Commentary Magazine


Did Obama Lose a Vote for Kagan by Stiffing Specter?

For those who doubted that there is life after death — at least after political death — according to the Daily Beast, Arlen Specter may use his last months in office to exact revenge on President Obama for stiffing him during the last days of his ill-fated attempt to win the Democratic nomination to retain his Senate seat.

The Beast’s Benjamin Sarlin speculates that the always-shifty Specter may get even with Obama for failing to show up as promised at rallies in Pennsylvania in the waning days of the primary to boost his candidacy. After disastrous appearances boosting presidential favorites in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Virginia in the past year, Obama wisely chose to avoid a repeat of those fiascos. All this leads some Specter associates quoted by Sarlin to think that the always-cranky senator may turn on Obama and shift to the right on some votes in the seven months left to him in the upper chamber.

The first victim of Snarlin’ Arlen’s payback could be Obama’s Supreme Court pick Elena Kagan, whose nomination helped remind Pennsylvania Democrats of Specter’s GOP past, since he voted against her confirmation to the post of solicitor general only last year. Freed from the need to appease liberal Democratic voters — who wound up flocking to successful challenger Rep. Joe Sestak anyway — former Specter staffers Roger Stone and Dave Urban both say they’d bet the senator will find a reason to vote against her again, if for no other reason than to poke the White House in the eye.

But the problem with this theory is the same as any other prediction of Specter’s behavior. Anyone who tries to figure out how he will come down on an issue using any rationale other than Specter’s self-interest is bound to fail. Moreover, while it makes sense to think that the 80-year-old Specter will now fade quietly into the night after what amounts to a rejection by both parties in the past year (since the only reason he fled to the Democrats was because he knew he would be beaten in the GOP primary by Republican Pat Toomey), it’s hard to imagine how a man so addicted to the prestige and power of public office will adjust to private life. So it is just as likely that Specter may hope that a few more months as a loyal Democrat, including swallowing the bitter pill of campaigning for Sestak in the general election, will earn him something from Obama after January.

While the notion of Obama’s giving him any sort of post may be a fantasy, perhaps a man who loved foreign travel on the government’s tab as much as Specter did harbors hopes of doing so again in some capacity other than that of senator. Given his long love affair with the Assad regime in Syria, Specter may even dream of some involvement in the Middle East on behalf of Obama. Of course, Obama would have to be crazy to trust Specter in such a capacity (or any capacity, for that matter), but as tempting as revenge for his last-minute betrayal by Obama may be, the senator’s ambition to continue his career in some way might be enough to keep him in line. If Specter sticks to his pre-primary pose as a loyal supporter of Obama by voting for Kagan or working hard for Sestak, whose poor record on Israel was trashed by his own backers, then it may be that the senator hopes that we haven’t heard the last of him.