Arlen escapes


Way too often for my liking, elected Republicans do something to justify being called "the Stupid Party." (For the record, people who call the GOP "the Stupid Party" call the Democrats "the Evil Party.")

Yesterday, the Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to recommend Arlen Specter to be the committee's new chairman, despite a long and loud outcry from grassroots conservatives who believe, with good reason, that Specter will be an obstacle to needed legal reforms and to the nominations of judges who believe in interpreting the law, rather than legislating from the bench. The other committee members are crowing about the "concessions" they extracted from Specter before endorsing his chairmanship. Specter issued a statement defending his record on judicial nominations and pledging that he would not apply a litmus test against pro-life nominees, that he would hold quick hearings and early votes on the President's judicial nominees, that he will use his "best efforts to stop any future filibusters." He has also pledged not to bottle up legislation and constitutional amendments in committee, even when he is personally opposed.

Let's look at the bargain that was struck: Specter gets what he wants right away in exchange for a promise. What are the consequences if he breaks his promise? There are none. The Republicans have said they could deprive him of his chairmanship if he goes back on his word, but doing so for policy reasons would be unprecedented, and they won't be willing to withstand the condemnation from the mainstream media. And even if the Republicans do respond to a betrayal, the damage will have already been done -- a fine legal mind will have been publicly trashed and blocked from taking a seat on the Federal bench, and the President will have been forced to name someone with views more like Specter's to get him through the Senate.

Maybe Republicans are just too merciful or sentimental or trusting or tradition-bound to press their advantage. The point of winning elections is to accomplish the agenda you set out during your campaign. If you have the power, use it to make the system work to enact your agenda. We have handed a victory to the forces of judicial lunacy in exchange for mere words from someone who has proven himself to be untrustworthy.

Here's a tip for Republican officials: When you're negotiating with someone you don't trust, he should be required to fulfill his part of the bargain before or at the same time that you fulfill your end of the deal. If neither party trusts each other -- that's why there's escrow. Please note that someone issuing a statement promising to fulfill his part of the bargain is not equivalent to actually fulfilling it.

At the very least the Republicans should have put his chairmanship in escrow for two years -- if he supports the President's judicial nominees and works to end the practice of judicial filibustering, he gets to take over as chairman in 2007.

The battle to stop Specter did at least shake things up a bit. Maybe it will make a difference when a controversial judicial nominee is before the committee. We'll see. Until then Arlen Specter's trustworthiness is "not proven."

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on November 19, 2004 6:17 PM.

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