Monday, May 17, 2010

Why Emperor Arlen Has No Clothes

You don't need a weatherman to tell which way the wind blows.
Arlen Specter had been a U.S. senator for only a few months when I was named night city editor of the Philadelphia Daily News in 1981, but his reputation as a flip-flopper had preceded his nascent congressional career. Pinning down Specter or his flak on a particular issue was nearly impossible, a veteran political reporter told me, and while the political landscape has changed dramatically in the intervening three decades, Specter has not.

It is not written anywhere that a politician has to have scruples, let alone be consistent. Truth be known, Specter's flip-flopping never caused me much grief as a sometime Pennsylvania voter because he was reliably liberal. Except when he wasn't.

But now Specter, who it is forgotten changed his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat in 1965 to challenge the incumbent Democratic district attorney in Philadelphia for his first electoral victory before changing back to Republican in his Senate bids, is in the political fight of his life.

Specter, who famously again became a Democrat last year following the Democratic takeover of Congress and the White House, is being challenged by U.S. Representative Joe Sestak, who ousted a 10-term Republican in 2008 and is consistently and certifiably liberal, in tomorrow's Pennsylvania Democratic primary.

The two are in a dead heat in most of the polls.

Sestak has been running a devastating series of television adds in which the five-term Specter is shown being endorsed by George Bush and then congratulated by Barack Obama for switching parties. Then there is the fact -- pertinent pretty much only to political junkies -- that Specter voted against Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan when she was nominated by Obama last year to become solicitor general while several Republicans to the right of Specter green-lighted her.

My guess is that Specter will eke out a win because he has the backing of the state Democratic Party machine, such as it is these days, and Obama and Governor Ed Rendell behind him, primary turnout typically is low, and both Specter and Sestak are running against a conservative tide typified by the Tea Party and aren't generating much enthusiasm.

In any event, at this point Emperor Arlen has no clothes. Long described as a political genius, he has been thoroughly outted for what he is -- a political whore.

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