Politics & Prose July 2002

The Resignation Principle

The Resignation Principle

An open letter to Christine Todd Whitman
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Dear Director,

You are in a fair way to being remembered as the Robert S. McNamara of the environment. Live with your obituary in mind, Peter Drucker counsels. Yours could begin, "Christine Todd Whitman, aged 100, led the Environmental Protection Agency during a period when the environment dramatically deteriorated." Or it could say, "Christine Todd Whitman, whose resignation on principle as the Director of the EPA in the Bush Administration made her a hero of the environmental movement and helped propel her toward..."

Dick "conservation is a matter of 'personal virtue'" Cheney has made the controlling decision on environmental policy in your Administration: to subordinate it to energy policy. Karl Rove decides on environmental politics. It can't have escaped your notice that he plans to run Bush against the environment in 2004. You know, the West Virginia strategy from 2000. Already people in that region can't walk down the street without tripping over Bush's dropped "g's." You are Bush's beard, trucked in for the photo ops like portable scenery. He's abandoned you; reciprocate.

Kyoto, carbon dioxide, arsenic, voluntary standards for global warmers, power-plant emissions forever—so many humiliations for you, and in less than two years! Your schedule must be crammed with them. Let's see. Tuesday. Abase myself for the third time on NPR. Friday? Ugh! "Dick to announce asbestos-in-the-schools plan. I'd better be out of town." Why take it any more? Loyalty? Bush et al. are not loyal to the commitments they made to you. Besides, McNamara gave loyalty a bad name.

The resignation on principle is electrifyingly rare. Cyrus Vance, over Carter's ill-advised rescue mission in Iran; William Jennings Bryan, over Wilson's tough line toward Germany: that about does it for the twentieth century. It will make you a national figure, part of a trend of women whistle-blowers. And you can sugarcoat it: "The President listens to my arguments, but his advisors always get the last word. Perhaps my action will let Bush be Bush and act on his deep love for the environment. I have walked his Crawford ranch, seen his pride in the land. Mr. President, you can become the Theodore Roosevelt of the twenty-first century!" Well, maybe you don't have to go that far.

Consider the effects of your resignation. The public-relations debacle might make Bush decide that maybe Karl hasn't got the national politics right after all. That would be good for Bush: California has a lot more electoral votes than West Virginia, and guns and God will keep the base in line. It would be good for the environment. At a minimum Bush would have to make some sort of green gesture. As it is, aside from saving the Everglades to save Jeb, you are their green gesture. And think what it could do for you! There'll be hip-hip-hoorays at those cocktail parties you can't bear to attend now in the understated latifundia of your beloved Jersey hunt country. A preview: "Christie, we're so proud of you, dear. You've braced us all. Why, over drinks last night my Neddy said, 'By God, he can't buy my silence with his tax cuts!' His very words, and before the second Martini!"

Rove wants to corral 4 million more fundamentalist votes in 2004. Imagine what he'll have Bush do to get them. Prayer on the beaches, prayer in the towns. Clarence Thomas for Chief Justice. Ashcroft for Veep. You natural-fiber Republicans don't belong in today's GOP. Holy rollers, gun nuts, corporate polluters. It's not your party anymore. Look what they did to Bill Weld. They ran a right-winger against Marge Roukema. Jeffords has left. Lincoln Chafee might be next. Nancy Johnson may lose her seat. Connie Morella, too. Tom DeLay, who once likened the EPA to the Gestapo, is forcing moderate Republicans to cast tough votes to stay on the team, creating openings for Democrats. More tough votes, more of the right-wing agenda, and one day Neddy, who used to give away his Franklin D. Roosevelt dimes, might wake up and say, "By God, Buffy, they've driven me out of the party. I'm a Democrat!" Show him the way out. Quit, enjoy the adulation, endure the vilification. Then see if the Democrats, desperate to put a woman on their ticket, don't make overtures. Or, stay, numb your convictions, and soldier on, like Robert McNamara.

P.S. And take Colin Powell with you.

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Jack Beatty is a senior editor at The Atlantic Monthly and the editor of Colossus: How the Corporation Changed America, which was named one of the top ten books of 2001 by Business Week. His previous books are The World According to Peter Drucker (1998) and The Rascal King: The Life and Times of James Michael Curley (1992). More

Jack Beatty"The Atlantic Monthly is an American tradition; since 1857 it has helped to shape the American mind and conscience," senior editor Jack Beatty explains. "We are proud of that tradition. It is the tradition of excellence for which we were awarded the National Magazine Award for General Excellence. It is the tie that binds us to our past. It is a standard we won't betray."

Beatty joined The Atlantic Monthly as a senior editor in September of 1983, having previously worked as a book reviewer at Newsweek and as the literary editor of The New Republic.

Born, raised, and educated in Boston, Beatty wrote a best-selling biography of James Michael Curley, the Massachusetts congressman and governor and Boston mayor, which Addison-Wesley published in 1992 to enthusiastic reviews. The Washington Post said, "The Rascal King is an exemplary political biography. It is thorough, balanced, reflective, and gracefully written." The Chicago Sun-Times called it a ". . . beautifully written, richly detailed, vibrant biography." The book was nominated for a National Book Critics' Circle award.

His 1993 contribution to The Atlantic Monthly's Travel pages, "The Bounteous Berkshires," earned these words of praise from The Washington Post: "The best travel writers make you want to travel with them. I, for instance, would like to travel somewhere with Jack Beatty, having read his superb account of a cultural journey to the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts." Beatty is also the author of The World According to Peter Drucker, published in 1998 by The Free Press and called "a fine intellectual portrait" by Michael Lewis in the New York Times Book Review.

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