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The Bushwomen. They're Back. | The Nation

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Laura Flanders

Laura Flanders

Budget wars, activism, uprising, dissent and general rabble-rousing.

The Bushwomen. They're Back.

There she is, just the woman I was thinking of, on the op-ed page of the New York Times. Except she isn’t apologizing for her role unleashing the GOP’s “war on women.” She is writing about terrorism and the Clean Air Act. What I’d wanted someone to ask Christine Todd Whitman about was the day at the 1996 RNC, when she helped coronate today’s extremist GOP.

Former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman is usually described in the money media with the words “moderate” and “pro-choice” glued firmly to her name. Republican in a pro-choice state, she’s on the record saying that abortion is “a personal decision between a woman and her doctor,” and the government has no business telling a woman what to do. (That used to be the conservative position.) She’s held up by pro-choicers as a tragicomic victim,  abandoned by her party, but the fact is, Whitman’s done more to help the vicious wing of the GOP than she ever did to stop the backlash.

To go back to the RNC. By 1996, Christine Todd Whitman had already long been loyal to her rightward-lurching party. Moderate voters were infuriated by the 104th Congress and Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America. At Gingrich’s bidding, Whitman agreed to rebut president Bill Clinton’s State of the Union address in 1995 and in ’96. She loaned her party her reputation and her media-friendly face when they had very unfriendly policies in store for the nation.

She agreed to do it again, when the party invited her to co-chair the RNC. The Republican Party would be “more inviting to all voters without an abortion plank” Whitman told the New York Times shortly before the event kicked off in San Diego. She promised pro-choice Republicans, in effect, that they’d be welcomed, even if they were concerned about the social service attacks in the Contract and the party’s 1992 manifesto. In 1992, the party platform stated that “the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed” and called for a “human life amendment to the Constitution.” (The party has pledged to pass a Human Life Amendment since 1980—that’s thirty-two years and nine presidential elections. It dropped their commitment to the Equal Rights Amendment in 1980. The Democrats dropped their pledge to the ERA in 2004.)

When she could have gone to the mat to support her pro-choice colleagues, Whitman stuck with Gingrich. When pro-choice Republicans sought to remove the party’s anti-abortion plank in a platform fight, Whitman, to whom many looked for solidarity, did not even show up at a pro-choice demonstration. Inside the convention hall, she sold out two pro-choice governors who tried to make a stand. When Massachussetts Governor William Weld and California Governor Pete Wilson refused to address the convention rather than bow to party officials’ orders that they not talk about their support for abortion rights, Whitman said not a word from her coveted role as RNC co-chair. She even insisted on CNN that Weld and Wilson’s absence had nothing to do with their pro-choice stance. Her co-chair at the RNC that year was a fellow up-and-coming young governor, George W. Bush. Except he was up and coming; she was on her way out.

As for her views on terrorism and chemicals,Whitman’s role as Bush/Cheney’s mouthpiece, reassuring us, as EPA Administrator, just one week after 9/11 that New York’s “air is safe to drink and water is safe to drink,” should disqualify her forever from being taken seriously on environmental threats to human health. (There was no good science; there were no good facts, only political expediency behind the EPA’s all-clear.)

In the middle of another Republican convention at which the party is once again parading women to act as the “all about love” fronts for their party’s antisocial policies, it’s unconscionable that Whitman should find a place to tell the nation anything other than “I’m dreadfully, terribly, sorry.”

As for “mushroom cloud,” Condi. Don’t get me going. Anyone who wants to read more about the cynical way the GOP deploys its women can, in my 2004 book: BUSHWOMEN: Tales of a Cynical Species. It’s due for an update. Every year.

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