City Can’t Be Content With Rudy’s Successes

Could Adolf Hitler get an installation at the Whitney?

The question might not be as far-fetched as it seems. Hitler’s youthful paintings and architectural drawings are universally described as poor; yet when he came to supervise other media, such as theatrical production and design, he was quite effective. There was a musty side to the Nazi esthetic, infatuated by blonde milkmaids and dirndls; at the same time, the Nazis derided modern and abstract easel painters. But Nazism had its own modern side, fascinated with machines, motion pictures and moving masses of men. The Guggenheim has done a show of motorcycles, and the Museum of Modern Art used to display a Ferrari. What about those long black staff cars, with maybe an arrangement of gray officers’ uniforms on the hood? Add a Leni Riefenstahl loop; a soundtrack of Wagner and Bruckner, smooth and lustrous as steel; and you would have an interesting room corner for stolid black men in security guard uniforms to watch over, while rich white East Siders studied their programs and gawked.

Hans Haacke, the German artist who started the Giuliani-Nazi fuss, claims Brecht as his inspiration. But the choice of black or red was a coin flip in prewar Germany; Brecht the Communist came from the same demimonde, half artsy, half thuggish, as the Nazis. Contemporary art claims, when pressed, a spirit of criticism or irony that (apart from crude braying at defeated enemies) was certainly foreign to the Nazis. Yet what is irony but nihilism’s little brother? In Stage 1, you make values in a valueless world; in Stage 2, you play tricks on the world. Both are riffs on a common insight. Are Nazis and artists eternal enemies or secret sharers? The answer is, they’re both: mostly the former, but a little bit of the latter. If artists could define, and hence delimit, their kinship, it would no longer disturb them. Since it festers, unacknowledged, all they can do is stick their tongues out at Rudy Giuliani.

It’s hard to say which is worse, that a controversy so childish should preoccupy a great city, or that it should follow so hard on the heels of the real upset of the Diallo verdict, which may have consequences for years to come.

The Albany jury acquitted the four officers, rightly so. The question remains: How should police procedures be reviewed in the aftermath? If a sergeant had been with the Amadou Diallo cops, maybe the mistaken shooting wouldn’t have happened; if the cops had been in uniform, maybe Diallo would have reacted differently. What else can the cops learn?

Little questions like this are crucial, because many of the gains in crime reduction during the Giuliani years came from correct answers to equally little questions: Who cares about graffiti? Turnstile jumpers? Squeegee men? New York got a handle on the Koch-Dinkins crime wave, not just by throwing more cops at the problem, but by deploying them more intelligently.

How good a job has Howard Safir done? Was the Street Crimes Unit an instance of chasing the statistics, or was it an effective innovation that was poorly implemented? William Bratton, whom Mayor Giuliani fired for excessive publicity hogging, is running for Police Commissioner under the next Democratic mayor. How much of his success was his, how much of it the work of the No. 2-level cops he promoted, who have mostly gone off to be police chiefs in other cities?

The candidates to succeed Mayor Giuliani have to ponder these questions, because we should not be content even with the gains we have made. New York has beaten crime back down to the level of the early 60’s. But in the late 50’s and early 60’s, everybody thought crime was increasing alarmingly. That’s why West Side Story got written, though its white thugs armed with switchblades now look quaint. Only preteens would carry something as primitive as a knife, and the only white thugs left are Russian mafia running drugs and laundering millions through New York banks.

While Mayor Giuliani is dogged by art and bullets, the First Lady has to worry about money–specifically, the loose way she and her associates seem to raise it.

Charles LaBella, former chief campaign finance investigator at the Justice Department, wrote a harsh internal memo two years ago blasting Justice for its two-track approach to crooked Democratic money-raisers: Justice went after the small fries, while letting the big fish escape. The Los Angeles Times released excerpts from Mr. LaBella’s report this month, only a week after one of the small fries, Maria Hsia, was convicted of laundering contributions through Buddhist monks and nuns at a southern California temple.

Vice President Al Gore has caught most of the flack from the old LaBella memo: He was at the temple fund-raiser; he also claimed to have missed crucial parts of a White House strategy session at which questionable fund-raising tactics were planned because he was taking bathroom breaks after drinking too much iced tea.

But the LaBella memo fingered Mrs. Clinton, too: There was, Mr. LaBella claimed, “a level of knowledge within the White House–including the President’s and the First Lady’s offices–concerning the injection of foreign funds into the re-election effort.”

It’s still going on. The New York Times reported recently that New York-area Pakistani-Americans held a $50,000 fund-raiser for Mrs. Clinton on Staten Island, just when her husband was deciding whether or not to visit Pakistan on a trip to the Indian subcontinent. That meeting, as the Times stressed, was entirely legal. The need is less now, on both sides: Pakistan is not trying to steal American nuclear secrets, and Mrs. Clinton does not have to raise multimillions in soft money to pay for Dick Morris’ issue ads. Unfortunately for her, and for Mr. Gore, pending prosecutions of small fries will keep the issues of the last campaign alive; so will the behavior of China, the Clinton-Gore campaign’s probably silent partner and contributor.

If the Chinese invade Taiwan in a Gore Administration, the National Security Council should lock up the iced tea.