struck up a few familiar chords as the curtain rose on the entire Met cast, stagehands, administrators, secretaries and custodians - and Rudolph Giuliani, bringing the capacity audience to its feet to sing "The Star Spangled Banner" with unprecedented ardor. All gave the mayor "an ovation worthy of Caruso," as the New Yorker's Alex Ross put it.
A few days later, Giuliani proposed that his term be extended on an "emergency" basis beyond its lawful end on Jan. 1, 2002. (It wasn't, and the city did as well as it could have, anyway.)
Should this country suffer another devastating attack before the 2008 primaries are over, Giuliani's presidential prospects may soar beyond recalling. But the very constitutional notion of recall could soar away with them. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and Giuliani was right for his time on a stage with built-in limits. But we shouldn't have to make him the next president to learn why even a grateful Britain dumped Churchill in its first major election after V-E day.
Jim Sleeper is a lecturer in political science at Yale University.
Contact Jim Sleeper at email@example.com.