Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, who died today at age 82, was, without a doubt, a Senate giant, who leaves behind a complicated legacy.
Specter was a Democrat in Philadelphia, turned a Republican, and then, at the end of his career, a Democrat again!
Specter was a liberal Republican who became a moderate, but fought against the conservative trend in his party.
Specter was one of the most influential Jewish Senators in American history, ranking on the level of New York Senator Jacob Javits, Connecticut Senator Abraham Ribicoff, Ohio Senator Howard Metzenbaum, Michigan Senator Carl Levin, New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg, Wisconsin Senator Herb Kohl, California Senator Dianne Feinstein, California Senator Barbara Boxer, Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman, Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone, and New York Senator Charles Schumer. Only Javits was a Republican, other than Specter.
Specter was a giant figure on the Judiciary Committee in the Senate, involved in 14 Supreme Court nomination battles, including the stopping of Robert Bork, and the defense of Clarence Thomas, and the impeachment controversy surrounding President Bill Clinton.
Specter was a prickly, ornery individual, who did not suffer fools very well, whether Senate colleagues or constituents, and became a major critic of the mindless Tea Party Movement in the Republican Party after the election of President Barack Obama.
Specter lost his seat in the Senate after 30 years, when he backed President Obama on health care, and switched back to the Democratic Party, giving them, for a brief period, a 60 member filibuster proof majority in the US Senate.
Specter was seen as a man of principle, but also an opportunist, who gained many enemies all over the political spectrum.
Specter was a key figure in the Warren Commission investigation of the assassination of President Kennedy, being on the staff of the commission, and promoting the viewpoint of a lone gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald, which became the official viewpoint of the Warren Commission, a viewpoint he never backed away from, despite the many conspiracy theories.
Specter may have been a “loner” in many ways, but in the thirty years he was in the US Senate, he gained a lot of respect and stature as one of its giant figures, who could not be ignored, overlooked, or mistreated, as he would always fight back, including his two courageous battles with cancer in his last decade.
Arlen Specter is a person who historians will have to wrestle with to understand American politics and history in the 1980s, 1990s, and the early 21st century! His effect on so many areas and issues will be a goldmine for scholars in the future, trying to decipher the controversies and issues going back even to the 1960s!
May Arlen Specter rest in peace, knowing he had a great impact on his nation that will not be forgotten!