Milbank 1, Whitman 0
Maybe it's just because I've been paying more attention lately, but I have been struck by the number of articles in the major news outlets in the last couple of weeks concerning Republican moderates and their role within the GOP. The most recent appeared just this morning in the Washington Post, a biting Dana Milbank piece which ought to serve as a lesson to all of us who believe the Republicans should reclaim the banner of moderation and root out the gangrenous extremism that has come to dominate party politics in recent years.
Milbank's article is ostensibly a write-up of an appearance by former NJ Governor and EPA Administrator Christie Todd Whitman before the Council on Foreign Relations this past Tuesday. Basic synopsis is set aside right at the outset though: Milbank's first sentence reads "Christie Whitman has brought a knife to the political equivalent of a gunfight." In her recent book It's My Party Too, as well as in many public discussions since its publication earlier this year, Whitman has served up what Milbank calls a "devastating critique" of current Republican politics " - or at least it would be if she backed it up with the sort of actions that would get the party to take her seriously."
I read Whitman's book immediately after its release, and was pleased in principle with the arguments she made that the GOP could be much more successful in the long run by returning to its basic principles and reconnecting with women, minorities and moderates. I agree with Milbank, however, that Whitman's failure to land a punch has doomed the book and her other efforts from the start. As one of those best positioned to criticize the Bush Administration and its Congressional allies from the standpoint of a preeminent moderate within the party, Whitman should be offering up more than oblique criticisms of unnamed "social fundamentalists".
It is this bunch, Whitman argues, who have 'hijacked' the GOP. But she won't say who these people are - either in the book or, as Milbank notes, in her talk at the CFR last week. Asked by the moderator to name names, Whitman repeatedly responded: "That's too easy." She was certainly right about that. Here, Mr. Milbank, are just a few: Jerry Falwell. Bob Jones III. Pat Robertson. Tony Perkins. Tom DeLay. Rick Santorum. Sam Brownback. Roy Moore. Alan Keyes. James Dobson.
Whitman said Tuesday "Centrists unfortunately are too moderate." It's exactly that problem that this blog exists to combat. In the final chapter of her book, Whitman lays out a philsophy of "radical moderation," but she has repeatedly proven herself unwilling to actually carry out the tenets of that strategy. By supporting Bush's reelection last fall, by continuing to support him even to this day ("I believe the president is the best person to lead the country at this time", she said as recently as Tuesday), and by categorically ruling out a departure from the GOP or the formation of a moderate third party, Whitman has confirmed her utter irrelevance.
As Milbank notes, "Because Whitman poses no flight risk to the GOP, Bush's defenders are free to dismiss her." Why have we seen none of the backlash against Whitman that the Administration's attack dogs unleashed upon former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, former terror czar Richard Clarke, or former faith-based initiative head John Diulio? Because in her book, Whitman pulls her punches, shielding her criticisms of Bush and his minions with so much fluff that they can be read as nothing more than minor disagreements, rather than the intense philosophical differences that they were. "Little wonder that the conservatives don't see her as a threat," Milbank concludes. Little wonder indeed.
"The responsibility of ensuring that the party follows the right [one wishes she had chosen to use the word 'correct' there] path lies with those moderates who are willing to work to make it happen." So writes Whitman in the last paragraph of It's My Party Too. No statement in the book is more accurate. Changing the party will require work (let's not kid ourselves, massive amounts of work) by us Charging RINOs, but we will never get there if rely on spokespeople like Whitman. We have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.