Mr. Specter’s Choice

Published: April 29, 2009

By Jim Lichtman
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The big political news on both the Internet and cable channels was not President Obama’s “First 100 Days.”  It was the announcement from the five-term former Republican Senator from Pennsylvania.

“In a stunning turnabout in political loyalties,” the New York Times reported, “Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania… announced he was leaving the Republican Party to become a Democrat.”

Was it due to a change in principle?

“Mr. Specter,” the Times said, “had concluded from his own polling and travels through his state that he could not survive a Republican primary against a conservative candidate and would instead align with a Democratic Party he said was more compatible to his political views.”

Now, while I’d like to believe the later, the former seems to be the real truth.

“Mr. Specter, who spoke with Mr. Obama before making his decision public, said he had commitments from the president and Senate Democratic leaders to support him in any primary challenge next year, pledges that should give him a strong chance to prevail despite his decades as a Republican,” the Times wrote.

And that’s disappointing.  I like Arlen Specter, and have respected his decision-making for years primarily because he does not always vote the party line.

Philadelphia resident Jamie O’Boyle said of the move, “The one thing [Specter] really knows how to do is win elections. The son of Russian Jewish Immigrants, he was a natural-born Democrat, serving as Philadelphia District Attorney in a Democratic administration.  He switched to the Republican Party in 1966, saying something to the effect that ‘I didn’t leave the Democratic Party, they left me.’ Now he can say the same thing about the Republican Party.

“Since the election, the Republican Party in [Pennsylvania] has been purging their ranks of anyone even remotely moderate in a suicidal drive for purity, and that includes Specter. They’re running a hard-liner against him in the Republican primary. In PA only registered members of the party can vote in primaries. Since at least 200,000 Republicans in this state have changed their registration to Democrat in the last few years – and they are likely to be Specter supporters, changing parties guarantees that he’ll be re-elected unless the Democrats do something incredibly stupid.”

However, there’s another issue that concerns me.

I went to Arlen Specter’s own web site.  If you scroll down, you will see a tag that reads, “What’s New.”  Under yesterday’s date, April 28, I could not find a single mention of the switch.  There’s no statement to his constituents about his plans or his reasons why.  There isn’t even a transcript of the public statement he made in Washington.  There is a statement that reads, “Specter Proposes Innovative Agency to Accelerate Cures for Diseases.”  While I have no doubt this is important, frankly it pales in comparison to the news of Specter’s change in political parties.

My question to Senator Specter:  Don’t the people who elected you to office deserve to know your plans and reasons why you’re making such a critical shift before you announce it to the country?

A larger question: Is it fair for any elected official to change political parties after they were elected to office, in large part, by party supporters?

It seems that without as much as a mention to his supporters, Senator Specter has put the business of politics above the business of the people, and that is not fair.


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