Carol Platt Liebau

Monday, November 08, 2004

Hugh Hewitt and many of the fine writers at National Review are locked in an intense debate about whether conservatives should be trying to keep Sen. Arlen Specter from the chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Hugh argues that it's unbecoming a coalition/majority to begin purging even less-than-optimal Republicans like Specter. The National Review people insist that the Judiciary Committee slot is too important to be entrusted to an occasionally back-stabbing, self-important moderate.

If I still weren't basking in reflected Red State post-election glory, I might caustically suggest that we all consult Scottish law for resolution on the matter.

But seriously. I have never been a fan of Arlen Specter's -- except when he took on Anita Hill with great skill and spirit in 1991. It was no small act of political courage, because the next year he was up for reelection in "The Year of the Woman" against Lyn Yaeckel, a classic feminist type. And yes, I do remember how he attacked Robert Bork, and yes, I am still a little disgusted by his cowardly resort to Scottish law during the Clinton Impeachment.

Nor am I a fan of Specter's personally. He is a pretty mean guy. After my clerkship, I was looking for a job on the Republican (then the minority) side of the Judiciary Committee -- and everyone who advised me, to a man, told me it was better not to take a job on the Committee than to take one attached to Specter. He's a screamer, and a pain -- no question about it.

Even so, after spending a couple of days thinking it through, I've got to come down on Hugh's side on this one. One of the reasons the Democrats are rapidly becoming a minority party is because they started mistreating non-conformist members -- first Richard Casey, and now today (in fact if not in word) Joe Lieberman and Zell Miller. Why would we want to follow in those footsteps?

Specter is an ungracious and difficult man, yes, but he is part of our governing coalition. The fact that we are even able to have this conversation is a reflection of the fact that our majority expanded from the old 51-48 edge. But rather than being giddy with power and using our new-found muscle to wallop annoying moderate Republicans, let's use it to try to bring even our moderates together with us to go after the liberals. And let's tread cautiously -- the way we conduct ourselves now will do a great deal to tell non-conservative/non-evangelical Republicans about what the rightward side of the party is all about. Let's be judicious about what fights we take up and when and with whom.

There's no question that conservatives were right to call Specter to account for his arrogant and ridiculous remarks last week (see this blog from Thursday). Let's let him know that we are watching him carefully. And if he doesn't do the job right, let's remove him. But we ought to give him a chance -- if Specter's coalition were running the Senate and Rick Santorum stepped up to the Judiciary Committee chairmanship, that's all we'd ask. And no, I'm not sure that Specter would be that fair, but that's not really the point, is it?


Blogger Patrick O'Hannigan said...


Good post, but don't make the mistake of thinking this is just Hugh vs. National Review.

Have you seen BeldarBlog's take? He's a lawyer, too. Ditto radio host Laura Ingraham, who also oppposes Specter. Shawn Macomber in today's American Spectator points out that George Bush could have supported Pat Toomey when Toomey was on the verge of unseating Specter.

All of which goes to show that debate on the right is always more interesting than debate on the left.

I usually agree with Hugh, but sometimes his centrist instincts get the better of his conservative nature (perhaps because he's as much of a political operator as those whom he analyzes-- exhibit A for that would be his support of Arnold Schwarzenegger over Tom McClintock in the California recall election. You could say that Arnold helped GWB in Ohio, as he undoubtedly did, but McClintock, had he been elected governor of CA, would not have lobbied as Arnold did on behalf of state funding for embryonic stem cell research)

The BeldarBlog take alluded to above can be found here:

4:03 PM  
Blogger Patrick O'Hannigan said...

Two links that build on what I said in my previous comment.

First, Robert Novak on Specter's Roe v. Wade litmus test:

Second, Shawn Macomber's argument that Bush brought this on himself:

I don't think Hugh Hewitt's call to party loyalty covers enough ground to answer Specter's critics. He's basically saying that the GOP needs a real good reason to rock Senate tradition. Conversely, the only reason I can see for calling off the dogs is that doing so would put Specter even deeper into the favor bank in terms of what he owes George Bush and Bill Frist. The trouble with Specter is that he probably wouldn't notice how much he owes other politicians in his own party.

4:49 PM  
Blogger ranter said...

I don't understand the argument in favor of Specter.

Hugh seems to assume that if he gets the chairmanship, he won't make trouble, and if he doesn't get the chairmanship, he will make trouble. That is a shaky assumption at best, and problematic, considering the stakes.

If he makes trouble, wouldn't it be better if he was 1 of 100 rather than the chairman? If he doesn't make trouble, who cares where he is?

Also, Arlen is not a moderate. Not by a long shot. Bork, Thomas, tort reform, Roe, what else?

And I don't see the argument about moral absolutism. Pro-life justices aren't really going to be pro-life, they'll be pro-federalism. They'll repeal Roe, hopefully, but does anyone really think they'll outlaw abortion? Of course not. They'll let the states decide. It looks to me as if this argument is being shaped from a Left point of view.

12:10 AM  

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