Arlen Specter with Charles Robbins. Life Among the Cannibals: A Political Career a Tea Party Uprising, and the End of Governing as We Know It. New York, N.Y.: Thomas Dunne Books, 2012.
Arlen Specter was upset that “the rise of extremists---in both parties---replaced tolerance with purity test.”
Specter entered politics as a Democratic committeeman in Center City Philadelphia. He later became an Assistant District Attorney. He worked on prosecuting Teamsters officials. His convictions gained the attention of Attorney General Robert Kennedy. Specter was offered and accepted the position of Assistant Counsel on the Presidential Commission investigating the assassination of President John Kennedy.
Specter was planning on running for State Senator. The Democratic ward leaders voted 3 to 2 for Louis Johanson instead. Johanson wold later be convicted in the Abscam scandal.
Specter prosecuted Magistrates, a part of the judiciary heavily that was heavily politicized. Specter then wanted to run for District Attorney. The Democratic City Chairman told him “We don’t want another Tom Dewey”, meaning that party officials wanted a District Attorney they could control.
Specter offered to run as a Republican. He insisted to Republican leaders that he would make no patronage promises. He ran while remaining a registered Democrat, which had some political advantages as Philadelphia’s registration was majority Democratic. Specter was endorsed by the Americans for Democratic Action.
Spectier believed the incumbent District Attorney Jim Crumlish was “failing to crack down on crime or corruption”. Crumblish ran his campaign with “Payola Palace regulars”, Specter declared.
The Republican leaders obtained financing for Specter’s campaign, raising $550,000. Specter defeated Crumlish 52.5% to 47.5%.
Specter then changed his registration to Republican despite urging from Sen. Joseph Clark that he remain a Democrat.
Of the 51 Assistant District Attorneys, Specter kept about a third, immediately fired about a third, and kept a third with transfers. He then recruited new Assistant District Attorney from top law firms. He hired on merit.
The Republican leaders asked Specter to run for Mayor in 1967. Incumbent James Tate had a 26% approval rating. A poll showed Specter was leading Tate by 70% to 30%. Specter ran for Mayor.
Tate has police raid taprooms owned by Democratic ward leaders to make them beholden to him in supporting him. Police Commissioner Edward Bell resigned in protest. Frank Rizzo became the new Police Commissioner.
Specter refused to promise to reappoint the popular Rizzo. He also refused to support state legislation for state aid to parochial school, stating it was unconstitutional. These stands lost him support. After the election, he would be proven correct when the U.S. Supreme Court declared state funds for parochial schools was unconstitutional.
Tate won by 11,000 votes out of 700,000 cast.
Specter won re-election as District Attorney in 1969 by 100,000 votes.
Specter agreed to be Chairman of the Pennsylvania Committee to Reelect Nixon. This would prove unpopular after the Watergate scandals. Specter believes this contributed to his loss for re-election as District Attorney in 1973 by 28,000 votes to F. Emmett Fitzpatrick.
Specter ran for Governor in 1978. He lost the primary to Dick Thornburg. He notes he was one of three candidates from southeastern Pennsylvania whereas Thornburg was the only candidate from western Pennsylvania, which helped Thornburg win.
Specter ran for Senator in 1980. The Republican State Committee supported its Chairman, Bud Haabestad. Specter won the primary with 36% of the vote to 33% for Haabestad. Specter won on to defeat former Pittsburgh Mayor Pete Flaherty 50.5% to 48%.
In the U.S. Senate, Specter often worker in a bi-partisan manner. Specter observed that Senators then often crossed party lines to work together. He joined Sen. Ted Kennedy in fighting for hate crime legislation as they “are uniquely destructive”. He helped convince 17 other Republicans to support the bill’s passage.
In 1978, there was the election of numerous anti-government conservatives. When Republicans won a majority of the Senate in 1981, liberal Republicans were soon gone. Southern Democrats were replaced by conservative Republicans. Bipartisanship “vanished’, Specter noted.
In 1981, Sen. Mark Hatfield proudly described himself as a “liberal”. The was the last time Specter even herd a Republican Senator describes oneself as a liberal.
For 28 years, Specter shared weekly train rides with Delaware Sen. Joe Biden.
When Specter became Judiciary Committee Chairman, he worked with Ranking Minority Member Sen. Pat Leahy. He gave Leahy equal numbers of character witnesses on Supreme Court nominees, which was unusual. Usually these number were split two to one in favor of the majority party, Specter wrote that he strove for fairness.
Sen. Barack Obama approached Specter and asked him “If a Jewish kid from Kansas can carry Pennsylvania, how can a black kid from Kansas carry Pennsylvania?” Specter advised he campaign in small towns to impress voters. Obama did that in opposing Hillary Clinton in the Pennsylvania Primary\.
Dick Thornburg remained bitter from criticisms Specter made of him for supporting Haabestad. Thornburg ran against Specter for the 1992 Republican Senate nomination. A poll had Specter leading Thornburg 52% to 40%. Thornburg later withdrew from the race.
President Reagan stated he would not campaign for Specter if Specter would not vote for the MX missile. Specter refused. Specter did vote for the MX missile yet told Reagan not to raise any money for him. Specter defeated Rep. Bob Edgar for reelection by 56% to 43%.
Specter was concerned Reagan’s Star Wars plan. Reagan stated it would be shared with the Soviet Union so mutual assured destruction would exist. Specter advised Reagan that Congress would need to approve that. Reagan responded with a joke about condoms Specter wondered if Reagan then had early stages of Alzheimer’s.
Redistricting plans in states began making Congressional seats safer for incumbent in both parties. The political battles of ideology then moved more towards the primaries.
Specter in 1995 announced he was running for President the next year. He noted he had conservative views of the balanced budget, line item veto, and the death penalty. He was the only pro-choice on abortion candidate running for the Republican nomination. Howard Stern supported him. His campaign did not last long and he withdrew.
Specter ran for re-election in 1998. Attorney General Tom Corbett and State Sen. Melissa Hart considered challenging him for the Republican nomination. Both decided not to run. Specter easily defeated State Rep. Bill Lloyd in the general election, as Lloyd was unable to raise much money.
The abortion issue polarized the Senate, Specter believed. Democrats began supporting only pro-choice candidates. Republican began supporting only pro-life candidates.
Pat Toomey in 2002 challenged Specter for the Republican nomination. Toomey ran opposing earmarks, even for his own Congressional district. Toomey was essentially supported by the Club for Growth, the primary funder of Republican candidates other than the Republican Party. Club for Growth was also the nation’s fourth largest corporation in the 527 tax exempt status for issue advocacy groups that do not endorse candidates.
Dick Armey, who later became leader of the Tea Party, stated Toomey’s race was the beginning of the Tea Party.
Specter noted that Pat Toomey initially was elected to Congress in 1998 as a pro-choice candidate running against several pro-life candidates. Toomey later changed his position.
President Bush, Senator Rick Santorum, and the AFL-CIO supported Specter’s reelection. Specter spent $10 million on the race while Toomey spent $5 million Specer ran the primary with 50.8% to 49.2% for Toomey, or by 17,000 votes out of over one million votes cast. Specter went out to defeat Rep. Joe Hoeffel in the general election by 53% to 42%.
Specter believed the Senate Judiciary Committee should vote on judicial nominees within 30 days and the full Senate should vote within another 30 days.
Specter believed Supreme Court sessions should be televised, except for any cases where televising would violate due process.
Specter discovered that prosecutors, in their case against Sen. Ted Stevens, failed to meet requirements of turning over to the defense exculpatory evidence. Specter believed this was prosecutorial misconduct. Sen. Stevens died in a plane crash. The Justice Department later announced that the prosecutors had failed themselves.
Specter defended Democratic Rep, John Murtha. Murtha had been approached by Abscam operatives yet Murtha mentioned only transactions that were legal Murtha was not prosecuted. Some criticized Murtha’s involvement. Specter found Murtha “law abiding and ethical”.
Specter opposed a 2008 proposal for a $700 billion stimulus plan. He preferred the market decide. He also observed the Republicans offered no viable alternative to Obama’s plan except for Sen. John McCain’s plan for $450 billion in tax cuts, which Specter supported.
Specter fought for increased funding of $10 billion for the National Institute of Health (NIH). Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid offered to increase the NIH budget in return for voting for the stimulus plan. Specter replied “I’m not trading any votes. I never have, and I never will.”
Specter felt Reid unfairly blocked Republican amendments. He believe Democrats should have put up votes on the amendments. Instead, Republicans were forced to use filibusters.
Specter then worked on crafting a $780 billion stimulus program that reduced the then previous stimulus proposal by $110 billion. His proposal upped the tax cut to being 36% of the costs of the stimulus as opposed to the House version of tax cuts being 22% of costs. Former Sen. Santorum urged Specter not to vote for the package. Santorum warned that doing so would incite a challenger for the Republican nomination. Specter voted for the stimulus. Pat Toomey switched from running for Governor to running for the Senate.
Specter found the stimulus was effective. The auto industry rebounded. Banks repaid loans, some of them with interest. The economy slowly recovered.
Specter switched to being a Democrat. Specter had barely won the Republican Primary for U.S. Senator in 2004. After that, an estimated 200,000 moderate Republicans in Pennsylvania switched their party registration to Democrat. Specter realized that was enough of voters prone to vote for him that these switches would prevent him from winning the Republican Primary in 2010. He joined them in switching to Democrat.
Specter entered the Democratic Primary with a double digit lead against Rep. Joe Sestak. Specter’s approval rating was 65% and his favorability rating was 56%. He was endorsed by the Democratic State Committee, AFL-CIO, and the Black Clergy.
Specter met with Senator Reid. Reid had previously written that Specter “is always with us when we don’t need him.” Specter asked to keep his seniority. Reid agreed. Specter noted this was the same commitment Reid had made when Sen Jim Jeffords switched from Republican to Democrat.
Specter opposed card check where a union obtaining a majority of employees signing a card supporting the union would require the employer and union into binding arbitration. Specter felt this violated the secret ballot.
Even though Specter had been labeled as organized labor’s biggest supporter in the Senate Republican Caucus, he was not as pro-labor as were other Democrats. Sester had a 96% lifetime voting record favoring AFL-CIO positions whereas Specter had a 61% lifetime rating. The AFL-CIO endorsed Specter yet did not campaign hard for him.
52% of the voters polled stated they did not know enough about Sesak to have a feel for him. Specter was the main issue in the primary. Sestak claimed the White House made an offer to him if he would withdraw. Specter pressed for Sestak to provide details yet he declined.
Sestak defeaed Specter in the primary, Toomey then defeated Sesak in the general election by 51% to 49%.
Specter believed “if activated and motivated to vote, mainstream American can steer the country to sensible centrism”.