Christie Todd Whitman
New York Times
April 29, 2009
I have always admired Arlen Specter for his willingness to stand up for his principles and to put policy ahead of party when he thought it was necessary. I do, however, regret his decision to switch parties and I worry about the direction this country could go with a filibuster-proof Democratic majority. Some historians suggest that no president has had such power since 1937, when large Democratic majorities in Congress gave President Franklin Roosevelt tremendous leverage.
The United States needs two vibrant, competitive parties. With the economic crisis, the war in Iraq and countless other issues facing the nation, the stakes are too high to simply let one ideological segment of the country determine our fate. If we are to prevent this kind of one-party dominance, Republicans need to reassess where we are and what we stand for — and we need to do it now.
Unfortunately, a preview of the Republican Party’s future came from the reaction to Senator Specter’s switch — many conservatives evinced a sense of “I told you so” satisfaction and denigrated his service to the country. As was to be expected, the blogosphere is full of people saying that Arlen Specter was always a Democrat and now he’s simply proved it.
In reality, until Tuesday, Arlen Specter caucused with the Republicans, and he voted with his party 70 percent of the time in the 110th Congress. It is a sure bet that his voting record will now change. I fail to see the satisfaction in that.
Mr. Specter’s announcement portends a challenge for Republicans, in terms of both governance and political prospects. To those Republicans counting on the usual phenomenon of off-year election losses for the party holding the presidency, I say do not forget the examples of Roosevelt and George W. Bush, whose parties prospered in 1934 and 2002, respectively. Besides, given the re-election rate of incumbents and the number of Republicans from competitive districts who have retired, the chances of gaining more than a handful of seats is remote.
I also worry about the impact of this defection on the gubernatorial races this year in New Jersey and Virginia. Mr. Specter did not reach his decision in a vacuum. He was responding to what he and others saw as a trend in the party — a trend that will make it harder to get out a centrist message.
Arlen Specter made his decision to leave the party after years of being attacked by fellow Republicans. I can understand how he felt, but I believe that now, more than ever, it is important for us moderates to stay and work from within. One thing we can be sure of is that we will have no impact on the party’s direction if we leave.
Moderate Republicans should use Senator Specter’s switch as the impetus to force a re-evaluation of where our party is going — a review that can happen only from the inside. Besides, third parties in the United States don’t have a particularly successful history.
In the coming election cycle, we have the opportunity 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. The responsibility of ensuring that the party follows the right path lies with those moderates who are willing to work to make it happen. I anticipate that centrists will convene in the coming days to discuss how we can return the party to the sensible middle.
This isn’t just about winning elections. To the extent we lose more members of the Republican Party, we lose what ability we have left to affect policy, and that is going to be devastating to our nation. Our democracy desperately needs two vibrant parties. And for Republicans to be that second party, we need to remind the nation of the principles for which we once stood.
We cannot simply be the party of no; we need to provide a compelling counterpoint to the Obama administration’s tax-spend-and-borrow policies. 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.
Christine Todd Whitman, a Republican, was the governor of New Jersey from 1994 to 2001.