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.