The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Thursday, November 11, 2004  

A Little Late to the Party

Sen. Arlen Specter (R), Pennsylvania's second-biggest embarassment in the U.S. Senate, is fighting for the prize he has wanted so badly for so many years: chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee.

Unfortunately, the 74-year-old lawmaker, a former Democrat, appears to have attached his ultimate political ambition to the wrong political party. Conservatives, including some in the White House, are concerned about Sen. Specter's potential treatment of pro-life judicial nominations and raising alarums at the prospect of his taking the top committee spot.

This week the senator has been chasing down the job, talking to everyone out of both sides of his mouth, and outlining a new strategy in yesterday's Wall Street Journal, with additional coverage in today's Philadelphia Inquirer ("Specter: Moderates in GOP Must Speak," by Steve Goldstein, November 11).

Sen. Specter's latest tactic is stake out, and stake claim to, the withering political force known as "moderate Republicanism," claiming he has been under assult all year from his party's dominant right wing: "You saw it all during the primary. That was their mantra, their bugle call. The same people that are after me now were after me in the primary."

The Inquirer's Goldstein writes:

The senator said he would never stop advocating a Big Tent for his party, in which the views of moderates were considered along with those of conservatives. Although so-called values voters -- a slice of the electorate primarily concerned with the moral values of candidates -- were a significant advantage for the President in the election, they are not a majority of the party, he added.

"No one group elected the President by themselves," Specter said. Moderate Republicans have a significant role to play, he said.

"It's important for the party but it's also important to the country that the Republican Party has balance," Specter said. "And there are a lot of independents and swing Democrats who look to see that there are moderate voices in the Republican Party." [...]

"There really is an urgent need for more vocal participation by moderates and pro-choice Republicans," he said.

Specter said he had recently sought out other moderate GOP members of the Senate. Though he declined to characterize those conversations, he said the only way they could remain relevant was to assert themselves. [...]

"It's a very important battle," he said. "And it's really a battle for balance in the party and it's really a battle for balance in America."

Does Sen. Specter intend to lead a battle for a more inclusive Republican Party? Does he really think there's a viable future there? It seems to me he's more than a little late to the party.

Where was Sen. Specter when the party lurched dramatically rightward in the 1980s? Along for the ride. What did Sen. Specter say and do during the 1990s when the Republican Party adopted ever more fringey ideas? Nothing of any significance or effect. What underlies Sen. Specter's latest scheme? Only the same opportunism that has characterized his entire career.

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