Tomorrow, Pennsylvania voters will have an opportunity to save the conservative movement from what could be its largest obstacle over the next six years: a fifth term for Arlen Specter.
It is difficult to overstate the importance of Pat Toomey’s primary challenge to Specter. Specter has made his career derailing the conservative movement; if he beats Toomey, he will be favored for re-election in November, and will immediately transform from a frustrating irritant into a powerful opponent.
If Specter wins this April 27 primary, expect to see the 74-year-old tack hard to his left in preparation for what will be his final term. And his power–should he win that final term–will be terrifying: Specter will chair the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Appropriations subcommittee on the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education.
It is not hard to track how Specter has eased off his leftist tendencies in the past year in response to the primary contest from his right. In a cynical move worthy of Bill Clinton, Specter, who voted to push taxes higher in a time of surplus (before the Toomey challenge), has started favoring lower taxes in a time of deficit (after Toomey joined the race).
But this is only because Specter now needs to defuse conservative anger at his past record. Yet even in this period of faux-conservatism, Specter’s record has been awful.
In the past two months, while he has voted to ban partial-birth abortion and to support the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, Specter backed Democratic amendments that would have eviscerated those bills.
On the partial-birth bill, Specter backed a substitute by arch-liberal Sen. Dick Durbin, which would have made a health-of-the-mother exception to the ban. These health-of-the-mother exceptions, it has been established, effectively nullify the ban, because abortionists often hold than pregnancy always threatens the health of the mother.
Specter, however, voted against a GOP motion to kill the Durbin measure. Thirteen Democrats voted with the pro-life side.
On the Unborn Victims bill, Specter supported the final measure–but only after backing a Dianne Feinstein alternative that would have made clear that an unborn child killed in an attack on his mother is not to be considered a victim.
On spending, Specter has only been worse during the campaign, earning Citizens Against Government Waste’s porker of the year award in 2003 and sponsoring last month a measure to increase health spending by $2 million.
Remember, this has been nice Specter. The man is 74 years old. He likely will not seek another term in 2010, which would end when he was 86. So not only will Specter be stronger as a Judiciary chairman, he will be completely unanswerable to his party because he will be a lame duck.
Nice Specter is still bad. Normal Specter is awful. A lame-duck Chairman Specter may be conservatives’ worst nightmare.
For a parallel, look at how Sen. Zell Miller (D., Ga.) has behaved now that he has one foot out the door. Miller has not only consistently gone against his party on core votes, he has written a book about how awful his party is. Miller goes on television every chance he gets to push that message and his book. Finally, he’s started “Democrats for Bush,” a group with the express purpose of undermining the base’s support for his party’s candidate.
By re-electing Specter, Republicans will be creating their own Zell Miller–a liberal to lend “bipartisan” credibility to left-wing proposals and give the media a point of reference from which to make any conservative look extreme.
That the White House and conservative senators have backed Specter should say more about them than it does about Specter. One must question how seriously Senators George Allen and Bill Frist take the conservative agenda if they are willing to fight for a Specter fifth term.
This Pennsylvania primary is a proxy battle–not so much between the GOP’s right wing and its left wing, but between the believers and the bureaucrats. Tuesday’s primary pits those who have a vision of the Republican party as the advocate of liberty and life against those in Washington who see the GOP primarily as a tool for self-advancement and self-preservation.
For conservatives who truly care about the unborn and see a rapidly expanding federal government as a threat to our liberty and prosperity, Arlen Specter must go.
–Timothy P. Carney is a reporter for the Evans-Novak Political Report.