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A few words on Arlen Specter

Published: May 2, 2009
Section: Opinions


On Tuesday, five-term Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) surprised members of both parties when he announced his plans to switch his party affiliation and run for re-election in 2010 as a Democrat.

From Specter’s point of view, this is an excellent idea. As a moderate Republican he is becoming increasingly unpopular with the rabid right wing that now dominates his party, and his chances of winning a primary race against, say, the far more conservative Congressman Pat Toomey (R-PA), look slimmer by the day. Plus, polls show that Pennsylvania Democrats have a higher approval of Specter than Pennsylvania Republicans. The best way for him to get re-elected is to appeal to these voters in any way possible.

To paraphrase Jon Stewart, Specter is making this decision based on his principles, such as the ‘I would like to remain Senator’ principle.

From the Democrats’ point of view, however, this may not be such a good thing. True, Specter’s change from red to blue will give the Democratic Party a 60 seat, filibuster-proof majority (provided that Al Franken (D-MN) is seated, in accordance with the final recount of the Minnesota Senate race). But such a majority would only work in the Democrats’ favor if all 60 Senators were actually able to agree on the issues at hand. Specter’s record as a lawmaker suggests otherwise.

Although Specter has occasionally taken sides with the Democrats on certain issues, most notably the recent economic stimulus package, he still holds conservative views on many issues. Take, for example, his stance on the Employee Free Choice Act.

This act, as introduced to Congress, is designed to give workers more bargaining power in the workplace by making it easier for them to form and join unions. It does this by taking away the rights of employers to choose the process by which the formation of a new union is decided, and putting these rights in the hands of the employees themselves.

If enacted, the act would help to increase the number of unions in this country, who would then work to improve labor conditions and increase average wages that have been stagnant since 1979. Unfortunately, Specter does not seem to value this kind of progress. Despite telling President Obama that he wanted to be a loyal Democrat and support his agenda, he maintained staunch opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act.

This is an important issue, as well as a highly contentious one. Republicans are strongly opposed to the act, and I would not be surprised if they tried to filibuster in order to block it. Therefore, it is crucial to find 60 Senators who actually support it. So while it is fun to watch Republicans grow increasingly redder in the face as Specter’s name is brought up in press conferences, we can and should do much better than him to fill the seat of the 60th Senate Democrat. In 2010, Democrats need to field a strong primary challenger who can defeat Specter, walk all over the Republican nominee, and represent Pennsylvania with a strong progressive Democratic voice.