Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Switchboard overload against Specter

The folks at notspecter.com list the names and phone numbers of the Republican Senate Judiciary Committee members so you can call them and register your opinion on whether Senator Specter should be the Judiciary Committee chairman. There has been a lot of fighting on the Right about whether Specter should ascend to the chairmanship with such stalwart right-wingers as Hugh Hewitt, Jonathan Last and Ed Morrisey have defended Specter and called for the Republicans to get behind him as Judiciary Chairman. Most of their reasons have to do with "big tent" concepts and "learning to be a governing party". Here's the kernel of Morrisey's reasoning, and it is close to Hewitt's take too:
If we start demanding ideological purity, we will drive off a significant level of support not only for Bush in the Senate but from the electorate as a whole. Why did the Democrats lose their majority status in the first place? . . . The International ANSWER wing of the Democratic Party drove them off over the last years of their majority status when they demanded a politically-correct party line and brooked no dissent.

As an example, can you imagine a pro-life Democrat being given any kind of leadership position now? He or she would be driven from office by a combination of Emily's List, NOW, and a half-dozen other advocacy groups in the next primary.

If we want to maintain our ascendancy, we need to develop the maturity to allow those who agree with us on 75% of the issues to feel as though they belong in the GOP. Specter has already been put on notice, and as long as he has something to lose (the chair), he will be pressured to support the President's legislative agenda and judicial nominations. If he has nothing left to lose, we face not only six years of obstructionism by Specter but likely a coalition of centrist GOP Senators that will coalesce to hold the GOP majority hostage in the next two.

These are all good points and true to some degree. But they are ultimately irrelevant to the central issue: can you trust Specter to get Bush's nominations through the Senate? The answer is no. Specter has long been a "maverick" who swings left on social issues. He has said time and again that he views abortion as a fundamental right -- a view completely at odds with the President. He has called for moderate judicial appointments and decried the possibility of another Scalia or Thomas on the bench. Despite leading the charge for Thomas' confirmation (laudable, yes, but he's been paid back time and again for that), Specter has been "disappointed" with Thomas' performance on the bench. And despite the press spin, this is NOT an abortion/nonabortion litmus test of Republican Senators as Republicans. Instead, the issue is whether the Republicans can afford to have a Judiciary Chairman who is not favorably disposed to the President's likely nominees after FOUR years of Senatorial obstruction by Democrats against highly qualified judicial candidates based solely on politics. Considering that Specter rails against his own party and accuses his opponents of being right-wing extremists, and that he rubbished the notion that Bush had won a mandate in a press conference held AT THE SAME TIME as Bush's victory/acceptance speech on November 3, reveals where Specter's position really lies. And I'm not even going to touch upon the inherent power over staffing that Specter would have as committee chairman, his close ties to trial lawyers (and support therefrom during the '04 election) and his failure to campaign for the President in a swing state after the President had provided the margin of victory for Specter in his Senatorial primary this year.

The issues of "litmus testing" and "intolerance" that Morrisey and Hewitt raise are shibboleths for "we're afraid of bad press." This is ridiculous. Republicans curry favor with the media entirely too much and try entirely too hard to do so. The media is left-wing, anti-Republican and fundamentally aligned against conservatives. The mere fact of the fight over whether Specter should get the Judiciary chairmanship is already generating bad press for the right.

Worrying how CBS/ABC/NBC/CNN/NPR will spin an issue results in Republicans hamstringing themselves. Either play to the media that could be favorable like Fox News, right-wing blogs, and talk radio or don't worry about the media and forge ahead (it worked for Churchill, Thatcher and Reagan). If Republican Senators lack the courage of their own convictions, they should resign and let their governors send someone to Washington who has the inner strength needed to play politics. Democrats are good at this, Republicans are not.

Finally, as National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru noted:

We should avoid overstatement here. Nobody is saying that Specter should be sent to Siberia, censured by the Senate, kicked out of the Republican party, or even removed from the Judiciary Committee. The anti-Specter forces are happy to see Specter get another committee chairmanship. They have said only that it would be unwise to put him in charge of one particular committee.

If keeping Specter from the judiciary chairmanship would be a purge, it wouldn't be a purge of pro-choicers . . . Specter, however, has suggested that he might not even countenance the possibility that judges who recognize the unconstitutionality of Roe could get on the bench. Pro-lifers think that maybe someone with those views should not be running the Judiciary Committee. Other conservatives worry about placing someone with Specter's views on originalism, tort reform, and racial preferences in that position.

* * *
I also don't think that the moderate senators often vote out of pique at the conservatives, or do so almost ever as a bloc. Note, by the way, the psychological assumptions being made here. We are supposed to take Specter as a man of his (most recent) word, while also thinking that he is so petulant that he would reject a Supreme Court nominee on the basis of a personal slight; that Specter will hold his failure to get the chairmanship against President Bush but not give him credit for saving his Senate seat. . .

Hewitt is quite right to point out that passing over Specter would be portrayed in the press as an act of intolerance . . . I'm sure that Hewitt knows that liberals will have Republican intolerance among their talking points regardless. (For the press, conservatives can only "overreach" on social issues; they never just "reach," or underreach.) As the Specter debate plays out in the press, it may marginally increase the plausibility of that talking point. Conservatives may reasonably conclude that it is still worth trying to get a better chairman — and resolve to fight any misleading spin that results. That effort would be helped if Hewitt weren't loosely talking about "purges."

Ultimately, it is simple: Specter made this situation through his own actions. He should not obtain the chairmanship of such an important committee when his views are fundamentally opposed to those of a President who is from his own party.

No comments: