RINO Survival Guide: On the Trail with Arlen Specter

By Macomber, Shawn | The American Spectator, June 2004 | Go to article overview
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RINO Survival Guide: On the Trail with Arlen Specter

Macomber, Shawn, The American Spectator

IT'S 10 A.M. ON A SUNDAY MORNING, and I'm at a gun show on the outskirts of Philadelphia where Sen. Arlen Specter is set to tout his NRA endorsement. The man seated next to me has a black T-shirt with blood-red lettering that reads, "Some People Are Alive Simply Because It Is Illegal to Kill Them." I accidentally catch his eye and he glares at me, which wouldn't make me nervous except I am in a room full of semi-automatic weapons, memorabilia from the Third Reich, and Japanese Samurai swords.

The only small talk I make is with a middle-aged man who expresses disappointment that there aren't any vendors selling the reinforced white plastic tubes you bury in your backyard to "dump your guns in when the man shows up to take 'em."

"I should have picked one at the last show," he says. I nod and smile, because...well, what do you say to something like that?

A few minutes later, Specter shows up and gives the kind of speech anti-government conspiracy theorists go gaga over. He rails against the ATF and FBI raid of Randy Weaver's Ruby Ridge cabin-during which an ATF officer and Weaver's wife and teenage son were killed-and the siege of the Branch Davidian complex at Waco.

Specter plays up the folk hero status Weaver currently enjoys on the gun show circuit (Weaver makes his living these days mostly by selling signed Polaroids of himself at these shows), telling the crowd Weaver had been "entrapped" by the government when he refused to "be an informant." Specter promises to use his clout as a senator to combat such "abuses of power" in the future.

That said, Specter moves on to the heart of his stump speech, which consists of quoting and re-quoting (at length) from President Bush's flattering endorsement six days earlier. Specter is in surprisingly good spirits, but seems frazzled when the gun rights folks start to ask questions. Queried about his support for McCain-Feingold, Specter simply apologizes for the vote. He lifts up his palms and says, "I made a mistake." A question on his support for the Assault Weapons Ban gets anon-verbal shrug. Atrio of college girls with literature from the campaign of his challenger, Rep. Pat Toomey, are happy to fill in the gaps.


I'M CANVASSING PENNSYLVANIA because the Specter-Toomey race has become a proxy for a larger struggle within the Republican Party. The four-term senator from a battleground state was described by President Bush as being just "a little bit independent minded," in an aw-shucks there-goes-Uncle-Stew-again way, but Specter's votes and speeches over the years have made him a tempting target for conservative activists would like to make a statement against the compassionate conservative drift of the party.

Specter is the man, after all, who enthusiastically supports taxpayer funding of abortions and is the beneficiary of thousand of dollars of Planned Parenthood money targeting Toomey on his behalf; who's against tort reform and school choice; who supports racial quotas, who helped invent the verb to Bork, who voted "yea" on certifiable pinko Ruth Bader Ginsburg and "not proven" on the removal of Bill Clinton (citing an obscure provision of Scottish-yes, you read that right, Scottish-law), and whose presumptive chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee is not likely to be kind to traditional Jurists.

And there's more, of course: Specter fought Bush's tax cuts; has a lifetime love affair with labor unions; and was the only Republican senator to vote for a bill allowing the International Criminal Court to try American soldiers-an attack on our sovereignty so heinous even John F. Kerry voted against it.

So it should have come as no surprise that rightwing activists looking for a way to send a message to the Bush administration and Congress-in protest of everything from the orgiastic spending to campaign finance reform-settled on this race. The conservative money pouring into the state isn't enough to pull Toomey even with Specter's $10 million war chest, but there are other benefits.

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RINO Survival Guide: On the Trail with Arlen Specter


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