Monday, May 24, 2010

Voters on grassy knolls of Pennsylvania shoot down Specter

The best news out of last week's bevy of primary elections was that Democrats in Pennsylvania decided they weren't buying what turncoat Senator Arlen Specter was selling. Which was, essentially, his soul.

Specter, who at 80 probably really needs to get out of Senate and get a life anyway, was a Republican until last year.

Then he switched parties when it became abundantly clear that he couldn't beat the wingnut who was challenging him in the Republican primary. So he took Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Barack Obama up on their kind offer to switch parties and become the Democrat's 60th vote in the Senate.

Let's be clear about this. There wasn't any change in Specter's philosophy. He didn't have a Road to Damascus experience. He just switched parties in an effort to save his own political skin. And Pennsylvania Democrats decided that they didn't have to abide by any back-room Washington deals that they hadn't been consulted about anyway and said "Thanks, but no thanks" and chose Rep. Joe Sestak to carry their banner against far-right GOP nominee Pat Toomey in November. After all, those Democrats had been voting against Specter their whole lives.

Polls show Sestak will have a tougher time beating Toomey than Specter would have. I guess Pennsylvania Democrats decided they'd rather lose with a real Democrat than win with an ersatz one. And make no mistake, Specter isn't a real Democrat. Despite what his Tea Party detractors would have you believe he isn't even a particularly liberal or moderate Republican. He mostly toed the party line during his long tenure in the Senate.

Aside from the fact that I'm still mad at him about the Single Bullet Theory -- and authoring that rationalization by which the Warren Commission fit the uncooperative evidence in the John F. Kennedy assassination with its predetermined conclusion presaged the intellectual dishonesty that would allow Specter to disavow a lifetime in politics and switch parties without a look back -- I hate to see treachery rewarded.

And for Specter, or any other office holder, to switch parties while remaining in office is treachery. It's a betrayal not only of party workers and volunteers and donors who helped in the campaign, but of the voters who took both party label and political philosophy into account when deciding who to vote for.

Specter's slogan was that he "put Pennsylvania before politics." In fact, he put himself before either.

That's not to say a politician can't have a legitimate change of philosophy.

Virginia's senior Senator Jim Webb is a former Republican. But he didn't switch while holding office. He decided that Democrats now more fully represented his political beliefs and sought office as a Democrat. And he didn't switch with any back room deals giving him a free ride to the Democratic nomination either.

Former Republican Senator Phil Gramm of Texas took a far more honorable route than Specter. Elected to the House as a Democrat, he resigned his seat when he decided to change parties and ran again as a Republican, letting the voters of his district ratify the change in their representation.

Virginia has had its own case of partisan treason. And we didn't deal with it as well as Pennsylvania.

Former 5th District Rep. Virgil Goode spent 20 years in the Virginia Senate, filling the same seat once held by his father. The elder Goode famously hedged his bets in the 1968 presidential contests by handing out signs for Republican Richard Nixon, Democrat Hubert Humphrey and Independent George Wallace. So political opportunism runs in the Goode family.

Virgil Goode became something more than an obscure senator from a backwoods part of the state in January, 1996 after elections the previous year left the Senate deadlocked 20-20 between Democrats and Republicans. According to 19 of the Democrats, Lt. Gov. Don Beyer's tie-breaking vote should have allowed the chamber to be organized under Democrat control. Goode wouldn't go along. He forced a power-sharing agreement on the Senate.

Did Democrats punish him for his Benedict Arnold impersonation? Of course not. In fact, they promoted him. In a move that many saw as much as a way to get rid of Goode as a way to hold a congressional seat, most Democratic senators supported Goode in his quest for the Democratic nomination in the 5th Congressional District to replace a retiring incumbent. Goode got the nomination and won election to Congress, as a Democrat, in 1996.

As soon as he got there, he started disappointing the Democrats who had put him there, voting as often with the Republicans as with his fellow Democrats. He voted for the impeachment of Bill Clinton, one of the few Democrats to join in that particular partisan witch hunt. In 2000, he declared himself an independent and began caucusing with the Republicans. In 2002 he officially became a Republican and was awarded with a seat on the Appropriations Committee for his switch, which gave his district to the GOP for the first time since 1889.

Although, as in the case of turncoat Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Aetna), it sometimes seems like justice is a foreign concept in American politics, the wheels of justice still grind, even if they do so very, very slowly. Goode was taken out by Democrat Tom Periello in the 2008 election, by less than 800 votes.

When last seen, a couple of weeks ago, Goode was addressing the convention of the Constitution Party. If it would revive his political career, I'm sure he'd be just as likely to declare himself a Whig, a Know Nothing or a Bull Moose next week. What he really is is a Virgilcrat. Just as Specter was always an Arlenpublican.

People talk a lot about the "character issue" in politics, by which they usually mean, "Does the candidate sleep around on his wife." I don't really care about that anymore than I care if my lawyer, my doctor or my mechanic is faithful to his spouse. But the "character issue" I do care about is, "Is the candidate willing to stab his friends and allies in the back if it suits his own purposes." You don't want to vote for a guy like that.

Specter, Goode and Lieberman -- along with a few others -- fail that test.

Bookmark and Share