I awoke Sunday morning to an NBC News update alerting me that former Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter had passed away.
He was 82-years-young and had a long career of public service to the state of Pennsylvania. It was a sad moment to hear about his passing. It was on my mind all day. A man who I have so much admiration for was gone. He was definitely on my list of people I’d love to meet, but never will.
Trained in law by Yale University, Specter weighed in on the Warren Commission, which investigated President John F. Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963. He was as invaluable as he was controversial. He gave us the largely debunked “single bullet” theory that plagued the conversation surrounding JFK’s death.
Although he was registered a Democrat, he ran for office as a Republican. He succeeded in 1965 becoming Philadelphia’s district attorney. During a successful career until 1974 and after, he ran for mayor, senate and governor unsuccessfully. Eventually, he won an election for senate in 1980 where he served as a Republican, until 2009 then he became a Democrat. In 2010, he lost re-election in the primary.
Specter was a man you had to have respect and admiration for, regardless of if you were on the same side of an issue. Considered unique by modern political standards, Specter worked for his constituents and not ideology, political party, or pledge. In this manner, he was a lot like our late Senator Ted Stevens, or Senator John McCain (before his last primary battle). They could take an issue and debate it. For example, let’s use the examples of the unemployment rate and a jobs bill. Both sides would come to the table with their ideas, debate their points and usually come up with a compromise that would work.
Sadly, this is not the way politics works nowadays.
For many on the conservative or progressive side of the political spectrum, the words “compromise” and “bipartisan” are not good things. On a national level we have the party of “NO” who refuse to work on any legislation to help move America forward. On a state level we seem to have the party of “YES” in the House. Led by Governor Sean Parnell, they are saying “YES” to selling out Alaska’s future in regards to giving away our oil revenue with a huge tax break, without any guarantee of increased production or jobs created.
Vice President Joe Biden, a friend of Senator Specter, recently summarized how many of us feel, during the Vice Presidential Debate with Congressman Paul Ryan. While Ryan spoke clearly and eloquently, much like Governor Mitt Romney did in the first Presidential Debate, a lot of what he said was very imaginative. What got our attention wasn’t necessarily anything VP Biden said during the debate, it was his reaction to Ryan’s answers and spin.
I am with Biden in throwing my hands in the air and nervously laughing. On a national, state, and local level, we have not cultivated a political environment that rewards individual (read: independent) critical thinking. Without such an environment, Americans are forced to elect officials who vote as a block, sign ideological pledges, and do what is best for those who fund their campaigns.
My hope, wish, desire, prayer and demand is that our political culture changes. That people young or old, rich or poor, regardless of religious tradition or nationality help cultivate a new culture that good men like Senator Arlen Specter can flourish in. We have many people cut from the same mold, but who are afraid to stand up and be leaders. Instead of shunning them, we should be praising statesmen. Statesmen, not on different sides of lines, but those in between the lines. Honest actors. Politics should be about smart governing.
America lost a statesman with the passing of Arlen Specter.