Plenty has already been written about the Machiavelli of the United States Senate – the always-calculating Arlen Specter – so I plan to keep this short.
Senator Specter reminds me of a lot of the folks I worked with at CBS News for 28 years. Sure, they had a political philosophy. They were liberals. But they believed in something else more – a lot more – than politics: Themselves! More than anything else, they were careerists.
I worked for one executive producer on the CBS Evening News when Dan Rather was in the anchor chair who would frequently tell me, right as the show ended, that he loved the story I had on the air that night. Then he’d wait a beat and add, “But I won’t know for sure if I liked it until the guys in the front office tell me if it was any good.” So, if they liked it, he’d stick by his guns. If they didn’t like it, he wouldn’t like it. In other words, he believed in nothing – but his career.
Which brings us back to that other Profile in Emptiness, Arlen Specter. Forgive me for stating the obvious: He didn’t switch parties because the Republicans had become too conservative or because his politics now were more in tune with those of the new liberal president. He switched because he knew he’d never win the Republican primary, period. Hey, he was only looking out for number one, which is hardly a crime – certainly not among politicians.
Of his departure, Jim DeMint, the conservative Republican senator from South Carolina said good riddance. “I would rather have 30 Republicans in the Senate who really believe in principles of limited government, free markets, free people, than to have 60 that don’t have a set of beliefs,” DeMint said.
Part of me agrees with DeMint. Who needs Arlen Specter. For that matter, who needs the other RINOs either – Republicans in Name Only. Republicans are supposed to be conservative, and Specter – along with the others like him – certainly don’t fit that description.
But if Republicans really want conservative purity they need to be prepared to lose every presidential election for a long time to come. America may be a center-right country in terms of basic values, but most Americans are not ideological. Politics isn’t a blood sport for them. They have regular lives to lead. If conservatism was so popular with the American people why didn’t we have a whole bunch of conservative Republicans in the White House?
The only one I can think of in modern times is Ronald Reagan.
Ike wasn’t. Nixon, of wage and price controls and affirmative action, wasn’t. Read My Lips Bush the First wasn’t. And neither was his son, who didn’t veto a single spending bill while Republicans in Congress were throwing money around like Imelda Marcos in a shoe store. No, Reagan won because he was uniquely Reagan. It wasn’t simply his politics. It was also his upbeat personality. Take either one away and there’s no President Reagan – and no pining by conservatives about the good old days when their guy was in the White House.
Republicans need to stand for something, that’s for sure. Democrats stand for lots of things – like punishing people with money and giving it to people who don’t have any. Don’t laugh. It works, at least for a while.
But Republicans don’t need to stand for ideological purity. That’s a surefire loser. What they need is a vessel to carry their common sense conservative message. Someone attractive and articulate and yes, someone eminently cool. In other words, they need a conservative Barack Obama.
I know, easier said than done. But if they find their own Messiah, he will lead them from the wilderness to the Promised Land. And you know what will happen then? Arlen Specter – wherever he may be on that glorious day — will become a Republican all over again.