A small number of Republicans who describe themselves as moderates and a large number of Democrats who describe themselves as Democrats declare the importance of a strong, two-party system. Christine Todd Whitman waxes eloquent on the point:
"In the coming election cycle, we have the opportunity to remind the nation that our party is committed to such important values as fiscal restraint, less government interference in our everyday lives, environmental policies that promote a balanced approach between protection and economic interest, and a foreign policy that is engaged with the rest of the world." (NYT, 30 April 2009)
If I were Ms. Whitman, I would be embarrassed to pen such words, especially to “remind the nation” of the GOP’s commitments. Even people with only short political memories surely recall that the GOP controlled both the Presidency and Congress from 2001 to 2007, during which period the Republicans made clear their commitments. They doubled the national debt, to $12 trillion—so much for the GOP commitment to “fiscal restraint.” They launched an invasion into the lives of citizens with unauthorized wiretapping, the scope of which remains unknown—so much for the GOP commitment to “less government interference in our everyday lives.” They adopted environmental policies allowing coal companies to decapitate entire mountains and deposit the waste into streams and rivers, to the detriment of water quality, agriculture, and tourism in West Virginia—so much for the GOP commitment to “a balanced approach between protection and economic interest.” They rejected climate control and launched an unnecessary war—so much for the GOP commitment to “a foreign policy that is engaged with the rest of the world.” No one, I think, can match this 6-year record of Republican domination in the White House and Congress to anything like the commitments which Whitman claims are those of the Republican Party. Nor can one make must sense of her list of icons, including Lincoln, Eisenhower, and Reagan—(!!!)—, and excluding Teddy Roosevelt (!), the one Republican whose commitments most closely track hers.
If a moderate like Ms. Whitman can unashamedly reassert as basic GOP commitments its long-term departures from them, everyone can see how far the GOP has declined from the consistency, much less the cogency, of meaningful political discourse. She is neither dishonest nor hypocritical; to be either (or both), she would have to know that her remarks have nothing to do with the facts on the ground and “our everyday lives.” The GOP’s attachment to nostrums serviceable enough in the nineteenth century but useless in the twenty-first is so strong that even its moderates can no longer distinguish between the political fantasy of its nostalgic ideology and modern historical reality.
Delusionally, moderates like Ms. Whitman and Maine Senator Olympia Snowe urge the very conservatives who use or abuse them to reconsider their strategy of ideological purity. Such moderates are denying the reality within their party, whose conservatives want their votes but not their voices. If reality ever penetrates their denial, perhaps they will seek to work with, if not join, a Democratic Party which, among other policies, seeks to pursue fiscal policies appropriate to present and long-term conditions, restrain or end government violations of law and civil liberties, make partners of the economy and the environment, and respectfully re-engage the United States in world affairs. (And it might address the “everyday lives” of people who need health care which is accessible and affordable, and education
Ms. Whitman may deceive herself, but she is not likely to deceive many others. We know that the GOP has greatly departed from what she describes as its commitments. And we sense that a party with so little respect for dissent within its ranks cannot be a party prone to respect differences with the party across the aisle. Instead of being a party of “loyal opposition,” the Republican Party has become the party of opposition only. It just says “no.”