Political debates are often framed in binaries: Middle-of-the-roaders versus hard-liners, moderates versus ideologues. But American politics is more complicated than that. There are multiple rights and lefts, and multiple middles as well. So-called extremists can serve the country well. And self-conscious moderates can be intellectually bankrupt.The problem with Specter then, is not even that he is just a kind of sleazy opportunist. Sometimes (e.g., NOW) it's fair to say that he is walking that line. But this latest exploit, unbecoming as it is, does not begin adequately to define him. Bill Clinton was this kind of politician, and Arlen Specter is no Bill Clinton. If you wanted to say that Clinton was unprincipled, you wouldn't have been crazy . . . but you would have been slightly off. Clinton's principle was (is?) himself. There was no honor in that, of course, but at least it was something that one could understand. And, in any event, there was a certain amount of American hucksterism in it that elicited a chuckle and a bit of awe at the real and not imaginary audacity of it. It was no good thing . . . but it was certainly a thing.
Arlen Specter, by contrast, is utterly uninteresting. There is no understanding Arlen Specter. He is a moving target . . . moving sometimes according to his own political and personal interests, other times according to his fancy, and occasionally in accordance with some transient thought now stuck in his dull intellectual teeth. What do you do with that? How do you speak to it? Reason with it? Make deals with it? You don't. You can't. You might as well have a monkey throwing darts at a board and count his throws as votes as count on Arlen Specter's vote. And now the Democrats have all the pleasure.
Jonah Goldberg also has some thoughts on Specter and the Republicans. He concludes, brutally, by noting: "Arlen Specter, even if he spends 40 more years in government, will be remembered for nothing at all." To which I'd say, except for this. But he will be remembered for this only because the Democrats and the media are so ardently allowing their wish to become their thought about what this is going to be and about what it means about the GOP. But it is going to amount to but a "specter" of their hopes. This is Specter's high water mark . . . the pinnacle of his power and influence. He will stand there, gaze down upon what he has wrought and not have the slightest beginnings of a coherent clue of what to do about it.
I fully understand that the future of the GOP will and must include the influence of people who are less "conservative" than me. It will and must include the influence of people who are more "conservative" than me. It will and must include (if only because we can do nothing to rid the human condition of such people) hucksters whose only principle is themselves. But I really hope we can manage to ignore the influence of people whose only ambition is to climb the mountain and then, when they do it, just stand there and look down with a stupid and confused countenance. Let them all be Democrats.