I can date precisely the moment when I became disgusted with Pennsylvania Arlen Specter. April, 20, 1985. On that day, I was in DC as part of a national student lobby effort for nuclear disarmament. About 50 of us Pennsylvanians had scheduled an appointment to discuss things like MX and Cruise missiles with Specter. Specter thought the office was too crowded and invited us outside for the meeting.
Except that he had no intention of meeting with us. Once out on the Capitol steps, he tried to arrange us all in a group for a photo (the photographer was waiting for us outside). We didn't cooperate, insisting instead that we talk about the issues. He tried several times to herd us into his photo op and each time we refused. Finally, he walked away, leaving us to talk with an aide. (By way of contrast, I should add, the late Senator John Heinz did meet with us and was thoroughly honest and forthright, though we disagreed over nearly everything).
It has proved to be typical of a man who has carefully crafted a public persona as an "independent" and "moderate" Republican, while voting far more often than not to hold the Republican party line.
Which brings us to today's Times. On the first day of the new legislative session (and still 2.5 weeks from the inauguration) Specter launched an aggressive, saber-rattling rant about Obama's nomination of Eric Holder to be Attorney General. Shady things must be thoroughly investigated, Specter intoned. Full and frank disclosure, said the Senator. This would only be so much Senatorial hot air were it not for the fact that Specter is the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee and is thus in a position to block, stall or otherwise bollocks the nomination.
But what is even more galling about Specter's comments today is his recent record on the Judiciary Committee. He expressed all sorts of grave concerns about the nomination of Alberto Gonzalez - and then promptly greased the wheels to get his nomination approved. As far as I am concerned, Specter wrote his own obituary when he gave a spirited defense of habeus corpus rights on the floor of the Senate, and then voted against them under pressure from the Bush Administration.
(For those of you with longer memories, you will recall the central role Specter played in getting Clarence Thomas approved to the Supreme Court by leading the scurrilous campaign against Anita Hill. More recently, Specter has expressed "grave concerns" over some of Thomas' rulings).
Specter won't damage Holder's nomination, I suspect. To listen to him, Specter has a great many convictions. To look at his voting record, he has the courage of few of them, and he won't risk the wrath of Philadelphia-area voters by sticking his neck out over Holder. Still, I'd like to invite all you Pennsylvanians reading this to call Specter's office and let him know that his craven capitulation to the Bush Administration and his duplicitous record in the Senate have not gone unnoticed. For those of you who don't already have it on speed-dial, the Capitol switchboard can be reached at: 202-224-3121.