Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Specter of Specter

I have mixed feelings about Arlen Specter. Prior to giving us Clarence Thomas by virtue of his disgraceful attitude towards Anita Hill, I'd thought him a Republican in the mold of Jacob Javits and other thoughtful East Coast conservatives. Since then he's broken with his party on a few occasions, but not much when it mattered. And it's clear his switch to the Democratic Party is not at all ideological, but pure political calculation regarding his reelection chances. He's no more a Democrat than is Orrin Hatch. The more noble thing for him to have done would have been to become an Independent, like the estimable Jim Jeffords, or the execrable Joe Lieberman.

Nor will it really give the Democrats the so-called filibuster-proof majority when Franken arrives. Along with a few others, like Ben Nelson, Arlen can't be counted on in the areas of greatest concern to Democrats, like health care.

To me, the switch is more or less meaningless, per se. But there are things about it that bother me. Namely, the promises that seem to have been made, and the accomodations. After all, if he didn't switch, he had approximately zero chance of winning the Pennsylvania Republican primary. For him, it was switch or die, politically. So why the ass-kissing?

We're told there were deals. Governor Rendell is said to have agreed to "clear the decks" for the Democratic nomination. Not cool. Not democratic. Personally, I like Joe Sestak a whole lot more. Nor do I think it was right for President Obama to promise -- assuming he did -- to campaign and raise money for him. Shake his hand, welcome him to the party (to the extent that it's meaningful), but leave it up to him to make his own case to the voters of Pennsylvania. I don't begrudge this or any president the right to be political and calculating. I just don't see the need to have gone so far. They had him at hell-no.

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