For years, Pennsylvania Democrats have held their nose and voted for Arlen Specter. Their calculation? The thinking was that Specter was going to win the election anyway and better him, a moderate Republican, who brings a lot of money to the state, than a dreaded conservative Republican. In fact, one woman told me recently, that she proudly changed her party registration in 2004, and encouraged her friends to do the same, just so as to vote in the Republican primary to fend off Specter’s conservative challenger that year, Pat Toomey.
This year, in one of the most nakedly expedient political moves imaginable, Arlen Specter saved his skin by switching parties. He did so because he was going to face Toomey again in the Republican primary, only this time he was sure to lose. And he got an amazing deal from President Obama and Vice President Biden. After casting 30 years of votes as a Republican, the Democratic Party was only too eager to let Specter retain his seniority and pay no price for crossing the aisle, so that they could achieve a 60-vote filibuster-proof majority.
Now, Specter is facing another primary challenge but this time from his left not his right. And happily, Keystone Democrats won’t have to hold their nose again to vote for Specter, they can proudly cast a ballot for U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak.
Voting for Sestak makes sense for several reasons.
Sestak has the right attitude
In classical fashion, this retired Navy rear admiral sees winning a Senate seat as a matter of service and giving back. He told me in an interview that he feels as if his access to health care through the Navy saved his daughter’s life when she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Now, he says he wants to give back to the country that gave him so much.
Sestak also says that he believes principles matter. “For far too long,” he told me, “political calculation has triumphed over principle.” And Sestak doesn’t just mean the Republican Party either. “The Democratic party,” he explained, “decided that another deal would be made where they would take someone from the GOP (Specter). The leadership would then accept that he should be our leader for the future. That’s the wrong way to approach accountability.”
And accountability is why he has challenged Specter to six debates across the state. Specter has agreed to one. “At a time when people in Pennsylvania and all across the country are demanding more accountability and transparency from their public servants,” Sestak says, “it’s especially important that we travel to each major region of the state and tell the voters exactly where we stand — on national issues as well as important local issues.”
Sestak isn’t pandering
The most impressive thing Sestak said during our two interviews was his response to the question of why Jews should vote for him. Sestak is fighting for every vote, regardless of race, ethnic origin or religion. He said Jews should get his vote for the same reasons Ukrainians, Catholics or African-Americans should get his vote, because they agree with him.
“If you like where we’ve ended up,” Sestak says, “Arlen is your guy.”
But, if you are a Democrat and you are less than pleased with how the government has been doing business, then Sestak should at least earn your serious consideration. “The great American promise has been broken for the first time, the promise that the next generation would have an opportunity to do better than their parents. If we don’t restore that dream America won’t be all it can be,” Sestak declares.
Sestak is actually a Democrat
Sestak is for a public option as part of the health care reform bill. He favors help for small businesses because he believes that small businesses will be the engine for the economic recovery. He strongly supports Israel. He favors engagement with Iran but also sees the need for sanctions too. He even got Specter to act like a Democrat.
Last week, Sestak sent a letter to Specter urging him to support President Obama’s nomination to lead the Office of Legal Counsel. Specter had helped Republicans block the nomination of liberal law professor Dawn Johnsen for almost a year because of her background working with abortion rights groups and her shameful, public criticism of the Bush administration. Two days after the Sestak letter, Specter announced that he had met with Johnsen and would now support her nomination. Specter’s approval should break the stalemate and secure Johnsen’s nomination.
Specter on the other hand is not a Democrat, nor is he a Republican. He represents the Arlen Specter Party. He has switched his party affiliation twice, both times for political expediency, not principle. He has now disenfranchised all the folks who cast a ballot for him in 2004 by switching parties in the middle of his term. He has yet to return all the campaign contributions that came to him from Pennsylvania Republicans and he has shown no allegiance to any set of core beliefs or values.
This year there is no need to hold your nose when you go to the polls. You can vote for a real Democrat in May and may the best candidate win come November.
(Abby Wisse Schachter, a Pittsburgh-based political columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her endorsement is her own. The Chronicle does not make political endorsements.)