By Taylor Harvey
Wake Forest University
September 20, 2011

Former governor, EPA head seeks moderation, civility in volatile times

In an era teeming with political brinksmanship and hyper-partisan rhetoric, former New Jersey governor and EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman believes she has the solution.

Speaking to a packed auditorium at Wake Forest’s Porter B. Byrum Welcome Center, Whitman said, “People can’t let cynicism trump their civic responsibility.” She cited low voter turnout and the increasing volatility of national elections as signs that the American people are disillusioned with politics as usual.

One of the primary issues with national politics, Whitman said, is the specter of candidate pledges, a tool commonly used in elections to win favor with partisan political action groups.

“Our Congressmen shouldn’t tie their hands before they even start to work,” proclaimed a fiery Whitman, much to the agreement of the audience. In addition, she said that toxic campaigning has become more prevalent with the rise of social media and the Internet. The speech was co-sponsored by the Wake Forest Center for Energy, Environment and Sustainability, the School of Law, and the Schools of Business. The crowd, which included community leaders, Wake Forest students and local high school students, seemed very receptive to Whitman’s ideas.

“The electorate is seeking someone to address problems,” as opposed to perpetuating divisive politics, said Whitman, who was promoting the recently formed Americans Elect, a group that has been touted by other recent Wake Forest guest speakers, such as Tom Friedman.

Whitman, the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush, pointed to the organization as an example of a bipartisan effort that has paid off for the American people in the form of a healthier environment. In calling herself a “radical moderate,” Whitman said she hoped to show that people who work in the center are committed to solving problems instead of furthering their party agenda.

Whitman encouraged all community members to be engaged in the process, saying, “People can’t get fed up and wash their hands of politics. It all has to start at the grassroots level.”