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Published: Sunday, 4/10/2005

Whitman presents intriguing view of the far-right's clout

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

IT'S MY PARTY TOO: THE BATTLE FOR THE HEART OF THE GOP AND THE FUTURE OF AMERICA. By Christine Todd Whitman. The Penguin Press. 247 pages. $24.95.

Reading this book is kind of like hearing a country and western band in the French Quarter of New Orleans: A pleasant experience, perhaps, but not the reason you went there.

It's a soft memoir interspersed with Christine Todd Whitman's observations about how the Republican Party has lost touch with mainstream America and allowed itself to be manipulated by the religious right and other arch conservatives.

But it's also a good reason why we should read titles more closely. Out of fairness to Whitman, the title's true to the theme of her book. But that's one of the problems: The theme.

Whitman rose to national prominence in January, 2001 as the first U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator in President Bush's cabinet, not because she offered some uncanny take on partisan politics while New Jersey's governor or because she came from a family well-heeled in GOP politics.

She replaced Carol Browner of the Clinton administration. Browner, by many accounts, was one of the more aggressive and liberal EPA chiefs in the nation's history.

Whitman, a moderate Republican, gained respect by showing she was no pushover herself. Rather than cave in to pressure from an administration accused of rolling back environmental protection, she stepped down in May of 2003. In so doing, she left many wondering why.

She provides few answers in this book. But she hints of her frustration, especially regarding Bush's rejection of the Kyoto Protocol for curbing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that cause global warming.

Bush claims something other than the Kyoto treaty should be implemented because it could cripple the U.S. economy.

Whitman said she told the President that global warming "is a credibility issue for the U.S. in the international community" and that it must be addressed. She said he succumbed to pressure from far right conservatives on Kyoto by reversing an earlier commitment to address carbon dioxide. She said appeasing them was a political embarrassment to her and that Bush acted "with little regard for what is in fact a serious problem."

She called Bush's opposition to Kyoto "an early expression of the go-it-alone attitude that so offended our allies in the lead-up to the Iraq war."

"The roots of our difficulties in forging a strong multinational alliance to fight terrorism go all the way back to how we handled Kyoto as well as other international issues," Whitman wrote.

Although the book misses an opportunity to take readers into the White House and reveal the administration's environmental policy rifts in greater detail, Whitman's views on the far right's influence are intriguing.

She said she has been criticized for years for her pro-choice views on abortion. She feels the GOP, to some degree, has betrayed Eisenhower-era Republicans raised on the notion of limited government intervention. She makes a case that the party is even fundamentally different than it was during the Reagan administration and that it will need to come back toward the middle of the political spectrum if it hopes to capture more of the mainstream in future elections.

"It is time for moderates in the Republican Party to become activists - activists for the sensible center, for reasonable policies based on fundamental Republican principles, which address the challenges America faces at home and in the world," according to Whitman.

She said the GOP should be embarrassed by how it has alienated African-Americans and other minorities. "Our actions have not always been true to our legacy as the party of Lincoln," she wrote.

While conservative commentator Ann Coulter takes sharp exception to Whitman's assertions, former White House counsel John Dean doesn't. In a recent column written for findlaw.com legal Web site, he said he found Whitman's book both fascinating and disappointing, something which will not likely win her many friends on either side of the aisle. "But those who dismiss her, and her book, do so at their own peril. This book is an intriguing report from within the ranks of the Republican Party - where, it turns out, not everyone is marching in lockstep to 'Onward Christian Soldiers,'‚óŹ" Dean wrote.

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com or 419-724-6079.



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