Wednesday, May 06, 2009

A Specter is haunting Congress

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Much ado on Tuesday about Arlen Specter's assertion, in an interview with the Times, that "[t]here's still time for the Minnesota courts to do justice and declare Norm Coleman the winner." (Creature recently posted on it here. For more Creature on Specter, see here.)

Specter has since claimed that he "misspoke." Sorry, but that's not good enough.

It's hard to get a sense of it from the transcript, but there seemed to be a certain light-heartedness to the interview -- and yet, it doesn't seem that Specter was joking. He said that the courts could still "do justice," which is pretty strong and decisive language. (Both the official recount and subsequent judicial rulings have declared Franken the winner. How is "justice" a Coleman victory?) Furthermore, when the interviewer, Deborah Solomon, noted, quite rightly, that the courts now handing the election to Coleman was as unlikely as Jerry Seinfeld "joining the Senate," Specter added that "it was about as likely as my becoming a Democrat." Which is to say: unlikely, but possible, if not, given Specter's recent conversion, desirable.

It is possible, of course, that Specter, a new Democrat, really did misspeak, that is, really did get it backwards -- and yet, he didn't correct himself, and he declared his support for Coleman even as he commented on becoming a Democrat. Given the context of his conversion, and the awareness of that context throughout the interview, can it really be that Specter forgot that he's no longer a Republican, or that he was just so used to backing Coleman, and Republicans generally, that he answered the question not thoughtfully but instinctively, knees jerking, that he's just not yet used to his "new teammates," that he just wasn't being "correct" or "precise"? (And what exactly does precision have to do with it? He was being pretty precise in his support Coleman, wasn't he? And it was only later, once his comments became a minor scandal, that correctness was the issue.) Hardly. He knew perfectly well what he was saying. He said it, and there's just no going back on it. And claiming that he just misspoke is blatant dishonesty.

As I explained here and here, I just can't welcome Arlen Specter to the Democratic Party with open arms. It's a huge embarrassment for the Republicans, which is indeed welcome, but the fact is, Specter just isn't a Democrat, and there's no reason to believe he'll be a good party man going forward. Sure, Specter found himself more and more marginalized in a Republican Party that has moved further to the right over the years, and I can understand why the Democratic Party may now be more to his liking, but he crossed the aisle not for policy reasons but for personal ones, that is, not to support, and to be a prominent part of, the Democratic majority, not to promote a liberal-progressive agenda for changing America, but to run for re-election next year as a Democrat, which is pretty much his only hope of winning, given that, as he admitted in the interview, his "prospects for winning the Republican primary were bleak."

I do hope that Specter is serious about "looking for more Democratic members," as he declared in his dishonest clarification, but he's got an awful lot to prove if he really wants to be a trusted member of his new party.

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