About Rationally Speaking
Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.
Friday, May 01, 2009
The unraveling of the GOP
Still, I cannot help myself from commenting on a recent article by Christine Todd Whitman, former Republican Governor of New Jersey and former head of the Environmental Protection Agency under George W. Bush. Whitman is, by all accounts, a moderate Republican, and wrote this op-ed while mourning the recent switch of Senator Arlen Specter to the Democrats, a move that could put the Democratic Party in control of a super-majority in the Senate, when (not if) the courts in Minnesota finally declare Al Franken the winner of last year’s election.
Whitman worries “about the direction this country could go with a filibuster-proof Democratic majority” because “the United States needs two vibrant, competitive parties” especially given “the economic crisis, the war in Iraq.” Funny that the Republicans were not as concerned about wielding power with no regard for the minority for much of the last eight years, including a threat to use a "nuclear option" in the Senate to stifle debate. Of course a healthy democracy does need more than one vibrant party. Indeed, one of the main problems with American democracy is that there are only two parties wielding enough power to make a difference. Then again, the Republicans have managed to do so much damage to the Unites States, both internally and externally, that frankly a few years of “excesses” in the other direction are simply going to bring us back toward some sort of middle ground, if we are lucky.
It is much less funny that Whitman seems to be completely oblivious to the obvious fact that both the economic crisis and especially the Iraq war (she forgot “the other war,” apparently) are a result of the insane economic and foreign policies of her own party, policies to which she contributed to some extent, as a member of W.’s cabinet. Suffering from a severe deficiency in her short term memory, she wants 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.”
Really? This is classic Orwell-style newspeak. “Fiscal restraint” really means tax cuts for the rich and war spending that ran our economy into the ground; “less government interference with our lives” is a bit hard to reconcile with the strong religious prescriptionary bent of the Bush administration, not to mention its illegal secret wiretapping program to spy on Americans; “balanced environmental policies” are the very same policies that gutted Whitman’s own EPA (from which, to her credit, Whitman resigned in 2003, partly because of Cheney’s insistence in easing air pollution standards); and an “engaged foreign policy” obviously translates into bullying and bombing other countries so that we can have our way. Thanks for the offer, Christine, but I’d rather try Obama for a few years, if you don’t mind.
Whitman concludes by reminding her readers that “the Republican Party has a proud heritage and much to add to the current debates, but only if we can return to the principles that made us the party of Abraham Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan.” Except that those three people represent very different sorts of parties, becoming increasingly worse in an almost linear progression in time. Lincoln surely was one of the greatest presidents the US has ever had, remembered of course above all for his defense of the unity of the country and his fight against slavery. Eisenhower was almost a liberal, counting among his achievements the very socialist construction of the interstate highway system, the continuation and expansion of New Deal policies (social security, health, education and welfare), and two Civil Rights Acts (in 1957 and 1960). Heck, he even realized that it was not a good idea to intervene in Vietnam, though he then endorsed that scoundrel Richard Nixon as his successor (a plan postponed by a few years because of the unexpected victory by John F. Kennedy). As for Reagan, well don’t get me started, I have a list of complaints about him that would take a whole series of long posts to go into, and it wouldn’t be good for my inner spiritual balance. The point is that Reagan, and even more so the W.-Cheney pair, most certainly are not the same kind of GOP that Lincoln and even Eisenhower would have recognized, so let’s not pretend that these figures are all part of the same “proud tradition.”
Still, Whitman’s call to the few moderate Republicans left to organize and take back the agenda of the party is worthy of praise, and I wish her success. The irony is that her op-ed was published in that alleged bastion of journalistic liberalism, the New York Times. Will anyone in the GOP bother to read it?