Family Values? Not in Politics

In the matter of Giuliani vs. Hanover, the consensus opinion appears to be a variation on the curse directed at the Montagues and Capulets. As the spectacle passed tawdry and proceeded directly to infamous, both sides were assigned burdens of equal weight.

This may seem like the only reasonable position to take when two adults discard convention, taste and common sense by bringing the dark arts of spin to the private business of divorce. The Mayor and the non–First Lady, or their friends and allies, seem determined to contest their divorce not in a court of law but in the arena of public opinion, as if the citizens of New York will ultimately decide who gets to keep the silverware and how custody shall be divided.

The public’s non-rush to judgment has come despite the efforts of advocates in the public prints, anonymous aides, odious divorce lawyers and other sycophants who have sought to rally opinion to one side or the other, like the citizen of Verona who calls out: “Clubs, bills and partisans! Strike! Beat them down!”

Donna Hanover has been accused of neglecting her lawfully wedded spouse and of committing marital treason by dropping the use of her husband’s last name. It is almost too cruel to cite the latter slander, hurled as it from some of the dimmer lights of the big city. But it does seem necessary to note that in the television anchor job that she gave up when her husband ran for office, Donna Hanover was known as … Donna Hanover. This being New York in what was then the late 20th century, Ms. Hanover’s failure to conform to convention was never an issue (as it was when a certain current Senator from New York tried to separate her identity from her husband’s in Arkansas, circa 1982).

Ms. Hanover’s supporters have had an easier time with calumny, for the public record supports their view of Mr. Giuliani as a wayward husband. Still, the public seems disinclined to assign blame to Mr. Giuliani, in keeping with the fashionable notion that the private flaws of politicians, even when conducted in the open, bear no relation to their public duties, chief of which is to make sure that the markets are content. Recent history indicates that there is no greater force for moral agnosticism than a roaring stock market.

What partisans and agnostics alike appear to have forgotten about this state of affairs is that it could have been, and likely should have been, foreseen from the moment Mr. Giuliani first promised that he would be on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This notion was turned into a mantra in the earliest days of the Giuliani administration, spouted by any number of aides as if they felt obliged to calm the city’s jittery nerves. Don’t you worry your collective head, the Rudy crew told us, our fearless leader never sleeps and does not take a breath without thinking of how he might rescue New Yorkers from their lack of discipline, civility, etc.

The minute the Mayor bought into his own ridiculous promise, his marriage was doomed. Perhaps Mr. Giuliani believed we’d think it admirable that he would put his job ahead of everything else, including his spouse and children. Worse, maybe he even believed that only by such effort could New York be saved from itself. What is beyond dispute is that he placed his job ahead of everything else-and now, as his job ends, everything else has collapsed. He can make the argument that the city is better off because he was Mayor for eight years, because he had a hard hat for every disaster, an E.M.S. blazer for every after-hours tragedy. But are his children?

The soap opera at City Hall, then, is but a variation on a familiar theme: the celebrated workaholic who is a stranger at home. There are many reasons to wish for more women in politics and the workplace in general, and among them is the certainty that women can and will see the idiotic macho culture of the 24-7 executive or manager or editor or Congressman as evidence of latent barbarism.

Anecdotal evidence and instinct suggest that Mr. Giuliani’s family life is different from that of most other politicians only in decibel level. We have become accustomed to politicians carrying on about family values without considering that they have chosen a career that values families only as campaign props. There are exceptions, of course, and George W. Bush appears to be one of them. He is content enough with himself, his life and his place in the world that he fearlessly exchanges his cowboy boots for slippers when the sun goes down. Most big-shot achievers find this amusing and even ridiculous.

Personally, I think we’re talking role-model material.