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Obama and Rudy Giuliani: What the President Should Learn From Rudy's First Term

06/01/2010 01:56 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I have said this here before, and I'll say it again. The Obama folks are wasting their time if they are looking at the Clinton and Reagan presidencies for inspiration. Clinton was the guy who could feel your pain. He understood how you felt, which made it okay to feel that way. You felt that he understood you, so he would make it all better. Reagan was the great communicator, who made this country feel as if it was once again the unique shining city on a hill. After years of post-World War II internal struggles, from civil rights to Vietnam to Watergate to the malaise of the Carter years, Reagan made you feel proud to be an American once again.

These were two unique Presidencies and two unique characters. There have been no other Presidents like them, and there won't be. So please stop saying that Obama should be a Reagan or a Clinton.

As I have said since the day Obama was elected, this President needs to look to a different role model for his term. Not a former President, but a former Mayor, and that Mayor is Rudy Giuliani in his first term as Mayor of New York.

Now, I know that Rudy Giuliani is no longer taken seriously, and so perhaps it is difficult to recall just how much Rudy meant to New York in his first term as Mayor.

When Rudy came into office, the City was in the dumps. Rudy followed the awful regime of David Dinkins, in which the City seemed ungovernable. I remember taking the Triborough Bridge into Manhattan, and as soon as you'd get off the FDR Drive, you would encounter the squeegee men who would demand money to wash your window while you were waiting at a red light, and if you didn't give them money, sometimes they'd smash your window. Nice. Remember the Crown Heights riots? Instead of stopping the rioters, Dinkins famously directed the police to let them vent.

There were many folks who thought the City would never recover from this era. Never.

But Rudy came in, and he put the City on his shoulders. He brought in the best law enforcement guy in the country, Bill Bratton, and they embarked on stopping crime through the "Broken Windows" theory - that you fix up the broken windows, the little things, and arrest the people responsible for those crimes so they do not go on to commit bigger crimes. Jump a turnstile - pay the price. And it worked. Crime went down.

But here's the thing about Rudy in that first time: if there was a crime, Rudy was on the scene. He was like Batman. If there was an issue, maybe it wasn't Rudy's business, but Rudy made his voice heard. In that first term, he wasn't a good Mayor, he was a special Mayor. Why? Because you got the idea that Rudy cared about the City as much or more than you did, and maybe he had a million ideas, and maybe not all of them worked, but at least he was trying. At least he wasn't saying let them vent. He wanted to make the City a better place. He succeeded, regardless of how off the rails he went.

When Barack Obama came into office, the country was in horrible shape. The worst economic crisis in 80 years, two wars, one of which was fought to find weapons that didn't exist, and another that was sorely neglected so that after we were winning, we were now losing. All sorts of other problems, from a lack of health care to a flu scare, from an education system that was failing to an energy policy that called for us to buy oil from the people who use the money to tell their youngest citizens why we are the Devil, and so they grow up to hate us.

The George W. Bush presidency was a disaster. Like New York in the early '90's, many people said that we could not recover. Our best days were behind us.

But Obama came in, and he had a million ideas. Some will work, some won't. But at least he's trying. He knows the problems and he's trying to find solutions that move oru country forward.

Yet - Obama is not Bill Clinton, and he's not Ronald Reagan. His story is the American Dream. That's what he has going for him - he is the living embodiment of an idea. He's not Batman - he's Captain America.

Obama needs to show that to people - the American Dream, the idea that someone who did not grow up rich can grow up to be anything if he or she works at it. He needs to show that he cares about this country because it's given him opportunity.

So when an oil spill occurs in the Gulf, he needs to be there, and channel that part of him: the part of him that is disappointed because the Dream will be lost for some in the Gulf area, but the part of him that is American and understands that we can do anything if we set our minds to it. And so while the oil may spill, policies will change so that the oil companies have tighter regulation, to protect against disaster. This should have been the message from Day One: this is a mess, it was created through lax regulation, just as the Banking and Housing crisis were created. It's one of the reasons you elected a Democrat - to protect you. I can't stop the oil, but I can be sure it doesn't happen again, and in the meantime, we will find jobs for the people out of work because of the spill. This is a disaster and let's turn it into opportunity.

It's not enough to hear about a disaster. You have to be there. Maybe it doesn't make sense to some people. Why should the President be there? He can work fine from the White House. It doesn't have to make sense. It's about feeling, not fact, and that's important to people in order to make them feel secure, just as it was important when Rudy showed up at every crime scene.

Mr. President - look at Rudy Giuliani in New York. His first term. That is the role model for your first term.

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