The spectre of Specter

Posted: Nov 11, 2004 12:00 AM

Question on the LAT (Leadership Aptitude Test): Hey, conservative Christian, you've just helped to re-elect a president and strengthen the GOP in Congress. What are you doing next?

 Four common answers since Nov. 2: (a) We're going to Disney World. (b) We're dictating surrender terms to the rest of the country. (c) We're begging for some crumbs from the GOP table. (d) We're becoming coalition co-leaders.

 Hmmm. Pleasant as it might be to go on vacation for the next four years, I'd suggest eliminating (a). Exciting as it is to enjoy irrational exuberance, we should also steer clear of (b). Comfortable though a supplicant's position may be, we can do better than (c).

 I'd propose, with history as our guide, that conservative Christians choose (d). That's what "religious right" leaders in the late 18th century such as Patrick Henry and Samuel Adams did. To defeat the big government British, they formed a coalition with libertarians.

 What they and more recent coalition leaders knew was this: Compromise within the coalition, but don't destroy the coalition by compromising with people on the other side. Win support not by whispering sweet nothings, but by showing that your policies work. Make sure leaders respect key coalition players.

 That's what President Bush should and will remember. Mainstream media folks are hectoring him now to foster "national unity," but on tough public policy questions, only success creates unity. The new United States gained some unity when British troops left in 1783. Ronald Reagan during the 1980s achieved national unity concerning the Soviet Union only when the evil empire collapsed.

 Similarly, Republican welfare reform in 1995 came under fire because children would supposedly be starving, but in a few years it became apparent that the dire predictions were wrong and that children and parents were generally doing much better. Now, we have some degree of national unity about the importance of welfare reform, but only because it's working.

 President Bush can unite the country by winning in Iraq, and by fighting for economic and social policies that emphasize family, and decrease bureaucratic and judicial over-reaching. And he can achieve that only if Christian conservatives and libertarians, the two big players in today's Republican coalition, respect each other. We have to be willing to compromise within the coalition while standing firm against liberals.

 Respect begins by not calling each other "extremists." Sam Adams was vitriolic about the British but complimentary toward Hancock. That's why, to look at this week's hot Beltway-and-blog debate, Arlen Specter should not chair the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is responsible for vetting Supreme Court justices and other key appointees. His pledge to fight judicial "extremists" -- i.e. critics of Roe vs. Wade -- should take him out of the running.

 Specter is doing a little backpedaling now, but his rantings are on the record, and wise employers do not hire a person who growls during the interview. What will he be like once he's ensconced? Conservative opposition to Specter, though, needs a clear focus: The issue should be not membership, but leadership.

 In other words, conservatives should welcome Arlen Specter, liberal Republican. The GOP needs some of them for its Senate majority, just like the patriots in 1776 needed the radical Thomas Paine and Abraham Lincoln needed Thaddeus Stevens. Conservatives, though, should oppose Arlen Specter, prospective chairman.

 To ace the LAT, we need to understand the difference between welcoming members and voting in leaders. We should treat Specter respectfully but not enthrone him.