There's no room for moderates in the modern G.O.P.
by Andre Walker, Wed Apr 29, 2009 at 01:23:40 AM EDT
In 1993, moderate Republican Christine Todd Whitman made history when she was elected New Jersey's first female governor. She served for eight years until being tapped by then-President George W. Bush to head up the Environmental Protection Agency in 2001. After a series of public disagreements with the Bush Administration, Whitman resigned the post in 2003.
Once she left the Bush cabinet, Whitman wrote a book entitled It's My Party Too in which she criticized the Republican Party's hard lurch to the right in recent years.
Today, perhaps more than ever in modern times, the Republican Party at the national level is allowing itself to be dictated to by a coalition of ideologica l extremists--I call them social fundalmentalists--groups that have claimed the mantle of conservatism and show no inclination to seek bipartisan consensus on anything.
The leaders of these groups seek to impose rigid litmus tests on Republican candidates and appear determined to drive out of the party anyone who doesn't subscribe to their beliefs in entirety. They would dispute my assertion that there's room in the party for all those who share basic Republican principles but might disagree on particular issues.
To these ideological zealots, 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.
Tuesday, Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter --a moderate Republican-- joined the Democratic Party after more than forty years on the other side because, according to some radical right-wing groups, he wasn't a "real Republican." Because of the strict ideological litmus tests imposed on Specter by extreme right-wing groups such as the Christian Coalition, the Club for Growth and Americans for Tax Reform, the Grand Old Party has lost one its few remaining moderate voices.
And moderates, writes Christine Todd Whitman, have an "indispensable role to play."
[Moderates] must bring the Republican Party, and American politics generally, back toward the productive center. But that won't happen easily. It is time for Republican moderates to assert forcefully and plainly that this is our party too, that we not only have a place, but a voice --and not just a voice, but a vision-- a vision that is true to the historical principles of our party and our nation, not one tied to an extremist agenda."
One can only imagine what type of extremist agenda the right-wing groups were pressuring Sen. Specter, a 40-year veteran of the Republican Party, to support that lead him to conclude his only option was to switch parties.
"I have been a Republican since 1966. I have been working extremely hard for the Party, for its candidates and for the ideals of a Republican Party whose tent is big enough to welcome diverse points of view," Specter said in a statement announcing the switch Tuesday. "Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right. Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to become Democrats."
Many right-wing, radical Republicans have started lashing out at Arlen Specter calling for him to return campaign contributions while others find themselves using invective to personally attack the senior Senator from Pennsylvania. Sadly, their anger is misdirected.
Arlen Specter is not to blame for 200,000 Pennsylvania Republicans switching to the Democratic Party, and Arlen Specter is certainly not to blame for moderate Republicans believing that there's no home for them in today's Grand Old Party. The blame for Arlen Specter and even former Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords lays squarely with the ideologues currently controlling the once great Republican Party.
Former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman was onto something when she wrote, "Too many of them would rather be 'right' than be in power."
Today, the right-wing Republicans are neither right, nor are they in power.