WASHINGTON — Mayor Giuliani is calling on the Republican Party to redefine itself as "the party of freedom," focusing on lower taxes, school choice, and a health care system rooted in free market principles.
Delivering a policy-driven overview of his presidential platform yesterday, Mr. Giuliani outlined the agenda in a Washington speech before a conservative think tank that sought to make clear distinctions between his vision and that of the Democrats, if not his rivals for the Republican nomination in 2008. The former New York mayor's proposed redefinition of the Republican platform would signal a shift away from any focus on social issues, on which Mr. Giuliani is much less ideologically aligned with the party.
Mr. Giuliani reserved his strongest criticism yesterday for Democrats, but he also said the government's handling of the war on terrorism had done "damage" to America's reputation abroad.
"We have to say to the rest of the world, ‘America doesn't like war,'" Mr. Giuliani said. "America is not a military country. We've never been a militaristic country," he added, saying national leaders have fallen into an "analytical warp" by defining the battle as a war on terrorism and not, as he deemed it, a "war of the terrorists against us."
More than 200 scholars from Stanford University's Hoover Institution greeted Mr. Giuliani warmly, but a few had pointed questions for him. One audience member asked him to respond to a "deep concern" that his background as a mayor had given him little experience in foreign policy.
"What makes you think that the mayor of New York City doesn't need a foreign policy?" Mr. Giuliani shot back, drawing a roar of laughter and applause from the luncheon crowd.
He said that as mayor, he was familiar with every aspect of foreign policy that affected the city in the 1990s, and he added that since he left office in 2001, he has made "91, 92" international trips to "34, 35" countries, often meeting with heads of state or top deputies. "It's something that I think I know as well as anybody else who's running for president, probably better than a lot," he said.
He also cited his company, Giuliani Partners, which he said has done business around the globe. "So I know the world," he concluded.
In his 30-minute speech, Mr. Giuliani focused more on policy than he has in many previous campaign stops. His speech was also notable for its departure from two cornerstones of his candidacy thus far: his record of reducing crime in New York and his experience leading the city after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
Instead, Mr. Giuliani talked about taxes, education, and health care, saying they are areas where Republican ideas trump those of Democrats.
Democrats, he said, would want to raise taxes to pay the higher costs of a war. "That shows a dividing line, and to me, a misunderstanding of how our economy works," Mr. Giuliani said. He said that while Republicans believe that the American economy is "essentially a private economy," Democrats "really believe, honest, that it is essentially a government economy."
Citing the tax cuts of President Kennedy, Mr. Giuliani said the Democrats' move away from a low-tax policy was one reason he left the party to become an independent and later a Republican.
On education, Mr. Giuliani acknowledged that he had more success overhauling the New York City welfare system than its public schools, but he lauded "school choice" programs that allow parents to use government money to send their children to private schools. Those initiatives have long drawn criticism from some who contend they amount to an abandonment of public schools.
Mr. Giuliani promised to take on the nation's public school system, but he said would not seek to dismantle it. "I would not destroy it," he said. "I would revive it, reform it, and change it."
While saying the government needed to "find ways" to expand access to health insurance, Mr. Giuliani criticized Democratic proposals for universal health care that he said would threaten a "socialization" of the American medical system. "That would be a terrible, terrible mistake," he said. The solutions, he said, "have to be free market solutions. They have to be a competitive system."
The Giuliani campaign announced yesterday that the former mayor will address the Conservative Political Action Conference here on Friday. The annual conservative summit also will feature speeches by two former governors of Massachusetts and Arkansas, Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee. Notably, an early Republican front-runner, Senator McCain of Arizona, has not accepted an invitation to speak at the gathering.
After speaking in Washington, Mr. Giuliani headed to northern Virginia to appear at a fund-raiser for the state Republican Party.
Mr. Giuliani's campaign also said yesterday that a former Republican nominee for governor of California, Bill Simon, has signed on as Mr. Giuliani's policy director, and that a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Michael Boskin, will serve as the former mayor's chief economic adviser.