Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Darlin' Arlen or Snarlin' Arlen?-- by Joe Hoeffel


Joe Hoeffel stumping for Obama last year

Joe Hoeffel is one of the best known Democratic leaders in Pennsylvania, a progressive voice who served 3 terms as a congressman from Montgomery County and northeast Philadelphia. He gave us his seat in 2004 to run for the U.S. Senate against Republican Arlen Specter. Specter beat him and Joe, one of the early supporters of Howard Dean, was later elected to the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, where he is vice-chair. Many people in Pennsylvania have been wondering how Joe would react to his old nemesis running under the Democratic banner. They're not wondering any longer. This is what Joe sent to his former Democratic constituents and supporters yesterday:
As the entire political world knows, Senator Arlen Specter has switched parties and is now a Democrat.

The Senator was quite candid about the reason for his switch-- he became convinced (as did that same entire political world) that he could not win renomination as a Republican in the Senate primary in 2010.  So, he switched parties, with the full and enthusiastic support of President Obama, Vice President Biden and Governor Rendell.

So what are we to make of this?  Should the progressive grassroots of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party be happy or not?  Who do we  have here-- Darlin' Arlen or Snarlin' Arlen?

No question it is hard to switch political parties-- few politicians who try it have much success.  The party you leave stays mad at you for switching, and the party you join never really trusts you.

Now, Arlen Specter is a special case.  Most of the Republican party seems pretty happy that he left-- the right wingers were dying to throw him out.  And a lot of Democrats have appreciated for many years his generally moderate to liberal votes on a number of social issues and believe he is more naturally inclined to be a Democrat.

The Senator's switch certainly creates an immediate advantage in the Senate for President Obama's legislative program.  Not only will Senator Specter continue to support the President on some big issues (such as Specter's courageous vote for the President's stimulus package), but he will now also support the Democrats on procedural matters and will vote to block the obstructionist filibusters that the Republicans will use to frustrate progress.

So the benefits of Specter's switch in the short term are significant for the President and his agenda-- and that is very  important to all of us.

So why aren't more of us happy about the switch?  Because it is one thing to welcome an opportunistic change of parties for the immediate advantage it gives us, but it is another thing entirely to pledge now that we must support Arlen Specter in the Democratic primary of 2010.

I have been closely following this whole affair and, along with many other Democratic party and elected officials, have participated in meetings and conference calls with Senator Specter in recent weeks.

I can report this:  Specter has been cordial, friendly, respectful and good humored in his dealings with the party leadership.  While not always directly answering the questions posed by some skeptical Democrats, at least he is reaching out and taking the questions in the first place.  His performance has approached a level I have never before associated with Arlen:  charming.  Yes, we are seeing an Arlen Specter who is a lot more darlin' than snarlin' these days.

And it must be acknowledged that throughout his long public career Arlen Specter has demonstrated that he is smart, hardworking, tough and honest.  I wish all public officials had those four qualities.

But I have not come to terms with Arlen's greatest failing-- for the last eight years he supported George W. Bush, the worst President this country has ever had.

Arlen Specter voted 80% of the time for George Bush's legislative agenda.  He voted for every Bush tax cut that became law, for every Bush budget, and for all of the Bush national security, diplomatic and intelligence policies.  He did not use his seniority or intelligence or courage or self-proclaimed independence to moderate the Bush program within the Republican Senate caucus.  Specter frequently talked a good game at committee hearings and in front of  the cameras, but when he voted on the floor of the Senate he enabled the Bush agenda to succeed-- and they succeeded in nearly ruining the country.

Recently, Arlen has been touting his family's history of supporting FDR and his own early days as a JFK Democrat.  But how in the world does a self-described JFK Democrat end up voting with George Bush 80% of the time?

We have a long way to go before the Senate primary in 2010.  Give our new Democratic Senator a chance to prove that he will support the President's agenda on the floor of the Senate, both on the merits and on procedural votes.

Congressman Joe Sestak is indicating he is likely to run for the Senate next year.  Joe Sestak would be a great candidate and would pose a terrific primary challenge to Arlen Specter.

Let's make sure we nominate a candidate for the Senate in 2010 from the Democratic wing of the Democratic party.

Especially interesting in light of a recent poll of Democratic primary voters in Pennsylvania showing that Joe Sestak already leads Specter 52%-44%, among primary voters who know both candidates.

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