Monday, November 08, 2004

Specter of a family feud

As Arlen Specter (R-Penn.), upon winning his fifth term to the U.S. Senate, prepared to assume the chairmanship of the chamber's powerful Judiciary Committee, he let it be known that he was in no mood to pussyfoot around.

When asked about the kind of jurists likely to ascend to the Supreme Court, Specter said, "When you talk about judges who would change the right of a woman to choose, or overturn Roe v. Wade, I think that is unlikely." The media promptly reported Specter's comments as a warning to the president when considering nominations, and the right went nuts.

James Dobson, creator of the Focus on the Family empire, said on ABC's "This Week," that Specter "is a problem, and he must be derailed." According to the Washington Post's Susan Schmidt:

Senate offices were swamped with calls about Specter late last week, and the uproar is "not going to go away," Dobson said. "Republican senators know they've got a problem."

The paper's Helen Dewar and Charles Lane reported Specter's "explanation," issued late last week:

"Contrary to press accounts, I did not warn the president about anything" and would "never apply any litmus test" on abortion, Specter said in a statement. "I expect to support his nominees," Specter said later in a telephone interview.

Believing its own press releases, the ecclesiastical class of the religious right thinks it, not Diebold and Democratic miscalculation, delivered the president's electoral victory, and is using the Specter flap as an opportunity to strut about and flex its muscle. Dewar and Lane report:

Concerned Women for America, a conservative group, issued a statement saying Specter had disqualified himself from the chairmanship and stuck by that statement even after Specter issued his clarification.

It's still unclear whether Specter will hold onto his chairmanship of the prestigious committee. What befuddles your blogstress is that in 2000, when the stakes were much lower for Specter personally, he played nice with the Bush ticket on the issue of abortion. He did, however, wonder aloud whether pro-choice Republicans were being a bit too accommodating, and when asked for clarification by your Webwench, demurred:

On Sunday, Arlen Specter, the pro-choice Republican senator from Pennsylvania, surveyed the crowd composed largely of Republicans that filled the ballroom of Philadelphia's famed Bellevue Hotel for an event sponsored by Planned Parenthood, the Republican Pro-Choice Coalition, the National Women's Political Caucus and several other women's rights groups.

From the podium, he invoked the ghost of Barry Goldwater, quoting the late Arizona senator: "'We have to keep the government out of our pocketbooks, off our backs and out of our bedrooms.'" The line drew a round of enthusiastic applause. "We are all good Republicans," he told an audience in need of appreciation, "and maybe we are too good Republicans...We don't want to make trouble for the ticket."

After he left the stage, Specter explained to me that it had been his own inclination to simply raise the issue of removing the GOP's harsh anti-abortion plank form its platform but not to press it. When I asked if his remarks reflected a pang of conscience over having gone along with the wishes of the Bush campaign, the senator replied, "Well, you heard me. I can't say it any better than that."

Read full story, "Very Good Republicans"

The outcome of the Specter flap should give the politically attuned a better sense of who's using whom. Is it Bush using the evangelicals, or the evangelicals owning Bush? Your cybertrix is betting on the former.

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