Lately, moderation isn’t a word often spoken in U.S. politics. In the two weeks following general elections we’ve heard about mandates, values-voters and liberals threatening to flock to the border. But nestled in between, albeit awkwardly, is U.S. Republican Senator Arlen Specter.
Specter endured a lot in this election season. After winning a narrow victory over Republican Congressman Pat Toomey in the primaries, Specter was injured. Toomey challenged his ideology and forced Specter to shift rightward in order to gain Pennsylvania’s Republican heartland. With depleted funds, Specter handedly beat Democratic Congressman Joseph Hoeffel after shifting back toward the political center. He locked in endorsements from the AFL-CIO and Black Clergy, was endorsed by The Philadelphia Inquirer and proceeded to gain a number of Democratic votes after a relatively quiet campaign.
Then he opened his mouth.
Specter, who will likely hold the coveted position of chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, will likely oversee at least one Supreme Court nomination during his next term. Republican spinsters were confident after the president’s sound victory that bible-thumping pro-lifers were on the march and Specter would assuredly push through any of the president’s nominations.
“When you talk about judges who would change the right of a woman to choose, overturn Roe v. Wade, I think that is unlikely,” Specter said. “The president is well aware of what happened, when a number of his nominees were sent up, with the filibuster.”
The hailstorm quickly ensued. Republicans pounced on Specter, claiming he was switching teams. He was turning his back. He was threatening the very moral fabric of the nation. As political writer Tom Curry put it, “It seemed like disloyal and defeatist talk to the newly empowered conservatives.”
To Americans, specifically a majority of Pennsylvanians, it should have seemed like the senator they re-elected to an unprecedented fifth term. A number of Pa. voters, Democrats included, voted for Specter strategically. He is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, is highly respected in his party and could bring more of the same to Pennsylvania with his political clout and demanding personality. That means increased funding for area hospitals and medical research as well as lower tariffs and secured overtime pay.
More importantly, Specter brings a sense of restraint and analysis that is to be valued, especially by those fearful of an overwhelmingly Republican majority and its ideological baggage. In terms of the Senate Judiciary Committee, abortion proponents saw Specter as the remaining moderate stronghold in a party that appears to be shifting to the right.
Then yesterday arrived, and Specter showed a backbone that seems to be getting increasingly brittle with age. After being pounded by conservatives for days, Specter buckled to the pressure.
“I have assured the president that I would give his nominees quick committee hearings and early committee votes,” Specter said. “I have no reason to believe that I’ll be unable to support any individual President Bush finds worthy.”
Specter went on to say that he felt no pressure from conservatives, a blatant mistruth for anyone who has been following the onslaught in the past few days.
Many re-elected Specter not because of his pro-choice stance, but because he would at least counter a sweeping Republican monopoly on moral issues. Granted, Specter has sided with the president more often than not and has tended to align himself with Bush to benefit his image. But to those who believe in Specter, he is one with an independent voice who votes on sincerity and passion, not on party identification and peer pressure.
On Specter’s re-election pamphlet are three words: Courage. Clout. Conviction.
During Specter’s next and likely last term: We. Hope. So.