Saturday, February 26, 2005

It's My Party Too

Christine Todd Whitman's political memoir contains so much good, common-sense thinking that it's a crying shame she balances it with so much whiny, partisan apologia. She correctly identifies the enemies of moderation -- the "social conservatives" and "ideological zealots" who have taken charge of the Rebuplican party's agenda for more than 20 years now -- but then excuses herself and the rest of the shrinking band of "moderate" Republicans who have subordinated themselves to this crowd, and further has the audacity to argue that Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney somehow represent moderation.
Ms. Whitman looks back to the Republican party in which she grew up -- the party that produced Dwight Eisenhower, Nelson Rockefeller, Jacob Javits, Lowell Weicker, Charles Mathias and others, and laments that this is no longer the party in which she finds herself today. She rightly points to fiscal responsibility, a strong national defense and small government as "bedrock" issues that could attract a significant majority of voters and understands that the right wing, fueled by the rhetoric of Rush Limbaugh, could lead Republicans to an increasingly marginal position.
But where is any sense of mea culpa for putting her own positions on the back burner to support candidates like the two Bushes who embrace the intolerant, anti-feminist, racist positions of the radical right?
When she argues that the Republicans must re-assert themselves as the party of fiscal responsibility, she conveniently ignores the Reagan-Bush records of profligate spending coupled with tax cuts, blaming the whole deficit problem on the lack of a line-item veto.
While she makes an intelligent argument that Republicans must find a way to appeal to African Americans and other minority voters, she finds nary a word for the damage done by the Willie Horton ad campaign or Reagan's ugly characterizations of Cadillac-driving welfare queens and the willfully homeless.
She understands how much damage was done by the coupling of rejection of the Kyoto accords with questioning of the scientific basis of global warming, but fails to hold Bush accountable for betraying her on this issue (he was poorly advised) and in her defense of the environmentalist positions of Republicans neglects Reagan's claim that trees cause pollution or Bush's embrace of Ken Lay and the price-fixing Enron.
It's My Party Too is clearly an opening shot in a 2008 campaign for a place on the Republican ticket (I'm not sure if she wants the top spot, but she is obviously positioning herself as a logical choice for the vice presidency).
Ms. Whitman tackles a number of interesting issues -- the environment, civil rights, feminism -- and her own positions seem quite reasonable. If all I had were her position papers, I might be able to vote for her.
But when I read her description of Dick Cheney as "intelligent, insightful and understated," I am stopped right in my track. She doesn't seem to understand what a vile joke it is to describe Newt Gingrich as a fellow moderate, or how strange it was that Donald Rumsfeld was running the Office of Equal Opportunity in 1969. And while she mentions Arnold Schwarzeneggar's "girlie-man" remark in passing, she doesn't pause for even a momentary reflection on what it says about him.
In fact, that last statement pinpoints what is wrong with this book. While it fairly states a number of reasonable political positions, it fails to hold Republicans accountable for their opposition to them -- other than a nameless band of "social conservatives."
On the other hand, I found not a single positive reference to a Democratic politician in the entire book. We see Robert Byrd described as an ex-Klansman in a passage defending poor Trent Lott for his warm look back at the 1948 Strom Thurmond campaign. Of course, she fails to mention that Byrd has called his Klan membership his "greatest mistake" while Thurmond never either repudiated his segregationist views or even acknowledged his mixed-race daughter.
She smears her predecessor at the EPA, Carol Browner, as tolerant of racist policies; describes her one-time opponent for the U.S. Senate as sexist; and finds time to trash Christopher Dodd, Bill Clinton, Al Gore and numerous other Democrats.
There was a time when I felt somewhat sorry for Ms. Whitman for her humiliating experience as EPA administrator. I believed that she entered the job feeling she could make a positive difference and, like Colin Powell, found that too many forces were lined up against her. That may be true, but her failure to put the blame where it belongs cheapens her own positions.
In It's My Party Too, Ms. Whitman makes it clear that she is part of the problem, not the solution.