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Whitman fears GOP too far right

She pleads with the party to embrace America’s diversity

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

Even lifelong Republicans these days are wondering if their party is leaning too far to the right. At least that is the position of Christine Todd Whitman, New Jersey's first woman governor, who served two years as Environmental Protection administrator for the Bush administration. (Utahns will remember that she was succeeded by former Gov. Mike Leavitt.)

As a self-described moderate politician, Whitman endured numerous disagreements with the president and other members of his administration. The arguments finally became so intense that she decided to leave the administration. Her book describes her battles and her concerns that the Republican Party no longer is representative of the majority of its members.

Whitman asserts that "ideological extremists," whom she calls "social fundamentalists," are "violating traditional Republican principles" when they oppose abortion rights, stem-cell research, environmental protection, and when they encourage President Bush to "go it alone" in foreign policy.

"To the ideological zealots," she writes, "unless you oppose every gun-control measure — including assault-weapons bans — you're not a real Republican. Unless you oppose abortion in every instance — including in cases of rape or incest — you're not a real Republican. Unless you think every environmental regulation is government overregulation, you're not a real Republican."

You don't have to be any kind of political zealot — not even a political scientist — to understand Whitman's conversational presentation of her views. Although she considers George W. Bush "the most socially conservative president" of her lifetime, she notices that many Republicans consider him not conservative enough. What happened, she asks, to "the big umbrella" that Dwight Eisenhower offered to people with diverse opinions?

Whitman is especially disturbed that the Democratic Party almost automatically attracts the great majority of African American voters (John Kerry received 89 percent of the black vote in 2004) because the Republican Party is the "party of Lincoln."

In spite of Bush's inability to attract the black vote in 2004, Whitman asserts that he "is not a racist." In fact, she is comparatively soft in her criticism of Bush, preferring to emphasize the philosophy the party should follow rather than the mistakes of individuals.

Whitman retells some quick history to demonstrate that the GOP used to be the preferred party for African Americans — and that the Republican Party was responsible for promoting the adoption of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution, which abolished slavery and made citizens of Africans Americans, with all the necessary rights including voting.

Emphasizing the tendency that women and senior citizens are prone to vote Democratic, Whitman pleads with fellow Republicans to "embrace America's rich diversity and engage all its people." She calls out for moderate Republicans to "lead the way to more positive, issues-oriented campaigns at every level of government."

E-mail: dennis@desnews.com