There used to be loyalty to a team, a political party, a company and then, the rules changed, and it became quite obviously all about money. Gail Collins, as usual, writes well about two low-lives, Lieberman and Specter.
The Care and Feeding of Arlen
Our topic for today is party loyalty.
Not a much-valued characteristic these days. Really, not all that cool since somewhere around the Eisenhower administration. Or maybe Grover Cleveland.
We just went through a whole election in which everybody wanted to be a maverick. And Arlen Specter had been a Democrat for only six days before he was on “Meet the Press” denying that he had ever told President Obama that he would be loyal.
“I did not say I would be a loyal Democrat. I did not say that,” Specter insisted. Just to make his lack of loyalty crystal-clear, he added: “And last week, after I said I was changing parties, I voted against the budget.”
This was only one of Specter’s introductory displays of independence, which also included voting against a plan to help homeowners in bankruptcy court that was greatly desired by the leaders of his new party, and telling The New York Times that he hopes Republican Norm Coleman wins the Minnesota Senate seat. This is the election that is still unresolved except for the part in which Democrat Al Franken got more votes.
What an opening!
If he keeps it up at this rate, by the 2010 campaign season, Specter will be so helpful that he’ll have tied up Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and left him buried in the desert surrounded by fire ants.
After all this, the Democrats were so angry that they stripped their newest member of his all-important Senate seniority, leaving him without a good committee post or a place to stash all of his old staffers. By midweek, Specter looked a little like Dickens’s Little Nell, wandering he knew not whither.
Although to be honest, in the ranks of things you’d want to shed a tear over, Arlen Specter in exile falls only slightly ahead of the firing of Andrew Dice Clay on “Celebrity Apprentice.”
Specter said he voted against the Democratic budget on the grounds that it contained rules that would allow Obama to pass his health care plan with only 51 votes. Specter has his own far superior ideas for health care reform that, he said on “Meet the Press,” emphasize “exercise and diet and, and makes premiums lower on that basis.” It is a plan so excellent that it’s a wonder Arlen Specter is not the president of the United States at this very moment. Still, you might think that he’d want to give the guy who carried his state by 11 percentage points a little bit of help on this one.
Despite everything, Specter’s sojourn in the Democratic doghouse did not last very long. By the end of the week, the party leadership was rearranging things to give him a face-saving Senate subcommittee to chair. This is pretty much par for the course. After all, Joe Lieberman ran for re-election last year as an independent and then campaigned tirelessly for John McCain. Really, he did everything short of picketing the inauguration, and there was nary a wrist-slap.
This seems wrong. Bucking your party ought to mean accepting the risk of punishment. After all, you did sign up with the team, which is supposed to work together and get things done. Unfortunately, sometimes the team will go places where a man or woman of good conscience cannot follow. And then you will stand alone, a Profile in Courage. And we will cheer.
But the bravery part is all about facing up to the consequences. Lieberman was outraged when the Democratic voters in Connecticut responded to his principled stand in favor of the war in Iraq with their principled decision to find a new candidate for his seat. Specter was beside himself when the Republican voters seemed ready to toss him out of office for his vote in favor of the Obama stimulus plan, so he switched parties. Then he made it clear that he expected to reserve his right to be totally unreliable as a Democrat and be rewarded for it with a powerful subcommittee chairmanship currently in the possession of another Democratic senator.
President Obama, he reported to his new colleagues, told him that “he would seek my advice, especially when I disagree with him.” We are not sure this actually happened, since Specter’s memory of what assurances he got during the party-switching period seem to be at odds with those of the rest of the world. His hearing is not what it once was. Perhaps the president said, “I will have you over to watch Harvard play Yale,” and Specter heard, “I will invite you over after every betrayal.”
But it does fit in with Specter’s theory, which is that his propensity to do whatever he wants should not only be tolerated, but constantly rewarded. That’s not character. It’s self-indulgence.