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It’s time for Specter to step aside Richard L. Connor Opinion

THE Republican Party needs to stop whining and tell Sen. Arlen Specter “good riddance.”

Actually, one group did that immediately when Specter said he was jumping the fence. Luzerne County’s Republican Party chairman, Terry Casey, issued a press release which, in effect, asked what took him so long. Casey said Specter’s decision “put an end to the years of internal wrestling within the party.”

“Now maybe we can move on,” he said.

Many in the party, Casey said, were ticked about Specter’s vote on the stimulus: “Then, for him to waffle on card check (legislation) for as long as he did was just too much.”

With Specter out, he concluded, “We can go through the process of identifying a candidate that more closely matches the Republican Party’s principles and ideals.”

Personally, I’d be interested in a clear articulation of those “principles and ideals,” but we can wait for that while the Keystone State’s GOP leaders decide if declared candidate and former Rep. Patrick J. Toomey is the best person to face a Democrat — any Democrat — in the fall. Friday’s Washington Post reported that the GOP’s national leaders are embarking on a strategy to help better articulate current Republican Party ideals and ideas. This group has even promised to do something the party has not done, namely listen. Here’s how the mission was described in the Post report: “Looking to rebut Democratic criticisms that the GOP represents little more than the ‘Party of No,’ some leading Republicans announced yesterday that they will hold a series of campaign-style events around the country to tout their policy ideas and develop new ones.

“With polls showing that many Americans view GOP opposition to President Obama’s agenda as Republicans simply playing politics, key party figures, including Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and former Florida governor Jeb Bush, will hold forums to discuss issues such as education and health care and to tout Republican proposals.

“The project is dubbed the National Council for a New America, and its first event is tomorrow in Arlington. House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney will speak and take questions from about 70 people at an Italian restaurant.“GOP officials have complained that their alternative proposals to bills pushed through by the Democratic Congress have not received enough attention from the media and thus have been ignored by most Americans. They hope that using high-profile figures such as Bush will ensure that voters learn more about Republicans’ ideas.”

My view is that the GOP should have tried harder to keep Specter in the fold. When they lost him they all but conceded the Senate slot to a Democrat. Almost any Democrat will most likely win this election and I believe the Democrats should find a way to dump Specter and choose someone else to run.

Why?

He’s too old and he’s too frail. He’s battled cancer, a brain tumor, and is fighting Hodgkin’s disease. There’s proper sentiment of sorrow and empathy for his health problems. His career has been distinguished. He’s been a warrior, often fighting alone. He’s been stoic, shown depth, and he’s intelligent.

But one of his most compelling attributes has been the way he practiced Republicanism. He behaved like a Democrat much of the time. If the political schizophrenia that has marked his career (he was first a Democrat who became a Republican) continues, then he will not be an automatic 60th vote in the Senate.

That’s the number of senators needed to block a filibuster. The whole world seems to believe that Al Franken will finally be awarded the contested seat in Minnesota over incumbent Norm Coleman and Democrats will hit that magic number of 60. But hitting it does not mean the party can count on Specter when they might need him.

It would have been nice to see someone who has shown class throughout his career to go out a winner. He could have just said he’s not going to run again and bowed out gracefully.

The last time Specter was in our newspaper offices to meet with our editorial board he appeared weak and tired, but he was impressive. He exuded a fighter’s spirit as he was recovering from cancer and vowed to forge ahead. That’s the Specter spirit some of us have come to admire.

But he’s been in Washington long enough. The same can be said for the other 24 members of the Senate who are 70 or older.

With the Specter defection we have five men 79 and older, all Democrats: Specter at 79, Sens. Daniel K. Akaka, and Daniel Inouye, both of Hawaii, at 84; New Jersey’s Frank R. Lautenberg at 85; and West Virginia’s Robert C. Byrd at 91.

We have a 47-year-old president; it’s time to begin sending some younger men and women to Washington. We need the energy of youth or at least a mixture of young people to begin to learn how to run the federal government.

Specter’s decision has been called noble and heroic but it is far from either. It’s pathetic.

He’s become another political Willy Sutton, who is credited with saying the reason he robbed banks was because “that’s where the money is.” (Well, at least it used to be in the banks.)

Specter is becoming a Democrat because in Pennsylvania — and many other states — that’s where the votes are.

There’s much to admire about Specter, the one-time district attorney in Philadelphia the mid-1960s. He fought crime and machine politics and he won. The city started to become a better place to live and work during his years there. He’s been his own man in the Senate, a person who has crossed party lines enough in his votes to be called a moderate. He has been more of an independent than anything else, just like Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut.

We could argue that the Republicans who cannot respect a man who followed his conscience are getting what they deserve but that’s not fair, either.

The customer is always right. In this case those customers are voters. Specter’s just following those voters.

But Specter has straddled the ideological fence for so long he must be getting sore. He needs to climb down and head to the pasture.

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