I DON'T KNOW Arlen Specter personally, but he's been a part of my life for more than four decades. He first made it onto my admittedly precocious radar screen when he was elected district attorney of Philadelphia in 1965 (what 4-year-old knows the name of her city's D.A.? Yours truly, that's who!)
And then, as I was trying to figure out if my life was as depressing as it appeared, I vaguely recall his attempt to become a U.S. senator. His defeat by John Heinz in 1976 mirrored my inability to find a date for the Soph Hop.
Two years later, ever the go-getter, Specter tried to become governor, but was defeated in the GOP primary by Dick Thornburgh. Timing is everything: He just missed having Three Mile Island do a semimelt on his watch.
Which is probably why, in 1980, he was finally successful in his bid to become a senator. Since having a thing like a melting nuclear reactor on your resume is a bit of a downer, not winning that governor's seat might have been a blessing in disguise
So, Mr. Specter went to Washington. He found he liked it there very much. And for the next three decades, as Arlen made headlines with Robert Bork and Anita Hill and Scottish Law and stimulus packages and immigration reform, I took it for granted that he was always going to be there. Like Dick Clark. And Larry King. And taxes.
I graduated from college, and he was there. Got my law degree, and he was there. Lived abroad in France and Italy, came back home, and he was still there.
The man made Stonehenge look temporary.
So it was reasonable for all of us who grew up with Arlen Specter as the polestar of our political landscape to expect that he'd be there until the Second Coming (or the election of an African-American to the presidency, whichever happened first.)
But in politics, as in war (there being little difference between the two,) nothing is certain. Arlen knew this and chose to hang out in the middle, hoping that the bomb throwers from either extreme would leave him alone. It was a very savvy move by someone who never expected to be forcibly retired from a job he really liked. To be fair, he was a strong voice for Pennsylvania, even though many people didn't like the things he was saying. But he gave us clout which, for a state in the aging rust belt was definitely worth something.
But nothing lasts forever, not even apathy. The people who continued to vote for Arlen election after election finally took a long hard look at what he represented. They began to realize that his most passionate cause was his own: that is, staying in office.
Yes, he provided us with some good judges, including a few that he now regrets supporting. Those two, Justices Roberts and Alito, are two of the finest minds on the court which, after all, is the thing that our soon to be ex-senator says he valued. But now he thinks they're too political, too willing to violate the separation of powers. Maybe he doesn't like the way they believe that the Second Amendment means exactly what it says, that the right to bear arms shall not be infringed. Or maybe he doesn't like the fact that they chipped away at his 'super-precedent' Roe when they ruled that late-term abortions were not a fundamental right. Or maybe he didn't like the way they interpreted the First Amendment in the Citizens United case.
And Specter is also peeved that there's less civility among the political ranks these days. In his farewell speech to Congress, he talked about how wrong it was for lawmakers to campaign against their fellow members and said that "civility is a state of mind."
You have to admire that sort of gentlemanly lament, because it is true that politics have become a shouting game and the person with the loudest, most obnoxious voice gets most of the attention.
But I think that Specter has somehow confused manners with principle, in the sense that he doesn't just want people to be polite, he wants them to compromise their values to avoid confrontation. I respect his attempts at consensus building, particularly when it comes to immigration, but this whole idea that moderation is the best way is a bit too Hallmark for me.
Our outgoing senator found out that while liberals hate conservatives and conservatives hate liberals, they both can't stand someone who tries to be everything to everybody.
Sometimes, Aristotle was wrong.
Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer.