Looking backward obsessively is not the best thing in the world, but making sure that the historical record is correct, and known, is darned important.
This explains the double-take I did today when I heard Rush read from Hugh Hewitt’s mostly excellent column looking at the missed opportunities in the 109th Congress. I had read Hewitt’s column previously, but didn’t grasp the significance of this paragraph until I heard it:
And while the Senate twiddled away its days, crucial nominees to the federal appellate bench languished in the Judiciary Committee. The most important of them –Peter Keisler who remains nominated for the D.C. Circuit– didn’t even receive a vote because of indifference on the part of Chairman Specter.
Who was defending the idea of Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter ascending to the Chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee shortly after the 2004 election?
….. For the first time in decades, the GOP has the margins in both House and Senate to cooperate with a Republican president in the defining of the country’s course for the next century.
….. Parties do have to agree on some non-negotiables. For Republicans that list includes a commitment to battle obstructionism in the judicial confirmation process, but it ought not to include a loyalty oath on every nominee.
….. conservatives should pause before overthrowing a system that celebrates seniority in the Senate. Where will it stop? Some conservatives are particularly annoyed with Specter, but it isn’t as though he’s the only moderate Republican who has offended GOP majoritarian beliefs in the past.
….. Beginning a new era with a purge is simply the worst possible politics, a self-inflicted wound, and one the consequences of which could be far reaching and awful.
Prudence. Prudence. Prudence.
Hugh Hewitt wrote the above. Look what “prudence” has achieved.
The ascendancy of Arlen Specter to Judiciary was arguably the first in what turned out to be a long series of disappointments to the prolife and strict-constructionist GOP base. Even before the 109th Congress convened, it set the stage for the two years of timidity and accommodation, in essence a majority not governing like one, that Hewitt bemoans in his column. All of this ultimately led to the loss of the party’s Senate majority.
Hewitt’s big fear was defection to the Democrats by several Senators. The score in the Senate was 55-45 at the time, the victory was fresh, and the Democrats were in full blame-the-electorate and “find me a ticket to Canada” mode. Why not dare Specter and other recalcitrants to bolt, if it came to that?
We see what happened instead. The formation of the Gang of 14, assuming it would have happened anyway (likely, given John McCain’s me-first outlook), “should” have led to many more successful judicial nominees after the initial flurry. Instead, Specter, with the acquiescence of Bill “won’t be missed” Frist, dawdled and dithered. Conservatives who should have known better told themselves, “That’s all right, we’ll get around to it.”
Now, as Hewitt notes, a historical opportunity is gone. The fault is primarily Specter’s, but Hewitt should have known better than to champion and defend him. As one of conservatism’s leading spokespundits, he should own up to his role in setting the intellectual tone that leaves the GOP where it is today.
UPDATE: Let’s see some other reax at the time –
- Patterico, 11/18/2004 — “I donâ€™t support Specter for the chair position, but I can live with it â€” as long as he does what heâ€™s told.” Did he?
- Calblog, 11/12/2004 — “I still maintain that Senator Specter shouldn’t be let within a mile of the Judiciary Committee, let alone its chairmanship.”
- Specter himself, in a 11/3/2004 press conference, noted at The Corner — “Nobody can be confirmed today who didnâ€™t agree with Brown v. Board of Education on integration, and I believe that while you traditionally do not ask a nominee how theyâ€™re going to decide a specific case, thereâ€™s a doctorate and a fancy label term, stari decisis, precedent which I think protects that issue (that would be abortion on demand — Ed.). That is my view, now, before, and always.”
- A Pittsburgh Tribune editorial, 11/14/2004 , noting the groundswell of protest against Specter’s ascension and the Senator’s reaction — “Outrage from pro-life forces has only intensified; they and pro-family groups are planning to protest in Washington on Tuesday. And conservatives at large seized a golden opportunity to start publicizing Specter’s overall record and his penchant for substituting constitutionally proscribed dictatorial judicial activism for the constitutionally prescribed legislative process. ….. An honorable Sen. Specter would holster his vanity, recognize the distraction he has become, and remove himself from Judiciary chair consideration. But we’re talking about Arlen Specter, aren’t we. (sic)”
- Here is the remnant of the notspecter.com web site that was active at the time.
UPDATE 2: Just wondering — 12 or 18 years from now, if the Democrats happen to control the Senate at the time, who in their right mind thinks that Democrat Senator Bob Casey, if he remains truly prolife, would be allowed to become Judiciary Chairman?
UPDATE 3: Ramesh Ponnuru had what was probably the best column at the time on why Specter becoming Chairman of Judiciary should have been opposed.