In the run-up to fall Congressional election, there’s no such thing as an unimportant race. Already one Senator, Robert Bennett (R-Utah) has fallen prey to the anti-incumbent sentiments of restless voters. Yesterday, Pennsylvania voters ended Arlen Specter’s nearly 30 years career in politics.
I’d like to say I feel bad for ol’ Arlen, but the fact is had I been able to vote in the Democratic primary, I would have chosen the challenger, Joe Sestak, over Specter. In one of the most overtly craven acts of self-motivated survival, Specter had cut a deal with President Obama and the Democratic establishment to leave the Republicans after it became obvious he couldn’t win the party’s nomination against a more conservative challenger.
Sestak, a Congressman and former Navy admiral had spurned overtures and threats from the White House not to run and in pulling off the upset goes on to face Republican Pat Toomey in November.
The hardest thing in the world to stop is an idea whose time has come. Maybe the Tea Party, for all it’s scary far-right rhetoric, is a natural evolution in politics. The vast “Silent Majority” that Nixon and Agnew spoke of, Reagan won with and 20 years of Bush-Clinton-Bush put to sleep have woken up and they don’t much like what they see.
Progressives have never been able to speak middle-class/working class America’s language. The Palins, Becks, Limbaughs and that crew do. The Left tries to appeal to their hopes and dreams. The Right appeals to their fears and nightmares. They fan simmering resentments and fears into roaring flames of anger. White people don’t much like the idea that government seems to be looking out for everyone’s interests but theirs. A pushback was inevitable. Barack Obama was the change they couldn’t live with.
Since Obama’s election there has been all this talk about “bipartisanship” and “reaching across the aisle” to work together. This is engaging in wishful thinking. Working with a moderate Republicans? Who’s left? Charlie Crist? Arlen Specter? The two Senators from Maine? You can count all the Republican moderates in positions of power on two hands and you won’t have to use all your fingers.
When a bland, middle of the road conservative like Bennett in Utah, gets gassed for not being conservative enough, you know there’s a change in the weather and it’s a harbinger of a coming Dark Age of political polarization, animus and rancor of a sort this country has not witnessed in a long time.
Specter and Sestak were both interviewed (separately) on NPR last week and my first response was how nasty Specter came off. He had this arrogant air of entitlement like, “Who is this prick Joe Sestak to challenge ME?”
Specter had every advantage. Name recognition? Check. Backing by the governor and the party elders? Check. Enthusiastically endorsed by the President? Check.
Not everyone hates incumbents, but nobody like arrogance or naked opportunism and Specter reeked of both. I’m sure the great state of Pennsylvania will muddle through without Arlen in the U.S. Senate. It’s a huge loss for Harry Reid, Gov. Ed Rendell, the Democratic Party machine, but most of all, for President Obama. You can’t say “I love Arlen Specter” one day and a week out from the election it’s “I know him not.”
Obama didn’t want to be holding hands with Specter when he went down the same way Martha Coakley, Jon Corzine and Creigh Deeds did. Obama’s personal charm hasn’t extended to fellow Democrats lately. He might be spending a lot of time this fall busy in the White House than out stumping for his party.
Obama cut a deal with Specter for his vote on health care and said all the right things about him until it was obvious he was dead meat. Then when he didn’t need Specter and saw there was no upside to trying to save him, he left him to his fate. That wasn’t very noble of the president, but there’s no sense in wasting time on a lost cause. The Democratic voters in Pennsylvania decided they wanted one of their own, not someone who signed on just to save his own ass.
I weep not for Arlen Specter. He had a nice, long run. He wasn’t the worst Republican in Washington, but I lost a lot of respect for him during the Judiciary Committee hearings for Clarence Thomas and Specter tried to utterly destroy Anita Hill. Obama backed Specter all the way—right until he saw Specter was going to lose, then he couldn’t put enough space between them.
Dirty deeds done dirt cheap can come at a high price. Bye-bye, Arlen. It’s not that we didn’t know you. We just had enough of you.