"How can you expect the country to be loyal to you if your own family isn't?"
A New Hampshire mother posed this question to Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani at a town-hall-style meeting recently. The media has widely reported Giuliani's uncomfortable response--"Leave my family alone." Giuliani is taking enormous criticism for his family life, but he hasn't behaved anywhere near as badly as his many critics maintain. Moreover, he has also been the victim of some hurtful behavior by his ex-wife, Donna Hanover, with whom he has two children.
Giuliani's relationship with both his children is rocky, and neither child is supporting his candidacy. Caroline, his 17-year-old daughter, identifies herself as a "liberal," and expressed support for Democratic candidate Barack Obama. Andrew, 21, says he's too busy training to be a professional golfer to be involved with Giuliani's campaign.
Giuliani and Hanover became publicly estranged in 1996. Their divorce in 2002 was public and nasty, and reflected poorly on both of them. Much of Hanover's fury was directed at Judi Nathan, with whom Giuliani had been involved since 2000. Since then, Giuliani has been branded with the scarlet letter of bad husband and bad father, which has exposed him to criticism from Christian conservatives, feminists, and others.
For example, Emily Bazelon, senior editor of Slate magazine, recently labeled Giuliani's past "loutish and loathsome," and decried his "utter lack of personal morality." Regarding his presidential candidacy, she asks, "Why shouldn't we judge Rudy Giuliani by his disastrous home life?"
In contrast to this villainous husband/wounded wife depiction, Giuliani and Hanover probably became estranged in part because of their careers. Hanover had a busy and lucrative acting career. Giuliani, as mayor of New York, was an obsessive workaholic to a degree that would test any marriage. In May 2000, he told U.S. News & World Report that he and Hanover had "grown independent; we've grown more separate over the years. Who knows why those things happen?"
Giuliani didn't walk out on his financial responsibilities to his family. He paid Hanover $6.8 million in their divorce settlement, as well as child support and litigation fees, and gave her their apartment. It's hard to see Hanover as the victim here-she even demanded $1,140 a month to care for the family dog.
Giuliani didn't dump his wife for the proverbial young home-wrecker--Hanover was born in 1950, Nathan in 1954. Nor did he consign Hanover, an attractive actress, to a life of loneliness and heartache-in fact, she remarried in 2003, just as Giuliani did. The public discussion of the divorce has been based on the assumption that between the Giuliani/Hanover estrangement in the mid-90s and their open split in 2000, only Giuliani moved on to other relationships. That seems unlikely.
It is evident that Giuliani's children have been alienated from him. Parental alienation is a common element of divorces. Often the custodial mother portrays herself as a victim of the husband, and aligns the children with her against their father and his new wife.
This seems to be the case here. In March, Andrew publicly attacked Nathan, and has often voiced objections to Giuliani's marriage to Nathan. Apparently it was OK for his mom to remarry and move on but not OK for his dad. It's unlikely that Andrew would have such strong feelings about his father's wife, unless his mother was encouraging it.
We don't know what went on behind closed doors between Giuliani and Nathan, but nobody, least of all Giuliani, wants to state the obvious--being married to Donna Hanover probably was no picnic. Any parent who would help turn his or her child against their mother or father has a mean streak large enough to harm a marriage. Giuliani's no choir boy, but he may have had good reason to prefer Nathan's company.
Giuliani's handling (and mishandling) of his family life is certainly no mark in his favor, but neither is it a major indictment of his character. Giuliani insists that voters should judge him not by what they think they know of his family life, but by his record. He's right.
This column first appeared in The Providence Journal, 9/21/07.