Scare quotes and litmus tests

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles ) | Nov 19, 2004

Despite heated protests from American pro-lifers, the Republican Party is backing Senator Arlen Specter as the next chairman of the crucial Senate Judiciary Committee-- after Specter promised (as the New York Times put it) "not to use a 'litmus test' to block judicial nominees who oppose abortion..."

For years the Times and its ideological kin have rapped Republicans for imposing a litmus test on judicial nominees, to screen out anyone who was not pro-life. Whether there really was such a litmus test is open to question, given the number of Republican nominees who have voted to uphold Roe v. Wade.

But now the litmus test works in the other direction; it is imposed by liberal lawmakers, to bar nominees who would protect the life of the unborn.

So whereas in the past it was a litmus test, it's now a "litmus test." The scare quotes have been added, to signal the editors' belief that it's just being called a "litmus test."

When liberals do it, you see, it's not a "litmus test." (We have been carefully trained to think there's something wrong with a "litmus test," although our high-school chemistry teachers certainly found the procedure useful.) When liberals do it, it's just good government.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: John J Plick - Nov. 22, 2004 10:52 AM ET USA

    Dear Gusguru, Perhaps a story would be helpful in this situation. A very discreet and reserved protestant woman once complained to the famous evangelist D L Moody about his "forward" way of evangelizing, that is, getting people to come to Christ. Moody, always the gentleman, politely asked the woman about which method of evangelism did SHE use. The woman stammered and stuttered, but finally admiitted that in fact she DID NOT evangelize. D L said he much preferred his method.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 20, 2004 8:04 PM ET USA

    Billie is right. This guy HAS to walk the straight and narrow path now ... or else his colleagues run the very real risk that millions of people who want conservative judges will stay home in 2006 and 2008. If the Republicans betray me I certainly won't help them again next time.

  • Posted by: Billie Lee - Nov. 19, 2004 6:36 PM ET USA

    Much as i despise Senator Specter, he will be able to less harm as Chairman than if he had been denied the Chairmanship. Can you imagine what he would do if he had been denied the Chairmanship? All of the pressure put on this situation by the pro-life voices and by his fellow Republican Senators have forced him to make implied committments to behave. I think we came out ahead on this one. Time will tell.

  • Posted by: extremeCatholic - Nov. 19, 2004 4:50 PM ET USA

    The Republican majority Senators are a bunch of cowards. Rather than pressuring Specter simply to withdraw his name from consideration and deal with it quietly, they made it a loud vote to preserve or destroy the traditional seniority system in Senate appointments thereby making it possible to posture that a vote for Specter was not so much a vote to deny Bush his own nominees, but a vote to uphold the traditions of the Senate. Bush has to take Specter's preferences into account now.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 19, 2004 4:04 PM ET USA

    When John Ashcroft was being confirmed as Attorney General, he was questioned hard about an interview he gave in Southern Partisan; presumably, had the senators suspected as a result of the questions that Ashcroft really did long for a return to the days of African slavery, he would have been rejected immediately. Apparently, then, one can (and should) apply a litmus test vis-a-vis racism in order to eliminate white supremacists. Why is this wrong when the subject is abortion?

  • Posted by: - Nov. 19, 2004 2:27 PM ET USA

    It has every reason to distrust Senator Specter. He is a sneaky, double-dealer, and a consummate opportunist. However, in this one instance, I am willing to give his colleagues the benefit of the doubt. If he obstructs pro-life judicial appointees, then his colleagues can have their feet held to the fire. I have some glimmer of hope that he will go along with the President's nominations--maybe to ensure his political survival.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 19, 2004 1:29 PM ET USA

    Phil, Why are you surprised at this? This is exactly why Catholics can't vote Republican anymore. Do they really care about the pro-life movement? They are not different then the bishops. When one of their numbers does something wrong, they rally around him and treat him like a hero.