Arlen Specter has been his own man for many years. A few years ago, in 2004, fresh from winning his election, Specter was in line for the Chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee at a time when it was clear that Rehnquist was going to be replaced. He made the mistake of announcing publicly that he would not permit passage of a nominee who would overturn Roe v. Wade.
The Republicans would have none of it. The leaders of the party let him know in no uncertain terms that even if his seniority indicated that he should be appointed the next Committee Chairman, they were not bound to this custom and if the potential Chairman was out of line, then there were other Republicans who could be placed there instead; loyal and true Republicans.
Specter stood down. After a lifetime, he was hungry for the Chairmanship and with some lobbying and kow-towing to the right groups and party leaders, he was indeed given the plum role. I have always assumed that he was humiliated after being humbled by his party bosses.
Specter recently raised the ire of Republicans again by voting for Obama’s Stimulus pacakge, one of only three Republicans to cross the aisle and do so. That got a lot of people talking and it gave an opening to a fellow Republican politician who was running against Specter in their Pennsylvania Republican primary election. A few serious attack ads, some door to door canvassing and all of a sudden for the first time in a long career, Specter found himself facing the loss of his seat. What must have stung, again, was that he was being attacked by a fellow party-members despite his many years of distinguished service in the Senate. Apparently his views just weren’t far enough to the right.
Perhaps recalling the humiliation of 2004 at the hands of his colleagues and facing yet another humiliation but this time one that would expel him from the Senate, Arlen Specter listened carefully to the lobbying on their joint travels back to Pennsylvania of the current VP, his old friend Joseph Biden, who suggested as he had for a number of years that perhaps Specter’s values are no longer in line with the Republican party’s and are in line with the Democrats.
My guess is that a mix of pragmatism and political savvy probably drove Specter to make the decision to switch parties. It’s ironic in many ways because he began his political career as a Democrat and left for the Republican party about 43 years ago. This is his return and it couldn’t come at a better time for the Democrats. Facing ongoing threats of filibusters by the hypocritical Republicans who were opposed to such maneuverings by the minority Dems when they were in power, the current Democrats in the Senate now have at least a 59th and, if as expected Al Franken wins his election’s legal battles, probably a 60th and filibuster-breaking new addition to their party. The other winners here, along with the Democratic Senators and President Obama are Pennsylvanians. My guess is they’ll be getting a bunch of goodies over the next couple of years because of this party-affiliation switch by the their formerly-Republican representative.