Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Tribute To Arlen Specter

As a former resident of the great State of Pennsylvania I wanted to pay a tribute to Senator Arlen Specter who died today at the age of 82.

Specter died of cancer, a long-fought battle that he tried to never let interfere with his governance in the Senate. Arlen served as a Senator longer than any other Pennsylvania elected Senator, and as much as I liked the man, he was a perfect example of the need for term limits being placed on members of Congress. Some other great examples of this were Senators Strom Thurman and Robert Byrd.

For 30 years the Senator served the State of Pennsylvania first as a Democrat then a Republican, and most recently, he returned to the Democratic party. In his early days in politics he was considered a moderate, for which I greatly admired him as it is very difficult to remain in the calm middle of most stormy issues in Washington D.C. Because of that I voted for him in two elections but by his third term I could no longer support his bid. However, like Senator Lieberman of Connecticut and Senator McCain of Arizona, for many years Specter waded through those tricky waters whose currents always tend to pull to the left or right, and gave Pennsylvanians a moderate, steady hand with his vote and legislations. However, over the last few years Specter, either due to a weakening of his physical strength from his battle with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, or the numbing of his mind from a combination of chemotherapy and the continued onslaught from the more aggressive left in his State, the Senate floor and the White House, the Senator began drifting from his safe harbor of moderate sound judgment in the direction of the left. In fact, the pull on him became so great toward the end that he changed parties mid-term and became a tail-wagging Democrat voting for nearly every Obama leftist package that came up for a vote. While it was not surprising to see Specter decide differently from whatever party he was in at the time, because this was a time honored practice by him, this time it really felt different.

One of the most telltale signs of his slip from reality occurred during his last reelection effort. He held a town hall meeting where one of the elderly participants tried to offer up a rational conversation about healthcare and the impact that Obamacare would have on his personal life and income. Totally out of character, Specter was in the man's face yelling, finger pointing and decidedly telling the man to basically shut up and sit down. Something had happened to Arlen Specter and it wasn't pretty nor was it Specter.

Another surprise from Specter during his last run for Senate was the two reasons he gave for making the switch from the Republican side of the aisle to the Democrat side. Speaking in an interview the Senator stated that after many years of negotiating legislation he felt that he was "increasingly at odds with the Republican philosophy." That is not too enlightening since this is usually the reason given by all politicians who switch parties. But, in another interview he revealed something quite startling. In a rare moment of clarity he said, "My change in party will enable me to be re-elected." That was truly as eye-opener, at least for me. This was so un-Arlen-like. The Senator I knew and voted for on two separate occasions would have never resorted to such a low blow reason for doing anything so politically manipulative. Something was going on with Arlen and this was just one more indication that after all those years and nearing the end of his career and life, the man was becoming a stranger to his constituents.

So, how did his new fellow Democrats pay back Arlen for his big voting support and party switch? He lost his primary bid to another Democrat running against him, the decorated military leader and U.S. Representative retired Vice Admiral Joe Sestak. This was actually a good thing for both Arlen Specter and the people of Pennsylvania. Arlen had changed and it was time to replace him on the Senate floor with someone a bit more stable and reliable.

Senator Arlen Specter had a long and illustrious career as a politician and servant of the people of the State of Pennsylvania and the United States of America. Despite the changes over these last few years that he exhibited I still liked and respected the man for his honesty, integrity, rebellious character and witty charm. He stood on the threshold of history by being a participant in the Warren Commission, fought hard as a member of the Appropriations Committee and got funding for stem-cell research and breast cancer against all odds during the George W. Bush presidency and fought hard for the rights of Pennsylvania miners.

Rest in Peace Arlen Specter.

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