U.S. Senator Arlen Specter, the Democrat turned Republican turned Democrat, whose political career spanned five decades, and who was the architect of the single-bullet theory adopted as the U.S. government’s official explanation of the President John F. Kennedy assassination, died today at the age of 82. Senator Spector, whose political evolutions included rallying for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, only to call for the repeal of DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 that bans the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, 13 years later. Senator Specter died of complications of non-Hodgkins lymphoma, according to his son Shanin Specter.
Arlen Specter, who served from the state of Pennsylvania, managed to be a moderate Republican and a moderate Democrat throughout his career, a high-wire act that became impossible in this decade’s vast partisan extremism, and lost his final election, running as a Democrat, in 2010.
Senator Specter, despite serving as a Republican during most of his time in the U.S. Senate, was an original co-sponsor of an Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), that would prohibit job discrimination based on sexual orientation, and a co-sponsor of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Senator Specter ultimately voted to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law banning service in the military by openly-gay service members, and called in 2009 for the repeal of DOMA, although his stated position did not favor same-sex marriage, but civil unions for same-sex couples.
Senat0r Specter’s rating from NARAL on the right of a woman to choose grew from 20% in 2005 to 100% in 2008. He received a 76% rating from the NAACP, and introduced the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006, which would have created a “pathway to citizenship” to undocumented immigrants. He also grew from opposing health care reform to supporting it, voting for Obamacare, even though he “took credit for helping to defeat President Clinton’s national health care plan.”
Senator Specter’s elected political career began when he became the 19th District Attorney of Philadelphia, in 1966, but in 1963, then-Congressman Gerald Ford recommended Specter to serve on the Warren Commission.
As an assistant counsel for the commission, he co-authored the “single bullet theory,” which suggested the non-fatal wounds to Kennedy and wounds to Texas Governor John Connally were caused by the same bullet. This was a crucial assertion for the Warren Commission, since if the two had been wounded by separate bullets within such a short time frame, that would have demonstrated the presence of a second assassin and therefore a conspiracy. [Wikipedia]
The L.A. Times adds:
In 1987, Specter helped thwart the Supreme Court nomination of former federal appeals Judge Robert H. Bork — earning him conservative enemies who still bitterly refer to such rejections as being “borked.”
But four years later, Specter was criticized by liberals for his tough questioning of Anita Hill at Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court nomination hearings and for accusing her of committing “flat-out perjury.” The nationally televised interrogation incensed women’s groups and nearly cost him his seat in 1992.
Specter, who had battled cancer, was Pennsylvania’s longest-serving senator when Democrats picked then-U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak over him in the 2010 primary, despite Specter’s endorsements by President Barack Obama and other Democratic leaders. Sestak lost Specter’s seat to conservative Republican Rep. Pat Toomey by 2 percentage points.
“The former Democrat was not shy about bucking fellow Republicans,” the Times adds:
In 1995, he launched a presidential bid, denouncing religious conservatives as the “fringe” that plays too large a role in setting the party’s agenda. Specter, who was Jewish, bowed out before the first primary because of lackluster fundraising.
Despite his tireless campaigning, Specter’s irascible independence caught up with him in 2004. Specter barely survived a GOP primary challenge by Toomey by 17,000 votes of more than 1.4 million cast. He went on to easily win the general election with the help of organized labor, a traditionally Democratic constituency.
“He enjoyed a good martini and a fast game of squash, and was famous for parsing his words to wiggle out of tight spots,” the New York Times notes:
During Mr. Clinton’s impeachment on charges of perjury and obstruction, Mr. Specter, objecting to what he called a “sham trial” without witnesses, signaled he would vote to acquit.
But a simple “not guilty” vote would have put him directly at odds with Republicans; instead, citing Scottish law, Mr. Specter voted “not proven,” adding, “therefore not guilty.”
Image vi Wikipedia:
Arlen Specter of the Warren Commission reproducing the assumed alignment of the single bullet theory. Original caption: “Photograph taken at garage, following reenactment of aseasainatlon on May 24, 1964, depicting probable angle of declination of bullet which passed through President Kennedy and Governor Connally.”
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