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Let's elect Specter

By Bruce Walker
web posted May 3, 2004

Last week, the best possible outcome of the Pennsylvania senatorial primary would have been a Toomey victory on Tuesday followed by a Pennsylvania Republican victory in November which included the election of a Senator Toomey and the capture of Pennsylvania's twenty-one electoral votes for President Bush.

Today, however, the best possible outcome is the reelection of Senator Specter and the capture of Pennsylvania's twenty-one electoral votes for President Bush. It would be madness for conservatives to think otherwise.

Arlen SpecterSenator Specter is not a conservative, but he will support the reelection of President Bush and can help the President carry Pennsylvania. Specter will also unquestionably vote with Republicans to organize the Senate. Both of these political objectives are critically important in the current very dangerous world.

If Specter is not a conservative, is he a liberal? Not really. Over his career, Senator Specter voted "Right" according to the American Conservative Union forty-three percent of the time. Congressman Hoeffel, the Democrat nominee for Specter's seat, voted "Right" over his career only eight percent of the time.

Specter is not conservative or liberal. He is one of the few senators who could actually be called "moderate." Only three out of forty-nine Senate Democrats - Zell Miller of Georgia, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and John Breaux of Louisiana - have voting records as conservative as Specter. Miller and Breaux are not seeking reelection this year.

Democrat senators from states much more conservative than Pennsylvania, states that President Bush will carry, like North Carolina, South Carolina, Arkansas, South Dakota, Indiana, North Dakota and Louisiana (Landrieu) are not remotely as conservative as Specter.

Republicans in the Northeast come in three varieties. The first is the conservative Republican, who survives statewide elections. Except for Senator Santorum of Pennsylvania, only Republicans in New Hampshire have been able to do this consistently. When we try to elect some as good as Bret Schundler in the Northeast, we nearly always get someone worse than Christine Todd Whitman.

James Buckley was an outstanding New York senator, but he lost his only reelection campaign. Alfonse D'Amato was a savvy a politician as one is likely to ever see, yet his conservatism ultimately led to his defeat in 1998.

The second variety of Northeastern Republican is the John Lindsey, Jim Jeffords, Lowell Weicker type of Republicans, which is to say not Republican at all. If conservative Republicans are rare in the Northeast, these Leftist Republicans are virtually extinct.

The third variety of Northeastern Republican is the Rudy Giuliani, Olympia Snowe and Arlen Specter type of Republican. These Republicans are to the Left of the Republican center but clearly to the Right of the Democrat center. They sometimes snipe at Republican positions, but they also render critical support at crucial junctures.

If a Leftist Democrat had been Mayor of New York on September 11, 2001, instead of a principled, liberal Republican, President Bush would still be fending off crazy complaints concocted by the Democrat National Committee and dutifully spouted from Gracie Mansion. Did Specter have such a "Rudy" moment? Yes.

Specter played a decisive role in the confirmation of Clarence Thomas. The battle was extraordinarily heated and Specter, despite all his subsequent backpedaling, defied feminists and unflinchingly defended Thomas. That took guts.

Thomas was the first conservative black to gain very high political office in modern America. J.C. Watts, Condi Rice and many other black conservatives will follow Justice Thomas, but Clarence Thomas was the first bull's eye and Specter defended him.

Specter has also voted with the Republicans to end Democrat filibustering of the President's judicial appointments. These procedural votes provide a perfect opportunity for a phony politician to pretend to support a nominee but actually oppose the nominee.

Significantly, the vast majority of Democrat senators from conservative states whose voters want conservatives on the federal bench supported the filibuster, even though these senators would have been hard pressed to actually vote against the nominee in a floor vote.

Arlen Specter is not well liked, but likeability should not sway conservatives. Indeed, an insatiable craving for popularity leads to presidents who take public opinion polls before naming their pet dog. Indifference to the opinions of others may even be considered a conservative virtue. Leftists do not like Specter much either.

Senator Specter is Jewish. Increasingly Jewish voters are seeing the Republican Party as the most logical political party to support. Good men like Norm Coleman, who grew up as a Jewish Democrat in New York, now feel more comfortable as conservative Republicans.

The Philadelphia mayoral race, which has been a very close partisan contest the last two elections, has had Katz, a Jewish Republican, challenge the Street Democrat machine. Ed Koch, a liberal Jewish Democrat, is emphatically supporting President Bush. The Specter win disappoints conservatives like me, but it may also help persuade some Jewish voters who want to support the Republican Party that they are welcome.

These are all good reasons for Republicans and conservatives to rally behind Arlen Specter and help him win reelection, which will also help President Bush win reelection and Republicans to hold the Senate. But there is another good reason to help reelect him.

Arlen Specter is seventy-four years old and he will be eighty when he next faces reelection. It is entirely possible that he will retire then. Certainly the closeness of his victory will encourage him to lean toward a dignified end of his political career, rather than losing a Republican primary.

Genuine Republicans have made great strides in Pennsylvania. Both houses of the Pennsylvania State Legislature are Republican and most of the congressional delegation is Republican as well. Senator Santorum is a popular conservative Republican. Tom Ridge was a popular moderate Republican governor. Pat Toomey lost on Tuesday, but if Specter wins in 2004 and retires in 2010, then there is an excellent chance that a conservative similar to Rick Santorum could hold the seat for Republicans.

If Joseph Hoeffel captures the seat for Democrats, he will undoubtedly seek reelection in 2010, and probably would be favored to win that reelection (how many incumbent liberal Democrat senators have lost reelection in the Northeast?)

The Toomey candidacy was intended to send a message and it did. If Specter is reelected and retires in 2010, as he might, then a young, telegenic conservative like Rick Santorum or Mike DeWine win the Republican nomination and have a united Republican Party supporting his election.

If Specter loses, then we will lose not just one senate seat now, we will not just risk losing control of the Senate, we may even risk losing the White House, but we will also lose the hope of a future conservative colleague for Rick Santorum in the Senate.

Ronald Reagan, my hero, was not stupid or craven or ignorant. His Eleventh Commandment made sense then and it makes sense now: Thou Shalt Not Speak Ill of Another Republican. Like it or not, Arlen Specter convinced Pennsylvania Republicans that he should carry their banner. We should respect that and support him.

Bruce Walker is a senior writer with Enter Stage Right. He is also a frequent contributor to The Pragmatist and The Common Conservative.

Other related articles: (Open in a new window)

  • Specter is not worthy of GOP support by Doug Patton (April 26, 2004)
    Doug Patton believes that the White House is making a big mistake in supporting Arlen Specter over a committed conservative like Pat Toomey
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