Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania: a Profile in Political Expediency and Lack of Integrity

–Richard E. Vatz

Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter has announced that he will switch parties today to become a Democratic Senator. The switch is politically significant, as it will provide the Democrats with their filibuster-proof, 60-vote majority, despite the Senator’s claim in his statement announcing his intention that he “will not be an automatic 60th vote for cloture.”

This article is not to say “good riddance;” it is just to say that Sen. Specter’s decision makes him just another politician without integrity. Political expediency is the motivating force behind his change; he faced a formidable challenge in the upcoming Pennsylvania 2010 presidential primary, and we shall learn soon enough what “incentives” the Democrats have promised him.

Revealingly, last month when there were rumors that he would become an Independent, he said, “To eliminate any doubt, I am a Republican, and I am running for re-election in 2010 as a Republican on the Republican ticket.”

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Part of the contract with the voters when you’re elected is that you are aligned with the party on whose ticket you ran for your full term. Many such voters base their vote partly or wholly on the party of their chosen candidate.

Sen. Specter disappointed Republicans when he supported the Democratic stimulus package, opposed the nomination of Robert Bork for the Supreme Court, opposed the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, and many other examples provide further questionable credentials as a reliable Republican. No matter; he had no ethical obligation to hew to the party line. The changing of parties in mid-term, though, is a violation of implicit and explicit promises and statements made by Sen. Specter. It makes him simply deceptive.

For whatever full disclosure this opinion requires of the author, I was a big fan and an acquaintance of Pete Flaherty, the former, late Democratic Mayor of Pittsburgh, parenthetically a wonderful human being who never shied away from day-to-day conversation with his constituency and who ate daily in public restaurants. Sen. Specter defeated Pete in 1980 in a close election that this conservative wishes had gone in the other direction. I vote on political matters, but personal integrity usually trumps such considerations.

Just to reiterate: there is no integrity issue with Sen. Arlen Specter’s reputation as a RINO (Republican In Name Only). The ethical issue is the dishonesty in his self-representation as a Republican when he ran in 2004.

Professor Vatz is professor of political rhetoric at Towson University

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