You may have heard that Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter began the day as a member of the Grand Ole Party (aka Republican Party) and will go to sleep tonight as a Democrat. And that confuses me.
Sure, I like the idea that, with the addition of Senator Specter and once Senator Al Franken is allowed to be seated, the Democrats have the all-important 60 votes necessary to quash a filibuster.
But this switch wasn't about Senator Specter disagreeing with the fundamental things Republicans believe or even embracing Democratic principles. Senator Specter himself today admitted that his switch had everything to do with the fact that he did some polling and discovered that he probably would lose in a Pennsylvania Republican primary next year. He also made it known that he wouldn't just automatically vote along party lines. The fact is that the Republican party is now dominated by ultra-conservative fundamentalists who use abortion as a litmus test and Senator Specter's 2008 pro-choice voting record would not sit well.
The thing is that I can't get the images of Senator Specter grilling Anita Hill and calling her a liar in the 1991 Confirmation Hearings for Clarence Thomas's nomination to the Supreme Court.
"The lowest point on the first day of the hearing came when Pennsylvania Republican Arlen Specter implied that Hill had simply fantasized Thomas' asking for dates and his lurid remarks about pornography. It is all but inconceivable that a similarly qualified man, black or white, would be accused not merely of lying but of imagining things." — Time Senior Editor Jack E. White, October 21, 1991.Of course, I suppose that maybe we should be grateful for Senator Specter's behavior during those hearings. Watching 12 white men grill Anita Hill as though she was a criminal mobilized feminists nationwide and 1992 became known as the "Year of the Woman" as the number of female Senators grew from 3 to 5 and women were elected in droves to many other offices around the country.
Maybe. But I still can't help but think Arlen Specter's switch was more about self-preservation than about a shift in his fundamental beliefs. And I just don't trust that. I'll always look at him and wonder if he's just a wolf in sheep's clothing.