The Corner

Specter

Today’s editorial:

D., Himself

By the Editors

Arlen Specter belongs to a type familiar to Congress: the time-serving hack devoid of any principle save arrogance. He has spent three decades in the Senate but is associated with no great cause, no prescient warning, no landmark legislation. Yet he imagines that the Senate needs his wisdom and judgment for a sixth term. He joined the Republican party out of expediency in the 1960s, and leaves it out of expediency this week.

Those who attribute his defection to the rise of social conservatism are deluding themselves. It is not as though he has been a reliable vote for any other type of conservatism. He has stood apart from the mainstream of his party on welfare reform, trade, taxes, affirmative action, judicial appointments, tort reform, and national-security law. The issue that finally caused an irreparable breach with Republicans was the stimulus bill. Some Republicans are blaming Pat Toomey for pushing Specter out of the party by challenging him from the Right. But it is not Toomey’s fault that Specter is out of step with Pennsylvania Republicans. Whatever they think of the prudence of his challenge at the time he announced it, conservatives should be rooting for Toomey now.

Reporters are lazily saying that the Democrats will now have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, but in truth whether that majority holds will depend on the issue. Specter’s defection by itself will not make it possible for Democrats to pass their bill to effectively abolish the secret ballot in unionizing elections, or to enact a cap on carbon emissions. We can safely assume that the Republicans’ task, already difficult, just got harder. They will have less room to play an inside game of parliamentary maneuvers, and will therefore need even more to appeal to the public at large. They will, that is, have to work to make bad ideas unpopular ideas as well. Which is what their principal task was already.

We are not sure why self-respecting liberals would vote to have Specter as their representative. Most Democrats believe the country is with them and Pennsylvania even more so; why not have a true believer in the seat? We rarely give Democratic primary voters advice and still less frequently see it taken. But here’s hoping that Pennsylvania Democrats become the second party to turn down Specter’s dubious services.

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