Tuesday, November 09, 2004

The Specter of Arlen as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee

My first reaction to Arlen Specter chairing the Judiciary committee in the Senate was a grab-the-vomit-bag revulsion, especially when he intimated that he might filter any Bush nominees through his left wing prism. But Hugh Hewitt has an excellent post, an excerpt appearing below, which debates the pragmatism of acquiescing in a Specter chairmanship. My gut tells me to push for Orin Hatch, but my brain says, maybe this could work. You can read the entire Hewitt post here.

The effort to stop Arlen Specter from gaining the chairmanship of the Committee on the Judiciary continues, though Karl Rove's comments yesterday signal the president's confidence that Specter will get the job done. I haven't persuaded anyone at The Corner yet, so time to try again. Opponents of Specter have to ask themselves a few questions. In fact, I'd like to see them answer these questions in text:

Would stopping Specter make it more or less likely that he would vote for Bush nominees to move from the committee to the floor?

Would stopping Specter make it more or less likely that Specter would vote to end filibusters on the floor?

Would stopping Specter make it more or less likely that Specter would vote to confirm nominees once they had made it to the floor and once a filibuster had been broken?

What would the effect of blocking Specter have on the conduct of his colleagues from the GOP's "center-left" wing, especially Senators Snowe and Collins of Maine and Chafee of Rhode Island? Would blocking Specter increase the likelihood of their opposition to Bush nominees?

Can opponents of Specter guarantee that they can have their cake and eat it to, or might these four (and perhaps Hagel of Nebraska) respond by returning fire on nominees?

Specter's opposition to Bork in 1987 was 15 years ago. Specter supported Clarence Thomas and every Bush nominee since W's election in 2000. On what basis do opponents of Specter base their belief that he will oppose Bush nominees in the second term?

What would the effect of blocking Specter be on the re-election of Rick Santorum in 2006? What would the effect of blocking Specter be on the chances of turning Pennsylvania "red" in '08?

If Specter in fact blocked any future nominee from coming to the floor and obtaining an up-or-down vote, I would then join the call for his demotion. But the first act of governing as a majority should not be the rejection of part of the governing coalition's majority because of ideology. Majorities are fleeting and have to be nurtured, not disciplined unless the nurturing fails. There are a couple of Democrats worth wooing in a reverse Jeffords (remember him?) Blocking Specter ends that and any other attempts to regularize the nomination process, returning it to its constitutional design.

It is the process that is broken, not the individual. Specter committed himself to a timetable for nominees and the entire Republican caucus needs to make this the priority. It might feel good to have a little purge, but that would be destructive of the ends for which this majority has been assembled, and the center-right needs to keep its eyes on the ball, which is the Supreme Court, not the man in the chair.

Better the Chairman you know (and have to watch closely) than the Jeffords (one, two, three or four of them?) you don't.

The Washington Post has a great post on the evangelical vote. This is one of the two great stories of election '04, the other being the surge in the Latino vote to Bush. I hope those Rove-Mehlman lieutenants in charge of organizing these groups get a bonus and a plea to stay on and keep working. Salutes to Dr. Dobson and other key leaders, World Magazine, my evangelical colleagues in broadcasting and blogging and other forces in the evangelical community for tireless efforts to prompt people of faith towards participation. It is a start, but by no means an end.

It may strike some readers as odd that I devote most of this post to arguing against the blocking of Senator Specter's chairmanship and end it with a salute to evangelical voting strength. But the two are tied together closely. Evangelicals have to give the majority coalition in which they are dominant part the opportunity to deliver political accomplishments over a period of time, and they must accept less than perfection on the part of the coalition --because it is a coalition, not a pure majority.

This is why I wrote my book this past year, and why it remains necessary to keep reminding people that there are not enough conservatives in this country to gain a governing majority. It is easy to lose sight of that undeniable fact just after a sweeping win. But if the center-right does forget, it will be back in the minority in two short years. Keep the elections of 1986 in mind. Weakened by Iran-Contra, the Republicans lost control of the Senate and lost seats in the House. Losing control of the Senate brought on the Borking of Bork. The majority matters, and it would be disastrous if the maneuvering of late 2004 contributed to a replay of November 1986 leading to a 2007 replay of the confirmation debacle of Robert Bork.

What do you think? Specter might even get Chafee on board with at least some of Bush's judicial nominees? Am I smoking something here or could this work?

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