The United States is not a red or blue country, but is a purple one, former New Jersey governor and White House cabinet member Christine Todd Whitman told a Samford University audience Wednesday, March 28.
Whitman used the description to underscore why the nation would benefit from having a presidential selection option in addition to the current partisan match-ups between Democrats and Republicans.
"We must be concerned about what our political process has come to," said Whitman, a leader in Americans Elect, a group behind a process to select the first bipartisan presidential ticket in U.S. history.
"Our nation's Founding Fathers were afraid we would come to a time when parties would trump policy," she said, noting that while the country has never been without partisanship, at one time there were statesmen who would try to solve problems together.
"We don't have that today," said Whitman, a Republican who was administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in the cabinet of President George W. Bush and is now president of an energy and environmental consulting firm.
Statesmen of earlier years, she noted, were passionate and principled, and had conviction. "But their biggest conviction was what was best for the nation, and they would be less likely to oppose something just because of the party."
Whitman cited recent statistics that indicate only a minority of Americans believe the country is going in the right direction. And, both Congress and the President score low approval ratings.
"People don't believe we're going to solve problems. If you don't like what's happening and want to solve the problems, look in the mirror. The only person who can solve them is you," she advised the audience in Brock Recital Hall.
Whitman and her husband, international businessmen and consultant John Whitman, were at Samford March 27-30 as this year's Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellows. During their stay, they shared their experiences and expertise with various student and faculty groups.
In her public lecture on politics and partisanship, Whitman said many Americans believe the election process is too long, and that the people "in the center" feel alienated. We're getting to where only the most partisan people go to the polls, and those voters focus on the fringe issues, she said.
"I want to hear a substantive discussion on how to change things," said Whitman, who was disappointed that recent attempts to deal with such matters as immigration and energy went unresolved by Congress. "These are serious issues and we need to do something about them," she said, "but partisan politics got in the way."
One solution may be the Americans Elect alternative, which calls for an on-line convention to select a bipartisan presidential ticket. Candidates for president and vice president would be required to represent different parties.
An Americans Elect presidential ticket would be required to adhere to three commitments, said Whitman.
First, candidates of both parties would endorse the principles in the Simpson-Bowles bipartisan budget proposal, which recognizes a need for both spending cuts and revenue increases. Second, the candidates would include leaders from both parties in their Cabinet. And third, a limit on campaign spending would allow only individual citizens who are eligible to vote in each election to contribute.
Although its impact in the 2012 election is unknown, interest in Americans Elect is evidenced by the 14 million questions on issues that have been asked and answered to date on the website: www.americanselect.org. About 400,000 "delegates" have signed an on-line petition in support of the process.
"We've got to stand up and say we need real solutions to problems," she said, citing as an example a lack of chemical industry standards that can result in poor water quality and other environmental and health problems.
"Democracy is not a spectator sport. It demands that we be engaged."