Remembering Sen. Specter
Arlen Specter, who died this past weekend, has been credited above all with being one thing: a survivor. He was the perfect Darwinian adaptor to the culture of Washington, D.C., and the times he lived in. More than that, KH VuUYLYHG KHDOWK LVVuHV (FDnFHU, EUDLn WuPRUV, HWF.) WR which lesser men would have more meekly surrendered.
But Specter was so much more than a mere survivor, because he survived to do important things, not the least of which was being a clarion call for a less partisan, less poisoned environment that still valued compromise over deadlock.
For our money his most laudable accomplishment was his constant pursuit of more federal money for medical research.
When he became Pennsylvania’s junior senator in 1981, the annual budget for the National Institutes of Health was $3 billion. By the time of his retirement (at WKH KDnGV RI DHOFR DHPRFUDWLF uSVWDUW -RH 6HVWDN) Ln 2010, WKDW fiJuUH KDG LnFUHDVHG 10-IROG. 7RGDy, 1,H’V budget is just over $30 billion.
With the country going broke, it is hardly a good time to brag about federal spending on anything. But is it hard to think of a much better way to invest tax dollars than Ln finGLnJ FuUHV IRU WKH VLFN DnG wDyV WR NHHS $PHULFD healthier.
Specter started his political career as a Democrat and ended on the same side of the aisle. In between he was a Republican who commanded the attention of both sides for his willingness to buck his own party to do what he thought was in the nation’s interest, not to mention his own.
He was best known for four things: His single bullet theory in the JFK assassination; his “borking” of Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork; his grilling of Anita HLOO Ln WKH &ODUHnFH 7KRPDV FRnfiUPDWLRn KHDULnJV; DnG his citing of Scottish law for his non-vote in the impeachment trial of William Jefferson Clinton.
These actions came decades apart, but all of them revealed a man who was iconoclastic, cerebral and brave.
Some would disagree. There were many who saw Specter’s actions mostly as attention-getting political calculations. They saw a man who always had his eye on the next election and made sure he was properly positioned to win it.
/DWH Ln KLV FDUHHU (2004), KH KDG D YHUy FORVH FDOO against a GOP insurgent named Pat Toomey. He survived it. But Toomey came back to haunt him six years later. To avoid another tough primary against Toomey, Specter MuPSHG SDUWLHV. HH wDV unOuFNy HnRuJK WR finG DnRWKHU DPELWLRuV RIfiFH VHHNHU wDLWLnJ IRU KLP Ln WKH DHPRFUDWic primary.
After losing to Joe Sestak (who went on to lose to Pat 7RRPHy) 6SHFWHU WRRN uS WKH KREEy RI SHUIRUPLnJ DV D stand-up comedian
He was no Jerry Seinfeld but he obviously enjoyed himself on stage and so did his audiences. And unlike the famous politicians who appear at the annual Correspondents Dinner in Washington every year, Specter wrote his own jokes.
(Our favorite: “I called Clinton up on his 65th birthday and said, ‘Bill, congratulations on being 65. How do you feel?’ He said, ‘Oh, I feel like a teenager, the problem is , FDn’W finG RnH.’”)
He was the consummate political pro; a creature of the Beltway who never lost his Kansas drawl. Or his sense of humor. He was an American and political original. Dead at 82. He has gone, we’re sure, to a less contentious and more peaceful place.
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