Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Arlen Specter: senator with shaky loyalties


By PAT MURPHY

Character can be less important in Congress than a member's vote to help pass legislation. So Pennsylvania's premiere political party switcher, Sen. Arlen Specter, who puts his political skin above statesmanship, is finding a hearty welcome among Democrats looking for another body to give them a 60-vote Senate super majority.

Say this for Specter: He's unabashed and unapologetic in admitting he switched parties last week to avoid being crushed in a Republican primary. His motto: Take flight rather than fight.

Specter, of course, is not alone in switching parties. He stands out, however, because he's done it twice (from Democrat to Republican in 1966, then Republican to Democrat last month). He's also known for criticizing another Republican, then-Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont, for switching to independent in 2001. Specter thereafter proposed legislation to prohibit party switching in midterm of Congress, which he said creates "instability (and is) not good for governance of the country and the Senate." Do as he says ...

When hard-line Republicans threatened to strip him in 2005 of a chairmanship, Specter rearranged his principles just enough to save his position by promising he'd be less moderate.

Then, in March, when polls showed him behind a GOP challenger and speculation mounted that he might ditch the GOP, Specter said without blinking, "I am a Republican and I am going to run on the Republican ticket in the Republican primary." He changed his mind within weeks when polls gave him even less chance.

Add all this and what do you have in Sen. Specter? A windbag filled with hypocrisy and obsessive self-interest capable of betrayal at any moment.

Democratic leaders don't seem to care about what they've inherited with Specter, so long as he's on hand for voting most of the time with Democrats. To buy Specter's shaky loyalty, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid foolishly rewarded him with the same seniority he enjoyed in the Republican Party, which means he may leap right into a committee chairmanship ahead of more loyal Democrats.

The last time Senate Democrats were this solicitously naïve they invited Democrat turncoat Sen. Joe Lieberman to caucus with them after he lost a Connecticut Democratic primary and ran successfully as an independent. Lieberman repaid Democrats by being a marquee speaker at the Republican nominating convention, becoming Sen. John McCain's inseparable sidekick during the 2008 presidential campaign and a stinging critic of Barack Obama, who Lieberman dismissed as unfit to be president.

What payback surprise awaits Democrats with the me-first Arlen Specter?




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