The Facts Machine

"And I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide"

Thursday, November 11, 2004


Digby thinks that at least among the Senate and the White House, the Arlen Specter Senate Judiciary issue is something of a tableau:
I'm not buying this good cop bad cop routine. Specter flexes a very tiny little muscle, the Reconstructionists howl at the top of their lungs, the Senate traditionalists tell everyone to settle down, Specter gives a public blow job and everybody sees that the Republicans aren't really in the hands of the Christian Right because Specter still has his chairmanship.
I agree that this is a pageant, though I do think the clamoring among the folks at The Corner and elsewhere is genuine.

Still, there's one detail in all of this that people have so far neglected, that might hold the key to where things really stand.

In the Pennsylvania Republican primary, Specter narrowly defeated hard-right, anti-choice challenger Pat Toomey, with a big assist from the Bush campaign's get-out-the-vote operation.

(By the way, the percentage results from that primary were Specter 51, Toomey 49, but you didn't hear Arlen talking about a "broad victory" or a "mandate" at the time)

What does this mean? It means that Arlen owes Bush for his continued political career.

With that in mind, I don't think Specter is going anywhere. He's much more useful to Bush politically as a "bad cop" than having a Culture-war yes-man as chair of SenJud would be, vis a vis abortion. To understand why, let's look at the issue in more detail...

Opposition to reproductive rights has been an effective minority position for the Republicans for a long time. Politically speaking, it's been best employed when there's an elected target at which to aim it, whether it be Bill Clinton, Nancy Pelosi or Arlen Specter. Opposition to choice looks a lot worse when there isn't a bogeyman in the government itself; that situation forces politicians into a position where they're more clearly opposing women's rights.

Most elected Republicans seem to realize this, the strongly "pro-life" ones included. Save for the brief Jeffords-induced Democratic renaissance in the Senate (analogous to, say, Hungary in 1956), Republicans had control over the entire Congress, plus the White House for 4 years straight. Yet only two notable legislative steps were taken by the Republicans regarding abortion: The Unborn Victims of Violence Act, and the ban on late-term abortions. (the appropriate phrasing, btw) Both of these acts were largely symbolic, the former piggybacking on a recent tabloid murder, and the latter nibbling on the edge of the issue. Heck, the Republican Congress has passed the same ban a number of times, the only difference now is that they had a President who would sign it.

This all seems very measured, calculated, and almost cynical coming from people who expend a lot of energy bemoaning the "slaughter" or "40 million babies". Sure, the Supreme Court isn't completely where the opponents of choice want it to be, but why would that stop them from writing bills, openly supporting them, and passing them based on their dear principles?

The reason why Republicans in Congress aren't passing broad legislation on abortion is the same reason Bush wants Specter heading SenJud: They're milking the issue. They know what their conservative, evangelical base wants, and their giving them just enough to ensure the level of electoral support they need.

In the case of Specter, Bush wants him to be the last line of defense, so much so that Bush hand-picked Specter over his anti-choice opponent in the Republican primary. Every time Bush nominates someone for a federal judgeship at any level, he can count on Specter to engage in some form of Kabuki act with him that leaves Bush as the pure pro-lifer and Specter in the dual role of Bush suck-up and embattled opponent of the pro-lifers.

The big questions are: How long will the Dobson/Jones/Falwell wing accept this act? And what happens when Justice O'Connor retires? The intersection of anti-abortion activism and procedural plausibility that Roe could be overturned looms on the horizon. We're going to learn a lot about the modern Republican Party when those confirmation hearings take place.

And this is all before whatever backlash occurs if abortion is banned. They may very well find out that opposition to abortion is a better way to take power than to keep it.

POSTSCRIPT: If you're saying to yourself, or to me, "Hey, those cynical Democrats milk things too!", I'd advise you to take a look at this:

See that card in Bill's hand? TFM happily invites you to take that card and shove it.

POST-POSTSCRIPT: And oh, by the way, abortions have gone up in Bush's first term, after dropping 17% through the 1990's.


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