Former Senator Arlen Specter Dies

Five term Senator Arlen Specter, a Republican moderate who switched parties when it appeared he would lose a primary, has died at the age of 82.

His son Shannin said he died of complications from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.


The Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Specter played a part in controversies that captivated at least two generations of Americans. As a young Philadelphia prosecutor, he advised the commission investigating the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. As a veteran U.S. senator, he was a forceful questioner at the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Mr. Specter served in the Senate from 1981 to 2011 and was the longest-serving senator from Pennsylvania. For most of those years, he was a centrist Republican, but in early 2009, when a strong GOP primary challenger stepped forward, Mr. Specter switched parties and became a Democrat.

At the time, he said that as the GOP had moved “farther and farther to the right,” he had found himself increasingly “more in line with the philosophy of the Democratic Party.” Two years later, a loss in the Democratic primary brought an end to his Senate career.

Over his career, Mr. Specter frequently changed his political leanings and often split his votes between Democrats and Republicans, angering colleagues on both sides of the aisle. He generally supported affirmative action, some gay-rights protections and abortion rights—while saying he personally opposed abortion. Meanwhile, he strongly opposed most gun-control measures.

Later in his career, Mr. Specter switched sides twice on a bill to ease union organizing, finally telling labor unions in 2009 that he backed the measure.

In an autobiography that came out earlier this year, Mr. Specter again bemoaned the increasing polarization of Washington and primarily faulted his former GOP colleagues and the rise of tea-party activists. “Politics is no longer the art of the possible when Senators are intransigent in their positions,” he wrote.

Mr. Specter was also known for his strong support of the National Institutes of Health and medical research. He played a prominent role on the Senate Judiciary Committee, particularly during high-profile Supreme Court confirmation hearings.


Specter was a political opportunist of the first order. Rarely has anyone so transparently switched parties due to a strong primary challenge.

But he seemed to suit the voters of Pennsylvania just fine — the only people to which he answered. They elected him 5 times to the Senate and then retired him when he ran in the 2010 Democratic primary.

Many will revile him in death as in life. But love him or hate him, one cannot deny that Arlen Specter was a large part of American history for many decades. His impact on some of the most contentious and seminal issues facing America during his lifetime is undeniable, and will form the basis of how historians will judge his — and our — actions.


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