"Why doesn't she just come over to our party?" one Democratic professor opined after hearing a November 15 lecture by Republican reformer Christine Todd Whitman. "We'd love to have her."
Whitman, the New Jersey governor whom President Bush tapped to head the Environmental Protection Agency in 2001, delivered a John Hazen White Lecture while she was in Providence this fall, promoting her book, It's My Party, Too: The Battle for the Heart of the GOP and the Future of America.
In recent years, Whitman said, GOP leaders have become increasingly fundamentalist, imposing a litmus test on members and branding those who don't pass "RINOS" - Republicans in Name Only. Whitman said that as she prepared to step down from the EPA in 2003, "I realized I was going to be in a position to say things other people couldn't" because of their vulnerability to party leadership.
So she founded the political action committee It's My Party Too and last winter published her book. It was a New York Times best-seller, she noted wryly, "for one week."
At Brown, Whitman pointed out that the 2.5 percent plurality with which Bush was reelected was the smallest ever. "It clearly was not a mandate to take the country hard in one direction or another," she said. Of 7,315 current state legislators, she observed, 50.3 percent are Republicans, and 49.7 percent Democrats. "The American people describe themselves as moderates," she said, attributing low voter turnout to the gap between fundamentalist politicians and centrist voters: "I am willing to bet money that those who didn't vote were the moderates saying ďa pox on both your houses.' "
"You can disagree without being disagreeable," Whitman repeatedly chided U.S. politicians. "The name-calling that dominates House and Senate debates makes it impossible to work out compromises," she said. "Today every vote is seen as partisan."
Thus far, Whitman said, her Web site www.mypartytoo.com has received about 5.5 million hits. "Unfortunately," she said, "that doesn't represent the number of books I've sold."