What You Need To Know: A Summary For You Lazy Asses
· I give the liberal community a guide to what’s wrong with Arlen Specter.
· I also have updates on Joe Sestak, with some promising news and some unpromising news.
· I will continue to post updates on the Specter situation in this entry.
You know what I’ve realized in the last, oh, two or three days? I haven’t been hard enough on Arlen Specter.
I think part of that is because most of my standing ire is directed at another self-serving moderate/conservative fuck Democrat, Ben Nelson. As of this writing, there is no person I’d rather see leave the Senate – by any means necessary – than Ben Nelson. Yes, he’s eclipsed and succeeded Joe Lieberman as my most reviled Senator. (I will post a more substantive entry on this later.)
But you know what, there’s plenty of anger and opposition to go around, and Specter is a bit easier prey. I say “a bit” because it seems like he has the whole Democratic establishment – the Obama administration, the Ed Rendell administration – supporting him. But you know what, we took on a popular establishment fake/opportunistic Democrat before, and we beat him. (Hint: His name appears somewhere in this Xanga entry!)
I said before that I would want Arlen Specter to win reelection ONLY if his Democratic opponents are all moderates. But if a real liberal steps up to challenge him, by all means I want that liberal to win! As of this moment his only serious challenger is Joe Torsella, whom I don’t have much information about. Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA-7) looks to be more and more seriously considering a run against Specter; I don’t know enough about him yet to make a solid opinion but he’s been sounding the right things from what I’ve heard (i.e. Arlen Specter is just some Johnny-come-lately trying to hitch a free ride, and the Democratic nominee for this Senate seat has to be decided by the people rather than by Democratic honchos).
So I’m going to start a running count of the strikes against Arlen Specter. Any liberal running against him is free and welcome to use these talking points.
1. Arlen Specter was a Democrat until 1965 when he ran for District Attorney as a Republican (while still a registered Democrat) because it was easier to get elected that way. He stayed a Republican until recently, when he switched back to being a Democrat because he thinks it’s easier to get elected that way. See a pattern? He switches parties purely to cover his own political ass, and admitted almost as much in his press conference regarding his recent switch. If George W. Bush feared a John Kerry presidency because Kerry was a “flip-flopper”, he’d drop dead screaming with President Arlen Specter.
2. Specter voted for the stimulus, but before he did he made sure that a bunch of spending, spending that could have been used to create tons of jobs and infrastructure, was removed from the stimulus package. Why? Because he wanted to stroke his own “moderate” ego, perhaps, and because of vague notions about not wanting to “spend too much money”; never mind that he voted for deficit spending and budget-busting tax cuts during the Bush years. This guy is NOT a real liberal. Not even close.
3. Since becoming a Democrat, Specter voted against President Obama’s FY2010 budget. His stated reason was because he opposed the budget’s “possibility” of using reconciliation to pass health care legislation. But I’m sure not wanting to “spend too much money” also had something to do with it, since Obama’s budget is the biggest and most ambitious of perhaps any Democrat since LBJ, and certainly much more so than the shit ones we got from the Bush administration (which Specter supported and voted for, of course).
4. Also since becoming a Democrat, Specter voted against “cramdown” that would have allowed bankruptcy judges to make it easier for people to pay their mortgage payments and keep their homes.
5. When asked about health care legislation on Meet the Press, Specter said he doesn’t want the government to offer its own health care plan (the “public option”, usually said to be similar to Medicare) alongside private plans. Having a federal government plan alongside private ones is a key liberal/Democratic position in my mind. When asked what kind of health care reform he would like to see, he mentioned a bunch of blather about improving technology, funding medical research, emphasizing diet and exercise, etc., milquetoast crap like what Hillary Clinton used to talk about before 2007, but nothing concrete on what to do with the uninsured, except for mentioning his support for the Wyden-Bennett health care plan, which he did not elaborate on or explain. (From a quick read of a CBPP report on it, Wyden-Bennett would establish state-based purchasing pools for private insurance and mandate individuals to buy insurance, with subsidies available on a sliding scale. Not bad, but still inferior to the public/private option plan or, my (and a lot of other liberal Democrats’) favorite, single-payer Medicare for All.)
6. In that same Meet the Press interview (in the same question, actually), David Gregory quoted a Wall Street Journal piece that claimed Specter had said to President Obama, “I will be a loyal Democrat. I support your agenda.” Specter vociferously denied saying that (or at least, the “loyal Democrat” part). Sounds pretty fishy. Plus, um, I kinda want a loyal Democrat, one who supports Democratic principles and values. Arlen, that ain’t you.
7. Two years ago when he was still a Republican, Specter was for the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) and was generally pro-union, which explained why labor unions constantly backed him even against Democrats. This year, as he was shaping up for a grueling battle with a conservative in the Republican primary, Specter switched his position and became against EFCA. When he became a Democrat, he declared that he would continue to be against EFCA, probably because to switch his position back at that moment would’ve looked too blatantly political. Not only is Specter a flip-flopper, but he’s flip-flopped to the wrong side of the issue.
UPDATE (May 7 2009): Joe Sestak has come out swinging against Benedict Arlen, attacking both Specter’s conservative past and blatant opportunism and, even more promisingly, the entire Democratic establishment for wholeheartedly supporting Specter.
The good news is this money quote right here:
But according to Sestak, even if Specter moves in the right direction, the more important question is whether or not he’ll actually stick to those new positions going forward. If Specter’s re-elected, he’ll be senator (potentially) until 2016, and Sestak worries he won’t be reliable over time.
Precisely. As David Broder, a man whose views I normally despise but in this case is spot-on, put it in “Specter the Defector”, Specter will do precisely whatever it takes to keep his job. If he’ll flip-flop to make people vote for him, he’ll do it. But Pennsylvania is, unfortunately, not liberal enough to force Specter to be a full-throated liberal (yet!). So in all likelihood he might do a couple of leftward feints to secure victory in the Democratic primary (though on that count he’s on a bad start, what with the budget and cramdown votes, non-support of EFCA, non-support of government health care, etc.). But once that primary’s over, watch him quickly move back to pretty much where he is now and expect to coast to reelection as he did in the last couple of reelections. Which raises an interesting question: Why is Sestak waiting to see if Specter shapes up before entering the race if Specter is always going to be unreliable anyway, and anything Specter does can’t be taken on good faith? Seems to me he might as well jump in now.
The bad news comes in the quote right after:
Interestingly, though, there may not be much daylight between Specter and Sestak on at least one of these issues. Sestak says he’s still unsure whether he supports a public health insurance option as an element of comprehensive health reform. He plans to discuss the issue further with SEIU president Andy Stern and others and come to a decision in the coming weeks, but if he ultimately comes down against that policy, he’ll be in just about the same camp as his new rival, who came out against a public option over the weekend. Obviously that means less in the House (where Sestak serves) than it does in the Senate (where Specter potentially wields enormous influence), but no less a figure than Howard Dean has said that comprehensive health reform requires a public option.
Howard Dean is right, of course, and I applaud him for leading the charge for the public option. That Sestak hasn’t gotten with the program yet and still needs consulting disturbs me greatly. Health care issues in general and the public option issue in particular have often served as a very convenient fault line separating true liberal Democrats from faux I’m-just-a-nicer-version-of-a-Republican moderate Democrats like Ben Nelson and Evan Bayh (whom, not coincidentally, both do not support the public option). If Sestak doesn’t support a public option it’s a very good indicator that he falls on the side of centrist, government-is-bad faux Democrats. And in that case I think I’d rather take an ailing 79-year old faux Democrat who won’t serve that much longer than a healthy 57-year old faux Democrat who could be in there for a couple of terms.
I hope Sestak makes the right decision. Of course, even if he doesn’t, Sestak would still be better than Specter. But if he isn’t that much better, than liberalism would profit in the long run with Specter rather than Sestak. I don’t know much else about Sestak at this point, but so far he’s at least been saying the right things.
Interestingly, I have heard nothing from or about Joe Torsella, who is actually in the race. I wonder why that is.
UPDATE II (May 8 2009): There is precious little being said about Joe Torsella, but at least his freakin website is up, which couldn’t be said a week ago. Unfortunately, at this point the website has nothing of value in terms of explaining his ideology or stances on the issues. Hopefully he gets that up and running soon. Not to nag or anything, but it’s not a good sign if it takes this long to get a website going.
As several bloggers have pointed out, a primary challenge to Specter will most likely succeed with fewer people in the race – ideally, just one liberal challenger to Specter.
UPDATE III (May 11 2009): I’m working on a broader update on the merits and drawbacks of Joe Sestak as our “liberal” champion. But right now I need to vote in this straw poll hosted by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which along with Open Left (which I recently joined), looks to be a site suited to my tastes for supporting progressive candidates against not only Republicans but centrist and conservative Democrats as well.
The question is as follows: “Should a Draft Sestak movement be created to take on Sen. Arlen Specter in the Pennsylvania Democratic primary?”
My vote will be No, for the following reasons:
1. Sestak seems to already be very much inclined to run even without this straw poll, and I doubt that his decision will be significantly affected one way or the other by this poll.
2. Though I have no way of telling this other than gut instinct, I have a feeling that Yes will win, perhaps by a large margin. This is not the basis on which I form my opinion, but it does make me more comfortable in voting on it.
3. Okay, time to get to the point. I don’t want to support someone whose liberal-ness is, at the moment to my eyes, a mixed bag with lots of question marks. I have heard good things about Sestak and from Sestak, and I have heard bad things and have bad feelings about him. I will discuss his pros and cons later, but I can say at this point that Sestak is a decently liberal guy, but not that liberal, and there’s still a lot of things I don’t know about him that I want to/need to know. If we’re not going to have a real liberal champion to take on Specter then, as I’ve explained before, it’s better to just let Specter win and then push a real liberal for the office when Specter dies or retires in a short time down the road. Maybe Sestak is that champion, but as of right now, I don’t know that, and until I do I’m going to withhold bold declarations of my support.
4. This does not mean that I will not support Sestak in the primary. As of right now I’m inclined to favor a primary against Specter but I need to be convinced that the person who beats him will be someone that I and the rest of the liberal community will be reasonably happy with for the duration of their service, which will likely be a long time. If Sestak convinces me then I will support him. But I’m voting No right now because he hasn’t convinced me yet, not because he will never convince me, and not because he has convinced me to not support him.
I feel like I need to pound on this point again: Any Democrat will be better than Specter. The question liberals and progressives like myself need to ask is: Irrespective of how much better he is than Specter, will Sestak (or Torsella, or whatever) be someone WE will be happy with for the next several decades? If the answer is no, then it’d be better to let Specter win and elect a real liberal champion sometime soon down the road.
UPDATE IV (May 17 2009): Two pieces of news. First is that, as expected, voters in the PCCC straw poll voted overwhelmingly – 85-86 percent – to support a Draft Sestak movement. Though I voted No, I am heartened that the results show that the overwhelming majority of those on the left are not going to simply roll over and dumbly accept Specter as our nominee.
The other news is that Joe Torsella has ended his barely visible campaign, leaving Specter unopposed for the time being (aside from the ignored Bill Kortz). Though I’m not particularly surprised nor disappointed in his decision, I do question the motives behind Torsella’s withdrawal – and whether he was pressured by anybody to make that decision. Torsella denies it, but considering that he’s good buddies with conniving Governor Ed Rendell who is in turn good buddies with Arlen Specter, I have a hard time believing any decision by Torsella was based purely on his own motives.
His public explanation was somewhat lame:
Over time, it’s become clear to me that the kind of campaign this would become is not the kind of campaign I – or you – signed up for. It would probably become negative, personal, and all about Senator Specter’s past, not our common future. And that doesn’t do Pennsylvania any good.
Uhhh, every challenger has to talk about his opponent’s record to at least some extent. Torsella was gonna have to criticize Specter’s “past” regardless, at least if he wanted to have any chance of actually winning. That didn’t change with Specter’s switch to the Democratic Party.
Anyway, Torsella said that he’s “not going anywhere”, and that’s probably true. Apparently, if you’re friends with Ed Rendell you can go anywhere and be anything you want, no problem. Such is the sad state of Pennsylvanian democracy.