Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Verdict on Senator Arlen Specter: Proven

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.


Bram Reichbaum said...

It would have been easier to explain the party switch if he explained it more often and more seriously.

"It is not my practice to debate more than once in the primary." Yeah, well it was not your practice to participate in the Democratic primary at all. How different would this have been if Specter debated Sestak at the Union Project, the Hazlett Theater and a couple dozen other places across the state?

Specter fell because of arrogance -- which is understandable given a 30 year career in the Senate. Any of us would be arrogant. But it was possibly his only downfall.

little_minx said...

I never forgave Specter for his treatment of Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas SCOTUS confirmation hearings -- a "high-tech" rape, to pursue Thomas' analogy. If Arlen had taken the opposite view, at least some of our pivotal Supreme Court decisions might have turned out differently, for the better.