In his announcement today, Senator Arlen Specter (R D-Pa) urged our understanding of how he came to be at the top of Harry Reid's dance card, by explaining that his political career is "not defined" by party.
Respectfully, Senator Specter, your political career is "not defined" by anything, let alone party affiliation - and your explanation, while largely honest, provided one of the few moments of clarity in a lengthy public service career characterized, at best, by ambiguity and, at worst, by a nihilism crafted only to your narrow personal interests. In a word, Senator Specter, you stand for "nothing."
This most recent political waltz is but another crass calculation from Pennsylvania's senior senator to save a career which has been beset by calculated moves to save a career. What?
When a politician stands for nothing, no one knows that better than the politician himself. There is no guiding moral principle, which adheres the politician to an external ideology - the only ideology which then counts is the internal one of self-preservation. You might conclude that this describes most politicians. And, indeed, it describes many, but few have demonstrated as skillfully a penchant for personal promotion as Arlen Specter.
Nothing displays this better than his recent vote for President Obama's boondoggle stimulus plan, which was motivated not by a belief that this proposal represented necessarily good public policy, but that America couldn't afford to do "nothing." In sum, Specter concluded that the risk of bad public policy was better than the status quo, as long as the media upside of his acclaimed role as a deal broker would likely outweigh any disenchantment from his then-Republican colleagues.
Specter argues that this move cost him political support and forced his move today. This is disingenuous at best - the vote on the stimulus bill was no less calculated than the political party switch today and, perhaps, was the first clear evidence that the formal party switch was just around the corner. Both actions were "played cards" from the same poker hand, by a master of the political bluff.
The irony of Specter's switch to the Democrat party today is that he will be no better a Democrat than he was a Republican. Where there is no overarching political philosophy or principle to guide his actions, his worth to either party as a dependable vote is marginal, at best - Specter himself would say, "not proved." As such, the clarity it gives the Democrats is non-existent, as his political predelictions are as murky as ever. It does, however, give Pennsylvania Republicans all the clarity they need to support Pat Toomey in 2010 and for that we all can be thankful for Senator Specter's latest act of shameless self-interest.