Requiem for a Flip-Flopper
Senator Arlen Specter was a registered Democrat in Pennsylvania from the age of 21 to 35. Like any sensible person, he became a Republican in his 30s, even though he switched parties not so much to suit his changing political philosophy as to be able to challenge an incumbent Democrat for the job of district attorney in Philadelphia in 1965.
A funny thing happened when Senator Specter turned 79 last year: he decided that his 21- to 35-year-old political self had been wiser than his 35- to 79-year-old self. (Given his voting record for most of his Senate career, it’s hard to quibble with this point.)
Arlen Spectacle (as Mark Levin calls him) categorically stated in March 2009, “To eliminate any doubt, I am a Republican, and I am running for reelection in 2010 as a Republican on the Republican ticket.” A month later, after genuine conservative Pat Toomey had thrown his hat into the ring for the Republican nomination, Specter announced that, to eliminate any doubt, he was a Democrat, and was running for reelection in 2010 as a Democrat on the Democratic ticket.
Specter inarguably changed parties to avoid a repeat of his close race in 2004 with Toomey, whom Specter beat with a measly 51% of the vote, despite the advantages of incumbency and overwhelming support from the national and state party establishments, including President George W. Bush and fellow Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. As early as April 2009, just three months into Obama’s presidency, Specter must have sensed that the burgeoning anti-incumbent mood would smother him by the time of the 2010 primaries, and so he deserted the GOP.
Arlen “Act Like a Lady” Specter claims he didn’t leave the party—the party left him.
It’s funny how the exact same thing recently occurred with that paragon of political integrity, Charlie “Lincoln” Crist of Florida, who just happened to be down in the polls to Marco Rubio before he decided his newly evolving political ideology compelled him to become an Independent.
And it’s a bit funny that Specter used the exact same line to explain his party-hopping maneuver back in 1965. As the Boston Herald quoted him on the campaign trail, “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party… The party left me.”
The Senator’s party affiliation isn’t the only thing he’s flip-flopped on. In May 2009, The Sphincter (Monica Crowley’s nickname for him, not mine—honest!) was asked whether he supported a government-run public option in Congress’s health care overhaul bill, and insisted he did not. By July, when it looked as though momentum were on the side of the public option, he was for it.
Specter voted in favor of pro-union leadership card check legislation in 2007; then announced he was against it in 2009; then, after switching parties, announced he was in favor of it again.
The Philadelphia Enquirer’s Dick Polman summarizes Benedict Arlen’s vast matrix of flip-floppery: “He has seemingly been everywhere, which arguably leaves him nowhere. He says he voted for Bush-Cheney and McCain-Palin… but says he’ll vote for Obama in ‘12. He voted against Elena Kagan for solicitor general, but says he has ‘an open mind’ about her ascent to the Supreme Court… He voted against Robert Bork for the high court, but famously defended Clarence Thomas and voted for John G. Roberts Jr. and Samuel A. Alito Jr., although now, with respect to Roberts, he says that he made an error in judgment.”
Specter doesn’t just flip-flop—he does double lutzes and triple toe loops and tops it all off with a quadruple salchow, all before his supporters and opponents can catch their breath and figure out where he stands on an issue and whether his position has changed in the past five seconds.
FiveThirtyEight.com documents that Arlen Sepulcher voted 58% of the time with Democrats from January to March 2009, before Pat Toomey joined the Pennsylvania primary race. After Toomey entered, but before Specter had switched parties, Specter voted 84% of the time with Republicans. Then, during the period after Specter had switched parties but before liberal Joe Sestak had entered the race, he voted 69% of the time with Democrats again. Finally, after Sestak emerged as his primary challenger, Specter tacked to the left and voted a whopping 97% of the time with Democrats.
The clincher that Specter is all about expediency, not principle, is that Obama’s grassroots group Organizing for America is working furiously to get Specter elected—even though there is a bona fide left-wing liberal, Joe Sestak, in the race—in exchange for Specter’s votes last year on the stimulus and health care bills. With the cozy Obama-Specter alliance firmly in place, what does Obama need with a politician who might actually vote for his policies out of principle?
In a final ironic development capping Specter’s dishonorable career (proof of such: Time magazine named him one of the U.S.’s 10 best senators in 2006!), Specter discovered yesterday that his party switch was all for naught, and even harmful to his aspirations. Specter recently admitted, before he was trounced in yesterday’s primary, “Well, I probably shouldn’t say this. But I have thought from time to time that I might have helped the country more if I’d stayed a Republican.”
Democrats will no doubt claim that Sestak won the race because the country is clamoring for more socialism. But really it’s because Americans loathe political opportunists like Specter.