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A specter haunts Arlen: himself

For those of us who generally wish that there was less polarization and more pragmatism in politics, Sen. Plastic Man Arlen Specter (R D-Pa.) presents something of a conundrum. There is, of course, a fine line between a willingness to work across party lines and utter lack of principle -- and over the course of a long and modestly accomplished career in politics, Specter has walked it.

Many times he has tried, successfully, to have it both ways on tough issues. Remember how he infuriated feminists in 1991 by suggesting that Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas's accuser, was committing "flat-out perjury," then won them over again by supporting abortion rights and the Violence Against Women Act? Rather less impressively, he voted "not proven" on the impeachment of President Bill Clinton in 1998, splitting the difference between "guilty" and "not guilty" in a way that only Specter himself took seriously.

I don't know what tells us more about the true nature of politics: Specter's uncanny ability to survive by taking on the political coloration of his surroundings, or the ostensible enthusiasm with which Democrats welcomed him into their fold despite his record. But today, as he clings to his Senate seat in the face of a tough primary challenge from Joe Sestak, the 80-year-old Specter seems more and more like a man who has run out of straddles.

The naked self-interestedness of his switch from the Republican Party to the Democratic last year has been laid bare by President Obama's nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court. Back in February 2009, when he was still a Republican, he voted against her nomination as solicitor general on the trumped up grounds that she would not detail her views on various Supreme Court rulings and other constitutional questions. "Inadequate for confirmation purposes," he harrumphed. Now that he's a Democrat, desperately dependent on White House help to get re-elected, Specter's sounding more positive about Kagan, despite the fact that she, like other nominees to the High Court, is bound to be even less detailed about her views than she was while up for S.G. I am really looking forward to his explanation if, as expected, he votes with his new party to confirm her for a job that is far more powerful than S.G., and life-tenured to boot.

Even moderates have to have some bottom-line principles; centrism is not a license for blatant inconsistency. At what point does pragmatism turn into cynicism? You kind of know it when you see it. I have a feeling that Pennsylvania voters are going to see it when they look at Specter this time around.

By Charles Lane  | May 13, 2010; 2:31 PM ET
Categories:  Lane  | Tags:  Charles Lane  
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Comments

No.He is a Democrat.

Posted by: Imarkex | May 13, 2010 4:06 PM | Report abuse

Principles? More than the average judge on the Supreme Court.

Posted by: rusty3 | May 13, 2010 4:19 PM | Report abuse

I don't get it. He's been a Sen. for ages so he MUST have a nice pension, so he doesn't need the money. And he's 80! After all these years, is he still so power-mad that he'll throw away any and all principles just to hang on? McCain is another one. Why not just go out with your principles intact?

Posted by: Dan4 | May 13, 2010 4:33 PM | Report abuse

Speaking of principles, I don't hear you complaining about Joe Lieberman doing the exact same thing as Specter. Lieberman claimed to be an independent Democrat, yet he campaigned with John McCain in 2008.

Finally, after the Bush Administration, conservatives don't have the right to lecture anyone, especially moderates, about principles.

Posted by: maggots | May 13, 2010 5:07 PM | Report abuse

"Speaking of principles, I don't hear you complaining...."
___________________
Not even an attempted defense of Specter. Just a lame attack on Joe Lieberman for having principles and taking a stand based on those principles rather than mindlessly falling in line with the party line. It doesn't take a major investigation to see that the shape-shifter Obama is now more in line with Lieberman's 2008 positions on Iraq and Afghanistan than most other Dems.

Posted by: amazd | May 13, 2010 5:25 PM | Report abuse

"Speaking of principles, I don't hear you complaining...."
___________________
Not even an attempted defense of Specter. Just a lame attack on Joe Lieberman for having principles and taking a stand based on those principles rather than mindlessly falling in line with the party line. It doesn't take a major investigation to see that the shape-shifter Obama is now more in line with Lieberman's 2008 positions on Iraq and Afghanistan than most other Dems.

Posted by: amazd | May 13, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse

"Speaking of principles, I don't hear you complaining...."
___________________
Not even an attempted defense of Specter. Just a lame attack on Joe Lieberman for having principles and taking a stand based on those principles rather than mindlessly falling in line with the party line. It doesn't take a major investigation to see that the shape-shifter Obama is now more in line with Lieberman's 2008 positions on Iraq and Afghanistan than most other Dems

#######################################

No, the point is that Specter is no less principled (or unprincipled) than Lieberman. Anyone who leaves their party is an opportunist.

As for Obama on Iraq, he is getting us out of Iraq, as promised in 2008. As for Afghanistan, Obama was pushing for more troops there when Lieberman was parroting the Bush line "We are doing fine in Afghanistan"

Posted by: maggots | May 13, 2010 5:44 PM | Report abuse

Whom in the ruling class has principles?.
Would that be the fourth estate who shook liked shell shocked babies during 8yrs. of Bush?. Showed "Shock and Awe" in prime time without mentioning innocent dead people?. Would that be Corporate America who give themselves multi million tax free
dollar paychecks paid for by the working class?.
Would that be the "joker" Lieberman?.
Would that be "John Boy" who lied to get confirmed as a Supreme Judge expressing his love of precedence?.
Would that be Wall Street?, who do not know what the word ethics mean?.
Would that be educated doctors who take normal faces and bodies and turn them into grotesque representations of the human body?.
Would that be the banks who are wallowing in the non interest bearing accounts of peons?.
Lane look in the mirror. Pathetic?. Yes. Missing in action?. Yes.

Posted by: JillCalifornia | May 13, 2010 5:56 PM | Report abuse

Does Arlen Specter have an principles?!?
Sir: Arlen Specter is a politician. How can
you even ask such a question--What planet
are you from, anyways?

S D Rodrian
http://sdrodrian.com


.

Posted by: sdr1 | May 13, 2010 5:59 PM | Report abuse

If the Republicans want to kick out moderates, I think thats GREAT! I was a Republican once..but a moderate. I’m now an Independent. Republicans are shooting themselves in the foot. Americans,
historically reject Extremism.
There may be some short term gains,
but in the long term, they are destroying the party. The GOP deserves intellectual giants like Sarah as leaders.


Posted by: bestbobleonard | May 13, 2010 6:18 PM | Report abuse

Come to think about it, I'm still angry about the way he treated Anita Hill...

Posted by: kejia32 | May 13, 2010 6:30 PM | Report abuse

Time for ol' Snarlin' Arlen to hit the couch and kick back with a cold one. Enough already -- go away. All of these spineless old coots will be gone in November -- finally -- thank goodness.

Posted by: BadNews | May 13, 2010 6:55 PM | Report abuse

NO...AND HE'S OLD....time to retire this guy....negative marginal utility......

Posted by: josephfranklyn | May 13, 2010 7:31 PM | Report abuse

From the column: "...he infuriated feminists in 1991 by suggesting that Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas's accuser, was committing 'flat-out perjury,' then won them over again by supporting abortion rights and the Violence Against Women Act..."
=====================

As a demonstration of Specter's desire to have it both ways, this makes no sense. Forget whether Anita Hill was or was not telling the truth. The point is, supporting the right to an abortion and the Violence Against Women Act have nothing to do with trying to accurately assess whether someone is telling the truth in a particular situation.

And what difference does it make anyway? Is there anyone among us who thinks that any politician is *not* trying to have it both ways? Look at the voice vote on the recent extension of the Patriot Act. No one except the legislators themselves knows how they voted. How convenient...

ps -- It should have been (D-Pa), then (R-Pa), then (D-Pa) again...

Posted by: srb2 | May 13, 2010 7:37 PM | Report abuse

Principals in Politics...

Hmmm lets see... in 2006 Republicans were paid off most by the major corporate interests in this country... In 2008... it was the Democrats turn to be paid off..

And if the Democrats dare to cross the banks... Republicans once again will be the big money winners..

Very few in politics have any morals or decency when it comes to the middle class and poor of this country.

Posted by: dwdave67 | May 13, 2010 7:48 PM | Report abuse

"Does Arlen Specter have any principles?"
The question should be: Does the people in Pensylvannia have any brains? To be frank, and judging by the 45% or so of Democrats that still support him, the answer is "no".
And that is the basic problem of democracy.

Read "Greece, the US and the Slave Class" at http://www.robbingamerica.com
and start worrying.

Posted by: JohnGalt9 | May 13, 2010 7:55 PM | Report abuse

You think he is bad and doesn't need to be re-elected. Your right.

BUT, also look at Sen. John McCain. He baffling even by Joe Scarbourgh.

Posted by: jrubin1 | May 13, 2010 8:03 PM | Report abuse

No. Specter would sell this nation to the devil just to keep his job; that's all he cares about.

Posted by: RealTexan1 | May 13, 2010 8:14 PM | Report abuse

Yes, Mr. Specter has principles. He always looks out for himself first. The term "self-serving" was created for people such as Mr. Specter.

Posted by: InHarmsWay | May 13, 2010 8:21 PM | Report abuse

no

Posted by: snowbucks | May 13, 2010 8:41 PM | Report abuse

Principles. Whose principles? The Republicans or the Democrats? Then there's the principles of President Obama. His principles clearly are not those of this country. President Obama says he's not going back to the old ways of doing things, which means there goes the principles of the Republicans and the Democrats. For Specter to claim he switched parties because of the principles of President Obama, he's lying. The principles of President Obama have never been a factor in the politics Specter knew or experienced until now. A man who has no principles can turn on a dime for President Obama and claim whatever he wants. That's what Specter did and to show appreciation for doing that Sestak must bite the bullet, get out of the way and keep his mouth shut for Reid and President Obama.

Posted by: houstonian | May 13, 2010 8:48 PM | Report abuse

Principles. Whose principles? The Republicans or the Democrats? Then there's the principles of President Obama. His principles clearly are not those of this country. President Obama says he's not going back to the old ways of doing things, which means there goes the principles of the Republicans and the Democrats. For Specter to claim he switched parties because of the principles of President Obama, he's lying. The principles of President Obama have never been a factor in the politics Specter knew or experienced until now. A man who has no principles can turn on a dime for President Obama and claim whatever he wants. That's what Specter did and to show appreciation for doing that Sestak must bite the bullet, get out of the way and keep his mouth shut for Reid and President Obama.

Posted by: houstonian | May 13, 2010 8:49 PM | Report abuse

Principles. Whose principles? The Republicans or the Democrats? Then there's the principles of President Obama. His principles clearly are not those of this country. President Obama says he's not going back to the old ways of doing things, which means there goes the principles of the Republicans and the Democrats. For Specter to claim he switched parties because of the principles of President Obama, he's lying. The principles of President Obama have never been a factor in the politics Specter knew or experienced until now. A man who has no principles can turn on a dime for President Obama and claim whatever he wants. That's what Specter did and to show appreciation for doing that Sestak must bite the bullet, get out of the way and keep his mouth shut for Reid and President Obama.

Posted by: houstonian | May 13, 2010 8:49 PM | Report abuse

Principles. Whose principles? The Republicans or the Democrats? Then there's the principles of President Obama. His principles clearly are not those of this country. President Obama says he's not going back to the old ways of doing things, which means there goes the principles of the Republicans and the Democrats. For Specter to claim he switched parties because of the principles of President Obama, he's lying. The principles of President Obama have never been a factor in the politics Specter knew or experienced until now. A man who has no principles can turn on a dime for President Obama and claim whatever he wants. That's what Specter did and to show appreciation for doing that Sestak must bite the bullet, get out of the way and keep his mouth shut for Reid and President Obama.

Posted by: houstonian | May 13, 2010 8:50 PM | Report abuse

Principles. Whose principles? The Republicans or the Democrats? Then there's the principles of President Obama. His principles clearly are not those of this country. President Obama says he's not going back to the old ways of doing things, which means there goes the principles of the Republicans and the Democrats. For Specter to claim he switched parties because of the principles of President Obama, he's lying. The principles of President Obama have never been a factor in the politics Specter knew or experienced until now. A man who has no principles can turn on a dime for President Obama and claim whatever he wants. That's what Specter did and to show appreciation for doing that Sestak must bite the bullet, get out of the way and keep his mouth shut for Reid and President Obama.

Posted by: houstonian | May 13, 2010 8:51 PM | Report abuse

Does Arlen Specter have any principles? In a word, no.

Posted by: Lilycate | May 13, 2010 9:09 PM | Report abuse

First principle. Only principle. No matter what it takes, hold onto power.

Posted by: ctenwith | May 13, 2010 9:51 PM | Report abuse

I've always enjoyed Charles Lane's *Post Partisan* comments. Even though he cuts against my liberal grain, he never posts unless he has some evidence at his service, and I respect that.

If I were head of the Washington Post's Personnel department, or whatever politically correct thing they call it, I'd give him a $20k bonus tonight and extend his contract for five years for having written this:

"There is, of course, a fine line between a willingness to work across party lines and utter lack of principle."

Posted by: douglaslbarber | May 13, 2010 11:21 PM | Report abuse

Arlen Specter's principles are the same as many (not all) politicians-get reelected!

Posted by: ssmitty1 | May 13, 2010 11:22 PM | Report abuse

Well, he's no longer a Republican. That should count.

Posted by: jrw1 | May 14, 2010 12:03 AM | Report abuse

I live in Pennsylvania and I'll be voting for the Democrat and that isn't Specter.

He can't even remember that he's now supposed to be a Democrat. Tuesday night at the Allegheny County Democratic Committee’s Jefferson-Jackson Dinner he not only once but twice thanked the Allegheny Republic Party.

Posted by: FauxReal | May 14, 2010 5:32 AM | Report abuse

I have watched Senator Specter on TV for many years so I am very familiar with his former mental abilities. In the last year or so when I see him speaking in an interview or a town hall meeting, I am struck by his mental decline. He has all of the signs of dementia setting in. I hope his family gets him the help that he needs. And I hope the voters also recognize this and vote for another candidate.

Posted by: djslaughter | May 14, 2010 9:30 AM | Report abuse

I do hope Obama goes to Penn to support Specter and that he makes speeches for him, many times.

Just like Obama did in Mass & NJ.

Can you say NO VEM BER?

Posted by: mlemac | May 14, 2010 9:37 AM | Report abuse

Arlen Spector is a disappointment to many conservatives who view him as the worst kind of politician and suspect he would be willing to sell out his own mother for a chance at getting elected. Of course he will vote to confirm Kagan and of course he will duck questions of what has changed because nothing has changed he votes based on the political wind. His future is in the hands of the Democratic Party and I hope they do not repose any trust in him either. Democrates or Republicans at least we should be able to agree the country would be better served by almost anyone than him.

Posted by: almorganiv | May 14, 2010 1:14 PM | Report abuse

Comments concerning Liberman miss the point he did have principals and prefered a bipartisan approach. The McCain ticket was doomed when they rejected Liberman as a possible running mate. I would definately have voted for that ticket if for no other reason than to show my support for anyone willing to stop the deadlock.

Posted by: almorganiv | May 14, 2010 1:17 PM | Report abuse

My opponent was up on charges of being a hardass while in the navy backfired when peple realized he spent 31 years serving attaining the rank of Admiral, Ouch said Spector looking at the polls. He again shot himself in the foot with the nay Kagan vote as a new Democrat. He may not survive the primary, time will tell.

Posted by: jameschirico | May 14, 2010 1:53 PM | Report abuse

Hi. I think that U.S. Senator Arlen Specter is a better choice for Pennsylvania in 2010 than Joe Sestak!

Posted by: atifgulab | May 14, 2010 4:23 PM | Report abuse

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