NPR logo Pennsylvanians Don't Need Specter


Pennsylvanians Don't Need Specter

David Faris recently completed the 27th grade at the University of Pennsylvania, where he studies Middle East politics. Courtesy of David Faris hide caption

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Courtesy of David Faris

Sen. Arlen Specter has every reason to look glum — now he's made enemies on both sides. Evan Vucci/AP hide caption

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Evan Vucci/AP

Pennsylvanians, reeling from the death of beloved Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas and exhausted after three days of bizarre, enervating April heat, are dealing with another unexpected development: Longtime GOP Sen. Arlen Specter — probably the senator most hated by Republicans — switched parties Tuesday to join the Democratic caucus.

For Pennsylvania Democrats, this really complicates our plans to register as Republicans and vote for the doomed market fundamentalist Pat Toomey in the GOP primaries. I was personally looking forward to corrupting the democratic process and casting my ballot for Toomey, whose brave advocacy of utterly failed ideas would have earned him an epic trouncing in November. You could pull coal miners straight out of Western Pennsylvania, and they would probably crush Toomey so badly the race would be called by brunch. But now that Specter is a Democrat, everything is unsettled.

It's not that we don't appreciate the many times that Specter has aggravated the ideologically bankrupt minority that currently runs his former party, especially since Pennsylvanians are not known as rigid partisans. Local politicos here still get prickly when you mention how the late Bob Casey Sr. was allegedly prevented from giving his speech at the 1992 Democratic National Convention because he was pro-life. Even in the midst of a historic Democratic wave, we most likely would have sent Specter back to the Senate again and again until he died during a meeting of the Senate Appropriations Committee at age 104.

If nothing else, Specter should have our respect and gratitude for calmly sharing the Pennsylvania delegation for 12 long years with the oddball demagogue Rick Santorum, who was defeated two years ago by an astounding 18 percentage points. But Specter played cutesy with the Left one too many times when he recently bailed on the Employee Free Choice Act — a pro-labor reform bill that he actually co-sponsored in 2007. That sort of craven opportunism does not sit well with this heavily unionized state.

Here's the thing: Pennsylvania Democrats don't really need Specter anymore. Specter switching parties at this point is like when your buddy disappears for months with a new girlfriend, and then calls you up on Girl's Night. He's obviously desperate, with nothing better to do and expects you to drop everything and take him out for beers. When Norm Coleman finally gives up his pathetic court challenge in Minnesota, we'll already have all the votes we need on most bills. And as a new Democrat, Specter loses the seniority that made him so valuable to our state, even for left-wing partisans who secretly hated him.

Now, I have no idea what the state's Democratic establishment is going to do with Specter in the primaries, but speaking for the rank-and-file, I can safely say that we've made new friends, and Arlen Specter is not one of them. Pennsylvania Dems will be at the bar with our new best friend, which will be whoever runs against Specter in the Democratic primary.

David Faris recently completed the 27th grade at the University of Pennsylvania, where he studies Middle East politics.

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