Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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June 27, 2009

THE PROMISES OF PRIMARY PRESSURE.... Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, up until fairly recently, opposed including a public option in health care reform. This week, he reversed course. I wonder why that is.

Speaking [on Thursday] to a large and animated crowd of union organizers and health reform advocates in a brewing house just North of the Capitol, Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) said he supports a public insurance option.

"Schumer has it right about having a public component," Specter said. [...]

[T]he Schumer proposal is in line with the principles of the major reform campaign Health Care for America Now -- and, as such, just about every major health care and labor organization in the country.

Before Specter switched parties this spring -- and for a brief period afterward -- he said he did not support the public option. But as a Democrat he's facing different pressures -- notably from Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) who plans to challenge Specter in next year's primary -- and he's begun tacking to the left as a result.

He certainly has. In his first week as a Democrat, Specter voted against the Democratic budget, rejected a Democratic measure to help prevent mortgage foreclosures, announced his opposition to the Democratic president's OLC nominee, announced his opposition to a public option, and told a national television audience that he'd never promised anyone he'd be a "loyal Democrat." Soon after, he told the New York Times, "There's still time for the Minnesota courts to do justice and declare Norm Coleman the winner." (Specter later said he forgot he was a Democrat.)

And yet, now we see Specter speaking at HCAN rallies and endorsing a public option.

Is there any doubt that a likely primary challenge from Rep. Joe Sestak is having an effect on Specter's policy positions?

When it comes to primary challenges, I tend to think they should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. If Specter were a Republican-turned-Democrat from Alabama, and a primary challenger were pushing him far enough to the left to make a general election campaign more difficult, I can imagine this being detrimental.

But for those who believe primary campaigns are always harmful to a party's interests, Specter's example is pretty compelling evidence to the contrary.

Steve Benen 10:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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Dems can learn from senator sphincter: you start hard as nails, then you slowly compromise --as it increases your sway on the issues.

Posted by: neill on June 27, 2009 at 10:06 AM | PERMALINK

Likewise Gillibrand.

Posted by: jayackroyd on June 27, 2009 at 10:10 AM | PERMALINK

If Specter wins in 2010, what's to keep him from turning back into a Republican In All But Name, or joining with Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins to form the What's In It For ME? caucus and demand all sorts of concessions to break Republican filibusters?

Posted by: SteveT on June 27, 2009 at 10:17 AM | PERMALINK

Is there anyway a state can vote no confidence in a senator, we elected Kay Hagan in NC, who, in her campaign said she was in favor of single payer health ins, now, apparently she is a major stumbling block, her office keeps telling me she is undecided. Is it possible to threaten her with recall? Or am I getting confused with the British system?

Posted by: JS on June 27, 2009 at 10:23 AM | PERMALINK

Specter has openly admitted that he switched parties because he realized he couldn't win as a republican. That's pretty much all you need to know about the man.

I think he miscalculated in his first week as a democrat -- as a 'former' republican Specter thought all you have to do is say something & it's true. He didn't realize democrats actually require deeds to match the words. Now that public opinion is turning against him, you see Specter championing a liberal cause.

Yeah, it's cynical & self-serving on Specter's part, but at the end of the day it's a 'yea' vote for the public option & I'll take it.

Posted by: raff on June 27, 2009 at 10:25 AM | PERMALINK

Recall of Specter would prove difficult. Apparently, at the time of the State of Arlen seceeding from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, no provisions for recall were placed in the charter.

Posted by: berttheclock on June 27, 2009 at 10:31 AM | PERMALINK

Is anyone doing ads in states with Senators opposing the public option? The citizens should know. Letter writing campaigns can have an impact.

Posted by: mlm on June 27, 2009 at 11:01 AM | PERMALINK

Letter writing campaigns can have an impact.

Letters are better than emails, but calls are even better. Here is the directory for Senators. It's also best to call only your own Senators and give a personal or local reason for your concern. Even though you only get to talk to an aide, you give them ammunition to do the right thing.

Posted by: Danp on June 27, 2009 at 11:17 AM | PERMALINK

Yeah, it's cynical & self-serving on Specter's part, but at the end of the day it's a 'yea' vote for the public option & I'll take it.

Posted by: raff at 10:25 AM

Absolutely. And then I'll send some money to Joe Sestak.

Posted by: burro on June 27, 2009 at 11:30 AM | PERMALINK

Here are some excerpts from Tony Norman, writing for the Pittsburgh Press, who put it well back in May:

"...Sen. Arlen Specter doesn't want Democrats to get the wrong idea about him just because he jumped from the burning ship that is the Republican Party last week...
"My change in party affiliation does not mean that I will be a party-line voter any more for Democrats than I have been for Republicans," Mr. Specter said, confirming the truth of Groucho Marx's quip that he didn't want to belong to any club that would have him as a member...

"I am not prepared to have my 29-year record in the United States Senate decided by the Republican primary electorate, not prepared to have that record decided by that jury."

Of course not. That would be democracy -- and we can't have that around here. Given Arlen Specter's undiminished level of mercenary cynicism, it's easy to see why some Republicans have taken to calling him "Benedict Arlen..."

From where this skeptical Democrat sits, it sure looks like Mr. Specter needs the Democratic Party far more than the party needs him. Meanwhile, he's made it clear that he's not going to be a vote the Democrats can necessarily count on to get President Obama's agenda passed...

It certainly is Mr. Specter's prerogative to continue to ooze contrariness if he wants to, but why should ordinary Democrats feel even nominally obligated to subsidize his eccentricity with our hard-earned votes? What's wrong with supporting a Democrat in the 2010 primary who subscribes to the platform and values of the party?

In three decades I've been a registered voter, I've never pulled the lever for Arlen Specter, so I need a compelling reason to start now. There are a whole lot of Democrats I'm inclined to support before tossing my vote away on a man who holds his nose whenever he talks about the Democratic Party..."

Posted by: consider this on June 27, 2009 at 11:47 AM | PERMALINK

Letters are fine, as long as, one does not simply sign on to a form letter.

In a recent change of heart by a local Democratic State Rep on an important environmental vote in Oregon, the Rep said he had been influenced by the letters written to him by individuals. He said they were written, separately, and not the usual form letter pile on.

Posted by: berttheclock on June 27, 2009 at 11:47 AM | PERMALINK

Thank God Specter doesn't have any moral qualms about all these flip-flops, then again, it looks more and more as if the man has no morals at all.

Posted by: Glen on June 27, 2009 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

1)I'll believe that the threat of primary has actually influenced the Spectral Boy Wonder, when I *see* his "yea" vote for public option. As a Repub, he brought to an art form the trick of speaking out o the left side of his mouth but voting with the right hand. No reason to believe that he'll change anything but the hand/mouth sides.
2)Even if he *does* vote for the public option, I'm gonna send Sestak some love$ anyway. Spectral Boy Wonder needs to be primaried right out to pasture; as a secure Senator he's far too much of a "flight risk".

MLM, @11:01:
Yes, MoveOn is running ads trying to herd the recalcitrant sheep. They ran one smacking Feinstein and are now gearing up for one to put Hagan on a hot seat. You might want to send them some love$ for that purpose.

Dan P, @11:17. Agreed, letters (as Bert the clock says: individual ones, not buy-by-the-yard-form ones) are much better than e-mails. I'm not so sure they aren't better than phone calls as well, sometimes. Phone is not much of an option for me (I don't always understand what people are saying on the phone. And vice versa, due to my accent. Phone is the last resort) but I've been hearing from a lot of people -- who do like to prod heir Senators by phone -- stories of phones switched off to "ansaphone" mode and filled to (and past) capacity. Not even a chance for "please leave a message".

Perhaps the best thing is to do *both*, on the "belt *and* suspenders" principle... :)

Posted by: exlibra on June 27, 2009 at 3:44 PM | PERMALINK

exlibra - The problem I have had with letters is that I get the impression that the less experienced aides deal with them, and that all they are thinking is "which form letter do we send back to let him know we're on the job?" Sometimes I get very frustrated with these responses, especially from Sen Byrd. Of course, it may vary from one office to another.

Posted by: Danp on June 27, 2009 at 5:22 PM | PERMALINK

Dan P, @17:22:
Yes, it can be frustrating and yes, it does vary from office to office. John Warner used to take ages to respond and then I'd get something that barely had any relevance to my letter -- straight from the Soviet book of pre-approved formulae. Jim Webb takes almost as long to answer but, at least, I can see it's an answer to *my* question, not to some generic philosophical musing. Haven't tried *Mark* Warner yet, though he's on my list of "harry the bastard and soon" :) Checked the list on Howard Dean's website recently and, while Jim Webb is listed as being for the public option, the soi-dissant "centrist" Warner is still sitting on the fence (hopefully, with the stake right up his butt).

Posted by: exlibra on June 27, 2009 at 6:00 PM | PERMALINK

What I'm really hoping is that Dem -- and fed-up-with-reichwing-failures-"moderate" and "centrist" -- voters in PA will demonstrate a greater ability to learn from experience than most Rethug voters manifest.
There is no question -- a Kelvin zero -- in my mind that Arlen the Spectre will, if re-elected, continue to behave as he has consistently done for the last 7-8 years. To wit, he'll make a bit of noise and mouth some appropriate rhetoric -- and then vote with the worst of the Rethugs on the most crucial issues.
He is running exactly the same scam that LIEberman ran in CT: saying whatever he has to say to get just enough Dem votes to be returned to the Senate, at which point every promise of any real significance will be broken without hesitation, excuse, or even acknowledgment. (Anyone who thinks otherwise, I'm happy to take bets -- I'll give odds. That way, I'll at least have some personal consolation when I'm proven correct -- as I surely will be if Arlen pulls off his scam.)
And because I am not aware of any recall mechanism for turncoat Senators in PA, he'll get away with it. There will be no disincentive for him not to.
And the other "Blue Dog" (why are we not calling them "Blue Pig"s?) Dems and the Rethugs will still have another vote with which to block every single reform for which the American public knowingly and intentionally voted last fall.
I am sickened nigh unto death watching our democratically expressed will be ignored and trounced by corrupt scum!
Please, PA voters, we're relying on you. Don't be Charlie Brown this time!

Posted by: smartalek on June 27, 2009 at 6:10 PM | PERMALINK

exlibra - You know, I read your comments, and I have trouble believing you have an accent, in spite of your personal history. Your writing is not only accurate, but extremely nuanced for someone for which English is a second language. Okay, I said nuanced, not gentle. Anyway, I bet you make them sit up and listen. You're the kind of person democracies need.

Posted by: Danp on June 27, 2009 at 6:16 PM | PERMALINK

I absolutely believe that if Spector wins he will swing back to the right again. At his age, he likely will not run again so there would be not restraint on what he would do. We know what he wants to do but can't because of Sestak. This should be the end for Arlen.

Posted by: Jim LaVelle on June 27, 2009 at 6:54 PM | PERMALINK

don't worry, penns. labor is supporting sleestak (did i spell that name right?)

Posted by: skippy on June 27, 2009 at 7:18 PM | PERMALINK

I suppose one good thing about having a Senator with absolutely no principles whatsoever beyond his own re-relection, is that he's easily swayed by even minimal political pressure.
It's hard to establish a reliable base of support when you never stand for anything.
I'm still voting for Sestak.

Posted by: Allan Snyder on June 28, 2009 at 11:23 AM | PERMALINK



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