Arlen Specter will retire soon as United States Senator from Pennsylvania at age 80, despite his desire to stay on the job at least as far as 86. Although Democratic voters preferred Joe Sestak slightly in the primary election, and presumably liked him better than did Republicans in recent months, Sen. Specter deserves gratitude from every Pennsylvanian for five terms of fine service.
Sen. Specter was not hounded from office in disgrace. By today's legislative standards, a 30-year run without scandal is a marvel. He did not melt into senility and irrelevance. He exhibits remarkable vigor, whether playing squash or political hardball, and remains an effective, important legislator at 80.
Sen. Specter has not been a reliable, reflexive partisan for either party. He has been smart, even when pursuing odd (or odder) angles, and tough, mostly when it was appropriate. His votes customarily reflect judgment and principle.
Sen. Specter's recent switch in party affiliation was not the self-serving action depicted in devastating campaign commercials, nor the craven course many politicians would have taken (the safer, easier route for a 79-year-old incumbent would have been to adapt to his party's mindless lurch to the right and to lockstep opposition). It was a measured, effective response to changed circumstances that enabled the Senate to enact important legislation while preserving Specter's dignity as a long-time moderate, at the cost of his political security.
It is difficult to explain nuanced, complex events -- or a 30-year record of accomplishment -- in 30-second campaign commercials, especially to an audience that elects the likes of Adam Ravenstahl and Daryl Metcalfe. Anyone who devotes 30 seconds to examination of Arlen Specter's service, however, should recognize that Sen. Specter retires with his head high, his record strong and his constituents in his debt.
The Commonwealth will not have a good governor before 2014 at the earliest, but if Sen, Specter is still game in four years, Pennsylvanians should hope he is asked to lead a bipartisan effort to scour the corruption and cronyism from Harrisburg. A fearless, tenacious, skilled prosecutor such as Arlen Specter would be just the man for that job.