June 6, 2005
Whitman plays speech down the middle
BY Eric Rangus
In the midst of a tour to promote her new book, former New Jersey Governor and EPA Administrator Christie Todd Whitman used her stop at The Carter Center, Wednesday, June 1, to call for a move by both Republicans and Democrats away from partisanship and back toward the political center.
A moderate Republican in a party that’s moving increasingly to the right, Whitman said her goal in writing It’s My Party Too: The Battle for the Heart of the GOP and the Future of America was to change the rhetoric of political discourse in this country and also make the Republican Party safe for those who don’t always agree with its most partisan members.
“I’d like to put my party in a position where they honestly could consider as a presidential nominee John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Tom Ridge or Linda Lingle, the governor of Hawaii,” said Whitman, twice elected governor of New Jersey and EPA administrator under President George W. Bush from 2001–03. “Right now, it is not in that position because all of those people are ‘wrong’ on some sort of issue.”
Those issues are now being defined by the vocal, ideological and increasingly powerful group of Republicans Whitman called “social fundamentalists,” a group she claimed are not “true conservatives.” A true conservative wants less government intervention in citizens’ lives, she said, but social fundamentalists “can’t seem to find enough ways to get involved in people’s lives.”
It is this all-or-nothing approach to governing that is dividing the country, and Whitman said the Republican Party could soon pay a price for it since voters are centrist.
Whitman cited several statistics to back up her statement—contrary to the picture painted by many media organizations, she said—that the United States is a moderate country. State legislatures are split down the middle, and of the more than 7,300 people who serve as state senators or representatives, Republicans hold just a four-person advantage.
“That tells me we aren’t red or blue,” Whitman said, speaking in the media shorthand of red for Republican and blue for Democrat. “We’re purple.”
Whitman made good on her goal of wanting to improve political rhetoric. She made only passing references to Democrats, and while Whitman admitted she disagreed with Bush on some issues, she refrained from criticizing him. She saved her strongest words for the social fundamentalists.
“The thing that scares a fundamentalist most is choice,” Whitman said. “They would rather have a Democrat [in office] who votes against them 100 percent of the time than a Republican who votes with them 95 percent of the time.”
Whitman’s appearance was sponsored by the Carter Presidential Library & Museum. The event was held in The Carter Center’s Cypress Room, and more than 200 people attended. A question and answer session followed Whitman’s address, and afterward Whitman chatted casuallywith members of the audience and signed copies of her book.