Arlen Specter, 1930-2012

Arlen Specter died today. John Baer, who knew him well, has a remembrance of a man who lived as a moderate and died, in our polarized 21st Century, as a man of contradictions:

Overall, what consistently struck me about Specter was a rare combination, for any politician, of high intelligence, amazing endurance and warrior-like will.

Many pols are smart. Many are tireless. Almost none are smart and tireless.

My thoughts? A couple of things -- one is that I doubt either you or I will ever see a politician like him in our lifetimes. In this environment, both sides don't forgive you for your heresies. So liberals are more likely to unhappily remember Specter as the man who savaged Anita Hill and gave us Clarence Thomas than the man who saved us from Robert Bork's America. But conservatives don't care about Clarence Thomas because he was the guy who put Obama's stimulus over the top. In 2012, as Springsteen says, we take care of our own, and Arlen didn't fit our molds.

Also, people who knew Specter said he was a demanding and "mean" boss. I suppose that was true but I didn't see that side, in a handful of dealings with him. I'm pretty sure the last time I saw him was a while ago., when they announced they were closing the Willow Grove air station and Specter wanted to have a news conference -- even though he was at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital receiving chemotherapy. My editors sent me there late, and when I approached him afterward he kindly spouted his entire 5-minute opening spiel for me, from memory. Then he looked out the window where workers were tearing down the old Civic Center to expand the hospital complex. "When I ran for mayor (in 1967), I announced my campaign on the steps there," he told me. It was part wistful, part marveling at how much can happen to a person in one lifetime.

Actually, Arlen Specter lived several lifetimes. We should all be so lucky.