Rent-a-Specter: Dem’s Take Up Lease on Pennsylvania Senator
The look on PBS’ Judy Woodruff’s “Vogue” magazine, angular, sharply chiseled face told it all last night. A professionally worried look. Her brow wrinkling with faux concern, she asked one of her numberless liberal stooge-guests on “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” (pronounced “la-rah” by the New Yawk nasal voiced announcer) how in the world can the Republican party survive if it cleaves to conservatism and discourages “moderate” leaders like Arlen Specter that they have no future within it? As if the hyper intense Judy wife of lefty Al Hunt (managing editor of Bloomberg Washington) gives a good goddamn.
The answer came with the familiar hand-wringing: oh the GOP is in the grip of a terrible conservative clique and so this may be the turning-point, the degradation and debasement of a once great party to the status of the Whigs before its final dissolution. Actually the same question was asked…if not by the aging Judy but by other mavens…when wonder- and pretty-boy John Lindsay, one of the worst mayors New York city ever had, switched to the Democrats in order to run for president in 1972. He caused not a ripple and the media soon forgot him. He ran for the Dem senatorial nomination in 1980 and lost spectacularly. He has gone down in history as having been a carbuncle on the buttock of urban progress, driving the city into penury, doing very little that was right but looking pretty. At the end, ill, forgotten, himself at poverty’s door, he was forced to rely on Rudy Giuliani to give him an appointment to a few boards and commissions which paid him so that he could live on some meager income.
That was the unspectacular end of one progressive who broke with his party. The case of Arlen Specter is quite different. Born in tiny Russell, Kansas (the hometown of Bob Dole) to a Jewish junk dealer and fruit vender, Specter has always been bereft of a philosophical compass. He was without one when as a Democrat, he worked as an assistant to the elected Philadelphia prosecutor. Then Specter ran to succeed him on the Republican ticket while remaining a registered Democrat: how’s that for duplicity? Once elected, he switched his registration to Republican. Disliked by many Republicans as well as Democrats, the reason was he never achieved solidarity with either. The Republicans felt they couldn’t count on him nor could the Democrats. However the Bush administration made a wise choice in holding its nose and backing him for re-nomination over conservative and much-to-be-preferred Pat Toomey in 2004. The deal that was cut was a good one: Specter would vote for pro-life Supreme Court nominees which he did and which amounted to two outstanding jurists getting on the court. Toomey’s election that year was in doubt and without the Specter deal we would not have gotten Sam Alito or John Roberts.
The familiar caterwauling that the “loss” of Specter will doom the Republican party unless it turns to the left is as old as the wailing when Wendell Willkie lost the 1944 Wisconsin primary in his return bid after having sucked up to FDR following his 1940 defeat. True Specter as a Dem and the likely victory of Minnesota’s Al Franken will give the Dems a veto proof majority but there is a great gain in it as well. The Republicans’ unifying argument in the 2010 congressional midterms will be against a one-sided government: now against a Senate that is veto-proof. That was the case in 2001 when Vermont’s Jim Jeffords switched from Republican to Independent giving the Dems’ a one vote margin over the Republicans plus Vice President Dick Cheney. Soon thereafter the Republicans captured the majority again and none other than Dem majority leader Tom Daschle went down to defeat. At his retirement from the Senate, only one Republican spoke in his praise: Chuck Grassley. All others walked out or sat on their hands. Thus ever to Benedict Arnolds.
To show the imponderable, circuitous and self-interested career of Arlen Specter, he made a feeble attempt to run for the Republican presidential nomination in 1996 but hardly made a dent. Then he not only remonstrated with Jeffords to stay as a Republican (because with the GOP in control of the body, Specter would benefit) but actually introduced a resolution which, if passed, would prevent a Senator from switching parties in midstream: a course Specter has now taken to save his worthless hide since he is sure he could not survive a Republican primary against the self-same Pat Toomey. Just two weeks ago he looked at the TV cameras and denied he would ever consider switching parties. As he was saying this, he was planning to do so.
Upshot: Specter is a self-obsessed survivor, interested only in himself but when you rent him he stays rented for a decent interval. The Bush people found out that by renting him they got their judge nominees confirmed which was all they wanted. My guess is that this 78-year-old will fail to be elected because he evokes so much distaste for his lack of constancy.
Mark my words, the Republicans will pick up sufficient seats in the Senate in 2010 to be a power again and given the excesses of the Obama-nation now misruling, will be a force in 2012.