- The Washington Times - Monday, January 24, 2005

IT’S MY PARTY TOO: THE BATTLE FOR THE HEART OF THE GOP AND THE

FUTURE OF AMERICA

By Christine Todd Whitman

Penguin Press Imprint, $24.95, 248 pages

In October 1964, the year of Goldwater vs. Johnson, my wife and I visited friends in a Connecticut suburb of New York City. One evening they had a cocktail party, with about two dozen guests. All were Republicans. They were congenial, but upon discovering we were voting for Barry Goldwater when we got home to California, they were aghast. They dismissed him as an extremist, for they were “moderates” and, therefore, would vote for Lyndon Johnson.

There was a time when Northeastern grandees dominated the Grand Old Party. Christie Whitman, the author of “It’s My Party Too: The Battle for the Heart of the GOP and the Future of America,” to be published Jan. 31, seems to think of those as halcyon days. She does not see the connection between her “traditional Republican values” (“limited government, lower taxes, the power of the markets and a strong national defense”) and efforts to replace RINOS (“Republican in Name Only”) with ones who will push for those values.

This creates an inconsistency with the theme of her memoir, which is a call for all Republicans to rally around these values and not let divisive issues such as abortion, stem-cell research and gay marriage get in the way. While there is much to be said for Republicans to rally around that banner, no purpose is served by demonizing, as she does, people who feel strongly about the highly-charged social issues. She calls the opponents of abortion, stem cell research and gay marriage “social fundamentalists” and says that the party “at a national level is allowing itself to be dictated by a coalition of these small but fervid groups that have claimed the mantle of conservatism.”

She makes no distinction between social conservatives and supply-side or economic conservatives, such as Americans for Tax Reform or the Club for Growth. She chides the latter for supporting a 2004 primary challenge to Sen. Arlen Specter, implying that incumbents should never be challenged even if they are not warmly pushing her “traditional Republican values.”

Mrs. Whitman had the good fortune to grow up in a family that was both political and loving. Current events were the subject of dinner conversation and her parents instilled in her twin Republican principles. Her father, a businessman, was concerned about the size and reach of the federal government. He was also chairman of the New Jersey Republican Party. Her mother, a long time Republican national committeewoman, thought that the government, within limits, could be a source for social good. The result in their daughter was an ardent belief in those “traditional” Republican values.

A good politician, she overcame New Jersey’s “old boy” network to accomplish two “firsts” in 1993: She was elected its first woman governor; and she was the first challenger to defeat an incumbent. No sooner had the votes been counted than political consultant Ed Rollins inexplicably boasted at a Washington press breakfast that he had arranged for half a million dollars to be spread among black ministers to discourage their parishioners from voting. Governor-elect Whitman acted quickly and resourcefully. She confronted Mr. Rollins, who apologized publicly. She invited Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton to meet with her before staging a protest rally and they backed off, pending an investigation. She showed two indispensible political qualities: toughness and grace under pressure. She won the day.

She fared less well, however, over partial-birth abortion. In 1996, then-President Clinton vetoed a bill to ban it. Asked about it at a news conference the next day, Mrs. Whitman ingenuously said, “I think the president was right.” She agreed only with Mr. Clinton’s position that the bill should have provided an exception for the health of the mother. Words serve as symbols, however, and with her artlessly stated “endorsement” of Mr. Clinton, Mrs. Whitman immediately became a target of those who wanted the practice eliminated.

The next year she vetoed a state bill on the same grounds, plus the argument that the bill would be found unconstitutional. This brought more calumny upon her. She could have avoided much of it by making opposition to partial-birth abortion her banner, and the qualifiers details in her discussion. Instead, her veto positions became her banner, thus stigmatizing her as a supporter of the hated procedure.

As governor, her record is an admirable one, consistent with those values she often cites. As head of the Environmental Protection Agency, she sought to find middle ground between fire-breathing Democrats and anti-regulation business representatives. Instead, she became something of a punching bag.

This is a readable book by an earnest, sometimes courageous and basically reasonable person. One comes away thinking there should be another chance for her in the public realm.

Peter Hannaford is the author of “Recollections of Reagan: A Portrait of Ronald Reagan.”

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