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A Message to You, Rudy


The dismal specter of the 2008 presidential race is in full bloom, with corporate media distorting every detail. Obama’s name is “mistakenly” spelled “Osama” repeatedly; his middle name Hussein is a big deal, and a bald-faced lie that he attended an Islamic fundamentalist madrassa school as a kid, a fabrication planted by some neo-con media shill, is repeated over and over again by the mainstream media. Hillary’s likeability is equated with her gender, and the ghost of Monica Lewinsky is brought up in the subtext of every word she says.

Over on the Republican side, John McCain is still boosted as some kind of maverick, while he falls all over himself trying to appease the fascist ultra-right-wing Republican base. The fact that he’s reversing his positions on virtually every “values” issue is glossed over: He’s a rebel and he’ll never ever do what he should! End of story. Remember how the media attached the term “flip-flop” to John Kerry last time around, and how it stuck? The term applies in spades to McCain, but you won’t hear about it, because he’s a maverick!

Then there’s Rudy. He’s been crowned America’s Mayor by swooning sycophants like Chris Matthews and Wolf Blitzer. And the media would have you think that Rudy’s biggest problem is that he’s too moderate for the fascist Republican base. Messy divorce, pro-choice, gay rights! How can he possibly sell it in the Bible Belt? Sumbitch probly don’t even own a gun!

You get the impression that maybe he’s the right guy; that after the media creates an implosion of all of the viable Democratic candidates, Rudy will be there, standing heroically on the smoky wreckage, telling America through a bullhorn that he’ll lead it out of the darkness. No, wait, that was Bush’s 9/11 photo-op, wasn’t it? Aw, who cares? He’s America’s Mayor because, well, he was there when the buildings fell.

The thing that nobody’s talking about is the reign of terror that Rudy imposed on the freedom of speech during his time as mayor of New York. Repeatedly, Rudy abused his power and treated the First Amendment like a punching bag, all to get press, to pander to intolerant religious leaders, and to forward his agenda to “clean up” New York.

Probably the most notorious example involved the Brooklyn Museum, which brought in the internationally renowned Sensation touring exhibit in 1999. The mayor’s office, with a permanent seat on the museum’s board, had months of notice that the exhibit was coming, and actually encouraged the museum to bring Sensation to Brooklyn. Then, a week or so before the opening, Rudy goes on a rampage over a couple of pieces in the show, particularly Chris Ofili’s The Holy Virgin Mary, a collage piece that included dried elephant dung on its surface. Never mind that Ofili uses elephant dung, which has ritual significance in various African cultures, on a lot of his work. Rudy goes on national TV and complains about repulsive artists slinging dung at the Madonna, and even throws in the ultimate dumb-ass assessment of modern art: “If I can do it, it’s not art.”

Then he cuts off funding for the museum and brings a pathetic eviction action in federal court, seeking to throw the museum out on the street based on trumped-up violations of the museum’s lease with the city. Rudy’s lawsuit got laughed out of court, and on the Saturday the show opened, the two subway stations closest to the museum just happened to shut down for repairs. Thousands of folks, drawn to art and phony controversies, had to walk blocks to get to see Sensation.

In 1997, New York magazine put ads on buses proclaiming it was “possibly the only good thing in New York City Rudy hasn’t taken credit for.” Rudy ordered the ads removed from his buses, claiming that it infringed some right he thought he had. He got his butt kicked in court for that, too.

In fact, Rudy’s track record in court on speech issues is the stuff of legend. In a 2000 decision involving Rudy’s attempt to stop acclaimed photographer Spencer Tunick from using the streets of New York to stage one of his works (which involve large numbers of nude people), the Second Circuit Court of Appeals made an extraordinary criticism of Rudy’s methods: “We would be ostriches if we failed to take judicial notice of the heavy stream of First Amendment litigation generated by New York City in recent years.” Then the court listed, over an entire page, 17 court cases from the prior five years involving the city and speech: artists’ speech, city employees’ speech, the general public’s speech. And the city lost every one. And most of them weren’t even close.

This from the guy running the global center of the art world, of publishing, of expression. A lawyer, for crying out loud. And somebody who’s now running for president. Who wants to have the power to appoint Supreme Court judges, dictate policy about citizen surveillance, and decide what to do with the FBI when anybody criticizes him. Or says anything at all.

America’s Mayor. Right.

—Paul C. Rapp

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