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Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The Specter of a Moderate Republican

Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania is well-known as a Republican moderate.  He stayed out of the "gang of 14" for political-turf reasons, but in general, he has a track record of moderate-right votes.  For this, he comes under regular attack from the right wing of the Republican party.  Conservative groups criticize him and support his primary foes, and he is labeled a "RINO" -- Republican in Name Only -- by various right-wing political groups.  He recently survived a tough primary where his opponent made a huge issue out of the "RINO" charges.

Because of these attacks, Arlen Specter takes the necessary steps to burnish his conservative credentials.  This included, a few months ago, speaking before a group of churches and stating that he supports government grants to faith-based charities.

Which led in turn to the slightly surreal panic letter that I got from the ACLU last week, asking for more money to combat the theocratic intentions of that hardliner Arlen Specter.  Yes, of all of the politicians that I should be worrying about, the ACLU would like to highlight that incorrigible conservative Arlen Specter. 

My first reaction was to laugh.  I follow politics a bit, and it's my impression that the hardline conservative is the other senator from Pennslyvania.  As a left-leaning moderate myself, I would be quite happy if there were more Arlen Specters in the Senate.  I was a little surprised that the ACLU was missing the point so badly.  But then I started wondering, and it occurred to me that maybe the ACLU is being smarter on this than I'm giving them credit for. 

The ACLU knows that Senator Specter is not the real problem.   But they also saw his primary difficulties, and they know of his need to burnish those conservative credentials.  I suspect that they would very much like him to survive his next primary.  After all, if he doesn't make it past a tough primary next time, he might be replaced in the Senate by a Santorum-like hardliner. 

So what better way to burnish Senator Specter's conservative credentials -- helping create easier future primaries for him, leading to a greater likelihood that he'll be on the Senate long-term -- than to issue an ACLU letter decrying his rabid conservatism?  That reinforces the message that Specter's speech to the church group is important.  And it puts a well-known conservative bugbear in public opposition to Specter, precisely because of Specter's conservative remarks.  That ACLU letter will be a great defense for Senator Specter in the next primary.  "You don't think I'm conservative enough?" he'll ask.  "Look, here's proof that the ACLU hates me."

Perhaps there is some method to this madness, after all.

Posted by Kaimi Wenger on June 21, 2005 at 11:31 AM in Law and Politics | Permalink

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I find Wenger's reasoning not at all tortuous (look it up, kids) and fully plausible. But it worries me. Tongue-in-cheek though I take the presentation to be, it nonetheless makes light of the serious issue of legal and political gambiteering. [Read More]

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Comments

Gee, I thought that the ACLU was a non-partisian organization.

Posted by: MJ | Jun 21, 2005 1:16:13 PM

I should add, though, that we're both overthinking it. Specter isn't up for reelection until 2010, and is gravely ill. He's very unlikely to seek another term.

Posted by: anon | Jun 21, 2005 11:58:33 AM

I disagree. The ACLU wants Specter to lose his next primary because, while he's unbeatable in a Pennsylvania general election, his far-right replacement may not be. Almost everyone thinks that Santorum is going down in 2006, to be replaced by a moderate-to-conservative Democrat. Another moderate Dem has no shot of unseating Specter, who kept his seat easily in 2004 while Bush was trounced by Kerry in PA. But if a Santorum clone could beat Specter in a primary, playing the RINO card, a Democrat might be able to beat the Santorum clone in the general.

I say this as a Pennsylvania Democrat who is strongly in favor of Specter keeping his seat. As long as the Senate is Republican-majority, we need a moderate like him in positions of power.

Posted by: anon | Jun 21, 2005 11:57:28 AM

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