For a while I’ve been debating with myself exactly how much Arlen Specter (R-PA) values his committee chair. Enough to give a little slack to a notoriously mendacious Administration witness, sure. He seems to have some residual sense of self-worth, but it never comes through when the chips are down. He won’t admit to toadying when he’s outside of the halls of Congress but get him near that gavel and goshdarnit Specter can’t help himself.
If Josh Marshall has it right Specter just contributed to the censure debate by declaring the FISA law itself to be unconstitutional. You can find interesting discussion here about why that’s actually the most credible of the myriad defenses on offer and why the Administration would rather not go there, so you have to give Specter some credit. Nonetheless declaring a crucial component of national security unconstitutional the kind of Rubicon that you can’t very easily un-cross. If you live in Pennsylvania consider taking a minute to call Specter’s office at (202-224-4254) and ask him to stop being a chump.
I’m still hunting for a transcript, but reports from the field are mixed. Consider Specter’s chump status strictly provisional until I figure out exactly what happened. The NYT has this, which I consider moderately chumpish but not outside of the DC mainstream:
Senator Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican who has expressed reservations about the surveillance, said Mr. Feingold had failed to make a case for censure over what amounts to a dispute over the legal basis of the program.
“The president may be wrong,” Mr. Specter said, “but he has acted in good faith.”
By Specter’s new standard it’s ok to knowingly break the law as long as you act in good faith. Let’s say for example that I think that it would be a net benefit to the world if the mentally ill didn’t breed, and yet it’s illegal to forcibly sterilize them. By Specter’s reasoning I’m within my rights to go ahead and do it as long as I’m acting in good faith. Maybe I have to be president for Specter’s legal rationale to work, although that double standard makes Sen. Majority Leader Bill Frist very angry:
I will have no part in the creation of a constitutional double-standard to benefit the President. He is not above the law. If an ordinary citizen committed these crimes, he would go to jail.
Half a point and a stale biscuit to whoever correctly guesses the context of Frist’s comments.
Also regarding ethics, Hilzoy at ObWings has an excellent piece up from a professional’s perspective.