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October 23, 2012 12:05 PM Arlen Specter

By Jonathan Bernstein

Rich Yselson called Arlen Specter, who died last week, a “poor man’s Richard Nixon.” Something about Specter brought out the snark, didn’t it? At least in me it did. I once said that Pennsylvania is the largest state to have never had a women represent it in the Senate, but Specter was probably willing to consider switching if it would keep him there.

You would think that I would be a Specter fan; I generally like the broad category of non-ideological pragmatic careerists, which is generally the category Specter belongs to. I was not much of a fan. I think it’s that he was sanctimonious. I guess that’s what you would call it. Yselson calls Specter (by way of Nixon) a “brilliant, ruthless political obsessive,” but I don’t think that’s right. I’m not even sure about ruthless; yeah, he was willing to be brutal to those he opposed, but I always read that more as far that Specter was always certain that he was correct, rather than that he was willing to destroy others to further self-interest, although Nixon to be sure was always very good at believing that his sort and long-term self-interest was always part of the national interest that his enemies just didn’t see. Mostly, it’s the “brilliant” part I don’t see at all. Arlen Specter may have been Arlen Specter’s idea of a smart person, but there’s precious little evidence that I’m aware of that we should buy into it.

Specter did plenty of worthwhile things in his political career, as well as plenty of things which were disgraces. Thomas/Hill really is that bad. I’ve always thought that Democrats got a bit of a bad rap on that one; yes, they were slow to realize that the charges were serious, but then again liberal Democrats had already decided to oppose Thomas for other reasons, so Hill really was (in that sense) irrelevant to them. For those otherwise intending to vote for Thomas, however, Hill’s accusations should have made them think twice, and Specter wasn’t much for thinking twice.

Arlen Specter was one of five Senators who were subjects of (wonderful, terrific, highly recommended) short books by Richard Fenno. My impressions of Pete Domenici, Mark Andrews, Dan Quayle, and John Glenn were all improved from reading those books. Not, alas, Specter. I consider politics and honorable and patriotic profession, and for his pursuit of politics I can applaud Arlen Specter; beyond that, I should probably just stop.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.
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Comments

  • TCinLA on October 24, 2012 1:34 PM:

    Personally, I broke out a bottle of champagne when I found out this worthless asshole was dead. I hope he's down on the Ninth Level of Hell for giving us Clarence Thomas.

    He was never anything but opporunistic scum. Now he's a "good" Republican.

  • thephantomtollbooth on October 25, 2012 10:22 AM:

    ...Yselson calls Specter (by way of Nixon) a “brilliant, ruthless political obsessive,” but I don’t think that’s right. I’m not even sure about ruthless; yeah, he was willing to be brutal to those he opposed, but I always read that more as far that Specter was always certain that he was correct, rather than that he was willing to destroy others to further self-interest, although Nixon to be sure was always very good at believing that his sort and long-term self-interest was always part of the national interest that his enemies just didn’t see. ...

    Being acutely critical is about as far from a personal motivation , as is psychically editing a post , normally possible . Granting that my sympathies are nested within a tolerable forbearance inside the observable generalities posited is it more , or less , excusable to find oneself punching at blind assumptions of unremarkable yet conspicuously awkward phrasing ?
    As for scolding unwieldy , or hurried screeds , my first , second , and third reflex , again a tolerable forbearance . Perhaps it tis the season for curmudgeonly affectations influencing my wrenching disapprobation of minor nuts and bolts .
    Jonathan Bernstein reinvigorates a sleeping (or sleepy) cantankerous spirit with a provocatively narcoleptic eye towards allies one imagines would be his exclusive neighbors , welcoming the full measure of contemplation one seeks at this address . Is there an overlooked , stagey , practiced and anguished , "Why" , inside such a measurable lethargy ?
    It is posited here as a provocation rather than an all nighters sleep deprived canon crammed into the blood moving pulses behind the leaps to conclusions . The obvious dangers of wisely and precisely documented by prudent Norton Juster .

  • tom rogers on November 07, 2012 4:45 AM:

    I just wanted to sit here and gaze upon the previous comment in awe. It is a sight to behold. I haven't the foggiest of the intent, but it is a wonder, indeed.