Ex-EPA administrator (and N.J. governor) Christie Todd Whitman is somewhat of a mystery to progressives. She talks like a moderate, and even dares criticize the Bush junta, but she was complicit in the very hard right policies she now disavows — and, conspicuously, didn’t disavow them at the time. The question in the mind of many pundits is, “naive dupe or dishonest hack?” After reading Whitman’s op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle today arguing that we need “a new debate on the environment,” I’m leaning toward hack.I can’t argue with this:

America needs a new paradigm for the environment, one that recognizes that environmental protection, energy production and economic prosperity can and must go hand-in-hand. Until we do, we will be unable to meet either the environmental or the energy challenges we face today.

Whitman, as with so many conservative politicians these days, is basically using progressive rhetoric: Economic growth and respect for our deepest values are mutually reinforcing, not at odds. They use this rhetoric because it’s what most of the American people believe. The rub, of course, is that conservative policy, at least these days, makes a mockery of that rhetoric. For instance, as an example of this shiny new environmentalism, Whitman cites Cheney’s grotesque Energy Task Force.

Less than four months later, we issued our report, with more than 100 recommendations, nearly half of which promoted conservation, efficiency and clean energy.

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But of course she must know that the overall number of recommendations is virtually meaningless. Everything that came out of that task force was maximally industry friendly — not just “industry,” generically, but particular industries that have funneled millions into Republican coffers. It’s no surprise that its recommendations were friendly to those industries — representatives thereof pretty much wrote them. Unless Whitman’s a dunce, and I don’t believe she is, she knows that trumpeting the task force’s token eco-friendly recommendations is grossly dishonest.

Or take this:

America’s electric power needs are met by a wide spectrum of sources — led by coal (which generates more than half of all electricity produced), followed by nuclear (20 percent), natural gas (16 percent), hydropower (7 percent), oil (3 percent) and, finally, renewable energy sources (2 percent). In order to meet the demands of our economy and sustain our way of life, we will be relying on these sources for decades to come, and in substantially the same proportions.

“In substantially the same proportions.” As though that fact is writ in stone and not at least partially a result of public policy. I guess Whitman is so immersed in far-right conventional wisdom that she hasn’t even contemplated the idea that we might, for the good of our environment, our economy, and our national security, change those proportions.

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Perhaps that’s why moderate Republicans are such a disappointment these days. Even if they are put off by the hard right power hunger of the Bushies, they simply no longer have any perspective, any ability to see choices other than insanity and slightly-less-insanity.

Anyway, that’s enough Whitman for me. In this case, the enemy of my enemy is a hack.

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