Commentary Magazine


Topic: Specter’s party

Will a Pro-Israel Record Save Specter, Sink Sestak?

One of the sidebar stories of the battle for Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senate nomination is the way in which incumbent Arlen Specter has tried to use his support of Israel in order to fend off the challenge from Rep. Joe Sestak.

Despite his many other failings as a veteran political weather vane devoid of an ounce of principle, Pennsylvania’s senior senator has been a fairly reliable supporter of the Jewish state during his three decades in office. As such, he has been able to command the support of the mainstream pro-Israel community, in all of his re-election battles. Indeed, in 1992, when, in the aftermath of his tough questioning of Anita Hill, Specter had his toughest general-election challenge, his victory over Democrat Lynn Yeakel could well be credited to the Israel factor. Yeakel, a liberal Democrat whose prime motivation for running was to get revenge for Specter’s rough cross-examination of Clarence Thomas’s accuser, was defeated in no small measure because of her membership in a Presbyterian church that was a hotbed of anti-Israel incitement. Yeakel refused to disavow her pastor or the church (a lesson that Barack Obama might well have profited from when he eventually disavowed Jeremiah Wright), and Specter, with the active assistance of local pro-Israel activists, clobbered her for it and was returned to Washington.

Since then the bond between pro-Israel activists and Specter has stood the test of time. Not even Specter’s bizarre championing of the Assad regime, which he repeatedly visited over the years to the consternation of both Republican and Democratic presidents, diminished his ability to rally his co-religionists as he routinely grabbed the lion’s share of the normally monolithic Democratic Jewish vote.

Indeed, though Specter’s party switch last year to save his political skin in the face of certain defeat in a Republican primary left a bad taste in many voters’ mouths, most Jewish Democrats rejoiced that the man that they had voted for as a Republican could now be supported on the more familiar Democratic line. And though Jewish Democrats in Pennsylvania are not numerous enough to be able to swing any election, high Jewish turnout in a primary where turnout is expected to be low cannot be dismissed as a non-factor.

Specter also could count on his Democratic challenger Joe Sestak’s far from sterling record on Israel. In 2007, Sestak spoke at a fundraiser for CAIR – the pro-Hamas front group that was implicated in the Holy Land Foundation federal terror prosecution. And he has signed on to congressional letters criticizing Israel’s measures of self-defense against terrorists and refused to back those bipartisan letters backing the Jewish state on the issue of Jerusalem. Though his stands on other foreign-policy issues, such as continuing the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, are better than those of Specter (who tried to curry favor with the left by backing a policy of cutting and running in Afghanistan), Sestak seems to be J Street’s idea of a model congressman.

But the question facing Specter as Pennsylvania Democrats headed to the polls today in the rain is whether even a solid pro-Israel record will be enough to convince Jewish Democrats to stay with him despite a rising anti-incumbent tide. And if, as recent polls indicate, Sestak wins tonight, the stage will be set for a true test of the Jewish vote in November. If the general-election match-up turns out to be a race between Sestak and the conservative but impeccably pro-Israel Pat Toomey, Jewish Democrats who care about Israel will then be forced to choose between their party loyalty and the need to keep a Senate seat in the hands of a friend of the Jewish state. A full-page ad that appeared in Philadelphia’s Jewish Exponent last week lambasted Sestak for his record on Israel and asked voters to “not allow Joe Sestak to represent you in the U.S. Senate.” The ad seemed to draw a line in the sand for some of the prominent Jewish Democrats listed as having signed the statement. If the polls are right and Specter’s long career is now at an end, then those Democrats will have a difficult time explaining a decision to support Sestak against a man like Toomey who can be counted on to stand up to a White House whose animus for Israel may be a major issue in the coming years.

One of the sidebar stories of the battle for Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senate nomination is the way in which incumbent Arlen Specter has tried to use his support of Israel in order to fend off the challenge from Rep. Joe Sestak.

Despite his many other failings as a veteran political weather vane devoid of an ounce of principle, Pennsylvania’s senior senator has been a fairly reliable supporter of the Jewish state during his three decades in office. As such, he has been able to command the support of the mainstream pro-Israel community, in all of his re-election battles. Indeed, in 1992, when, in the aftermath of his tough questioning of Anita Hill, Specter had his toughest general-election challenge, his victory over Democrat Lynn Yeakel could well be credited to the Israel factor. Yeakel, a liberal Democrat whose prime motivation for running was to get revenge for Specter’s rough cross-examination of Clarence Thomas’s accuser, was defeated in no small measure because of her membership in a Presbyterian church that was a hotbed of anti-Israel incitement. Yeakel refused to disavow her pastor or the church (a lesson that Barack Obama might well have profited from when he eventually disavowed Jeremiah Wright), and Specter, with the active assistance of local pro-Israel activists, clobbered her for it and was returned to Washington.

Since then the bond between pro-Israel activists and Specter has stood the test of time. Not even Specter’s bizarre championing of the Assad regime, which he repeatedly visited over the years to the consternation of both Republican and Democratic presidents, diminished his ability to rally his co-religionists as he routinely grabbed the lion’s share of the normally monolithic Democratic Jewish vote.

Indeed, though Specter’s party switch last year to save his political skin in the face of certain defeat in a Republican primary left a bad taste in many voters’ mouths, most Jewish Democrats rejoiced that the man that they had voted for as a Republican could now be supported on the more familiar Democratic line. And though Jewish Democrats in Pennsylvania are not numerous enough to be able to swing any election, high Jewish turnout in a primary where turnout is expected to be low cannot be dismissed as a non-factor.

Specter also could count on his Democratic challenger Joe Sestak’s far from sterling record on Israel. In 2007, Sestak spoke at a fundraiser for CAIR – the pro-Hamas front group that was implicated in the Holy Land Foundation federal terror prosecution. And he has signed on to congressional letters criticizing Israel’s measures of self-defense against terrorists and refused to back those bipartisan letters backing the Jewish state on the issue of Jerusalem. Though his stands on other foreign-policy issues, such as continuing the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, are better than those of Specter (who tried to curry favor with the left by backing a policy of cutting and running in Afghanistan), Sestak seems to be J Street’s idea of a model congressman.

But the question facing Specter as Pennsylvania Democrats headed to the polls today in the rain is whether even a solid pro-Israel record will be enough to convince Jewish Democrats to stay with him despite a rising anti-incumbent tide. And if, as recent polls indicate, Sestak wins tonight, the stage will be set for a true test of the Jewish vote in November. If the general-election match-up turns out to be a race between Sestak and the conservative but impeccably pro-Israel Pat Toomey, Jewish Democrats who care about Israel will then be forced to choose between their party loyalty and the need to keep a Senate seat in the hands of a friend of the Jewish state. A full-page ad that appeared in Philadelphia’s Jewish Exponent last week lambasted Sestak for his record on Israel and asked voters to “not allow Joe Sestak to represent you in the U.S. Senate.” The ad seemed to draw a line in the sand for some of the prominent Jewish Democrats listed as having signed the statement. If the polls are right and Specter’s long career is now at an end, then those Democrats will have a difficult time explaining a decision to support Sestak against a man like Toomey who can be counted on to stand up to a White House whose animus for Israel may be a major issue in the coming years.

Read Less

Will Specter Be One More Obama Electoral Loss?

Two commentators, one from the left (Gail Collins) and one from the right (Chris Stirewalt), observe that Arlen Specter’s perilous primary run is one more sign of Obama’s declining fortunes. From Collins:

The president appreciated Specter’s help in shoving the stimulus bill over the finish line last year, when the senator was still a Republican. And he really did love the fact that Specter’s party switch gave the Democrats what would turn out to be a very temporary 60th vote in the Senate. But he is not so grateful that he is going to go to Pennsylvania to campaign for him and risk adding yet another political carcass to the list of uncharming Democrats who went down the drain while clinging to his coattails.

And then Stirewalt:

For many months, it seemed that Specter would have little trouble because of Obama’s support. But in time, both Obama and Specter fell out of favor with Pennsylvanians. Obama’s job approval in the state fell below 50 percent and Specter’s slid down into the low 30s. Rather than Obama pulling Specter up, they pulled each other down.

Obama was supposed to clear the field for Specter, but Joe Sestak refused to go and instead has accused Obama of making  a nefarious effort to chase him out of the race with a job offer. Rather than endow Specter with the stamp of approval, Obama has simply reminded everyone — with help from rather biting Sestak ads — that Specter is a turncoat. The result is that Obama, as Stirewalt notes, may wind up showing that “running against him, even in a Democratic primary, is the winning electoral strategy of 2010.”

And consider this: should Specter lose next week, will he still vote for Elena Kagan, whom he opposed as solicitor general? After all, he’ll be free to vote his conscience (assumes facts not in evidence?). Well, who knows what he’ll do.

And who knows what the rest of the Democrats in Congress will do for the remainder of the year if Specter goes down. On nominations and legislation, what incentive do many have to stick with the president? Specter and the list of other Democratic losers who campaigned with Obama have shown that Obama’s only electoral influence may be negative. Maybe it’s time to put some daylight between themselves and the president.

Two commentators, one from the left (Gail Collins) and one from the right (Chris Stirewalt), observe that Arlen Specter’s perilous primary run is one more sign of Obama’s declining fortunes. From Collins:

The president appreciated Specter’s help in shoving the stimulus bill over the finish line last year, when the senator was still a Republican. And he really did love the fact that Specter’s party switch gave the Democrats what would turn out to be a very temporary 60th vote in the Senate. But he is not so grateful that he is going to go to Pennsylvania to campaign for him and risk adding yet another political carcass to the list of uncharming Democrats who went down the drain while clinging to his coattails.

And then Stirewalt:

For many months, it seemed that Specter would have little trouble because of Obama’s support. But in time, both Obama and Specter fell out of favor with Pennsylvanians. Obama’s job approval in the state fell below 50 percent and Specter’s slid down into the low 30s. Rather than Obama pulling Specter up, they pulled each other down.

Obama was supposed to clear the field for Specter, but Joe Sestak refused to go and instead has accused Obama of making  a nefarious effort to chase him out of the race with a job offer. Rather than endow Specter with the stamp of approval, Obama has simply reminded everyone — with help from rather biting Sestak ads — that Specter is a turncoat. The result is that Obama, as Stirewalt notes, may wind up showing that “running against him, even in a Democratic primary, is the winning electoral strategy of 2010.”

And consider this: should Specter lose next week, will he still vote for Elena Kagan, whom he opposed as solicitor general? After all, he’ll be free to vote his conscience (assumes facts not in evidence?). Well, who knows what he’ll do.

And who knows what the rest of the Democrats in Congress will do for the remainder of the year if Specter goes down. On nominations and legislation, what incentive do many have to stick with the president? Specter and the list of other Democratic losers who campaigned with Obama have shown that Obama’s only electoral influence may be negative. Maybe it’s time to put some daylight between themselves and the president.

Read Less

Specter’s Cynicism — No Secret Then or Now

Jennifer, the story about Arlen Specter’s alleged promise is certainly amusing. Former Senator Rick Santorum has spent the last few years trying to alibi his way out of his support for Arlen Specter against Pat Toomey in the 2004 Pennsylvania Republican Senate primary. For Santorum, his backing for Specter is kind of like what health-care reform is for Mitt Romney, an embarrassment that never goes completely away. No matter how he rationalizes it, everyone knows it was a cynical move that betrayed Pennsylvania conservatives and ultimately proved to be a disaster for the Republican party.

But the point about any promises Specter may or may not have made to Santorum about future Supreme Court nominations back then is that both parties to the alleged conversation understood perfectly well that there is no such as a binding promise, let alone a principle when it comes to Pennsylvania’s senior senator. After all, only hours after squeaking out a narrow victory over Toomey, that was due in large part to the enthusiastic support he received from George W. Bush and Santorum, Specter held a press conference distancing himself from both of them.

Moreover, if we’re going to talk about attempts to bribe candidates into dropping out of races, as Representative Joe Sestak claims the Obama administration has tried to do to get him to call off his primary challenge to Specter, there is also the question of what Bush and Santorum may or may not have offered Toomey to do the same back in 2004. But, unlike these Keystone State blabbermouths, the straight-arrow former congressman from Allentown kept mum about the prodigious efforts that were made to get him to halt his primary challenge to Specter six years ago. Whatever it was, he turned them down and simply ran on his conservative and libertarian principles. He fell short then, but if current opinion polls are to be believed, Toomey’s moment may be at hand.

The fact that Specter is a shameless opportunist wasn’t exactly a secret the last time he ran for re-election. And yet his prestige and power as an incumbent was such that he got away with it. There will be no shortage of theories about the meaning of this fall’s election, and, no doubt, national trends as well as the egregiousness of Specter’s party switch will play major roles in determining the outcome. But it may just be as simple as Abraham Lincoln’s wisdom about the impossibility of “fooling all of the people all of the time” finally being vindicated in Pennsylvania this year.

Jennifer, the story about Arlen Specter’s alleged promise is certainly amusing. Former Senator Rick Santorum has spent the last few years trying to alibi his way out of his support for Arlen Specter against Pat Toomey in the 2004 Pennsylvania Republican Senate primary. For Santorum, his backing for Specter is kind of like what health-care reform is for Mitt Romney, an embarrassment that never goes completely away. No matter how he rationalizes it, everyone knows it was a cynical move that betrayed Pennsylvania conservatives and ultimately proved to be a disaster for the Republican party.

But the point about any promises Specter may or may not have made to Santorum about future Supreme Court nominations back then is that both parties to the alleged conversation understood perfectly well that there is no such as a binding promise, let alone a principle when it comes to Pennsylvania’s senior senator. After all, only hours after squeaking out a narrow victory over Toomey, that was due in large part to the enthusiastic support he received from George W. Bush and Santorum, Specter held a press conference distancing himself from both of them.

Moreover, if we’re going to talk about attempts to bribe candidates into dropping out of races, as Representative Joe Sestak claims the Obama administration has tried to do to get him to call off his primary challenge to Specter, there is also the question of what Bush and Santorum may or may not have offered Toomey to do the same back in 2004. But, unlike these Keystone State blabbermouths, the straight-arrow former congressman from Allentown kept mum about the prodigious efforts that were made to get him to halt his primary challenge to Specter six years ago. Whatever it was, he turned them down and simply ran on his conservative and libertarian principles. He fell short then, but if current opinion polls are to be believed, Toomey’s moment may be at hand.

The fact that Specter is a shameless opportunist wasn’t exactly a secret the last time he ran for re-election. And yet his prestige and power as an incumbent was such that he got away with it. There will be no shortage of theories about the meaning of this fall’s election, and, no doubt, national trends as well as the egregiousness of Specter’s party switch will play major roles in determining the outcome. But it may just be as simple as Abraham Lincoln’s wisdom about the impossibility of “fooling all of the people all of the time” finally being vindicated in Pennsylvania this year.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.