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The Arlen Spectacle

There was only one possible explanation.


The bullet entered the president's neck, bounced off his necktie, made a right turn in midair, entered Governor Connolly's back, broke a rib, and exited his arm after breaking his wrist. Following perhaps the most exhaustive trip ever taken by a rifle round, it was found -- in pristine condition -- in the stretcher bearing the governor. It was, indeed, "the magic bullet".

Well, there actually was another explanation -- that more than that one bullet did all that damage -- but that would mean more than one person would have to have shot at President Kennedy's motorcade on November 22nd, 1963. And that, of course, would imply a conspiracy, which if brought to light, might cause panic in the public and eventually implicate J. Edgar Hoover among others. The CIA? The Mob? A dilemma for the blue ribbon panels investigating the assassination -- as Rumsfeld might say, "it was getting messy".

So, better to present a "lone crazy Communist" narrative which people can get a grip on. But how to explain all the mayhem with just three shots? Well, in another spectacular instance of "fixing evidence to fit a preexisting theory" (sound familiar?), a young staff counsel for the Warren Commission, with his straight-face fable of the "magic bullet,” was able to neatly tidy things up and put a bow on it.

That young counsel was, of course, one Arlen Specter. It was his first appearance on the national scene -- disingenuous and calculating. He has not lacked in consistency in the intervening 47 years. Even his recent defection from the Republican Party to the Democratic has a lot of the "magic bullet" ethos.

When the headline declared "Specter Switching to Democratic Party," it appeared to be an act of principle. And why wouldn't it be? After being thoroughly Limbaughed for voting for the President's stimulus package, coupled with his party's relentless "just say no" campaign -- not just “no” to Obama, but “no” to rejecting the gamut of failed Bush policies -- one could believe Arlen Specter just didn't want to know these people anymore.

But we might have known the master of the "magic bullet" was not as pristine as the famous projectile.

Within moments of the Democratic celebratory "we got our 60 votes" parade, Specter was raining on it. "Don't think I'm going to be an automatic 60th vote".

Well, uh, OK, we're not a long-step party. God knows, we've had to contend with Lieberman, two Nelsons, and a Bayh.

And then, as if to really drive home the point, this new Democrat vowed to vote down rather key things on the Democratic wish list -- like health care, the Employee Free Choice Act, and Dawn Johnson (Obama's nomination to head the scandalized White House Office of Legal Counsel).

Well, what the hell was going on? Who needed this guy? Well, it didn't take Mort Sahl to dig up the truth; Specter busted himself -- he basically switched parties because he knew he could not win the Pennsylvania Republican primary in 2010.

So many Pennsylvania Republican voters had fled to the Democratic party -- on principle, I would suggest -- that what was left was dominated by the "23 percenters" John Dean talks about -- religious zealots, gun huggers, anti-immigration fear mongers, and Grover Norquist-forged tax haters. And certainly not fans of an "ultra liberal" like Arlen Specter. Indeed Norquisit-ite Pat Toomey was crushing Specter in a poll just before D (for defection) Day.

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So, Specter's defection was about -- Specter! His job was in jeopardy (can't blame the man; these are tough times -- thanks to the Bush economic gambits that he did little to help quell in his days as a "Liberal "Republican ). Principles had nothing to do with it -- just as they had nothing to do with his accepting the help of the Bush Administration, and Rick Santorum, in his tough re-election bid in 2004 (also against that guy Toomey) -- just as principles had nothing to do with his abetting the evisceration of Anita Hill at the infamous judiciary hearings of 1991 -- resulting in the confirmation of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, perhaps the most reliably ultra right-wing justices ever to serve -- except for Antonin Scalia.

Evidently, Arlen Specter doesn't care if there is an "R" or a "D" after his name, as long as there is "Senator" in front. (As an aside, I would have much preferred that Lincoln Chafee changed his stripes, wouldn't you? But then the very principles that made Chafee Chafee prevented him from doing such a thing; now he's running for governor of Rhode Island as an "I").

During the little window of joy Specter allowed us, President Obama and Keystone State fixer Governor Ed Rendell embraced him -- probably literally, if they could -- because at the very least it undeniably was a P.R. coup. But was part of the defection deal to "smooth" the path for Specter's re-election by not allowing any Democratic primary opposition?

After the buzz-kill press conference, what are we, and more importantly, the Pennsylvania voters, left with? Like the twists and turns of the 1963 slug that made his bones, Specter seemed to be at once trashing (or at least mistrusting) the Republican voters of Pennsylvania, and currying support of those who have voted for him several times (Don't worry, I'm not really a Democrat!). And he knows he has Democratic voters by the short hairs" in the general elextion, (if indeed Specter is given a pass in the primary), the huge new glut of Democratic voters are left with either literally holding their noses and voting for the right wing Republican nominee. Such a deal!

So that was our bizarre week with Arlen. The bloom could not have come off a rose faster -- already he's been knocked down to the level of "neophyte Senator" by a disenchanted Democratic caucus. But the Senator thinks he just makes a little jag to the left, and the right, he'll come out pristine in the end. I've figured out his strategy: this time Arlen himself is the magic bullet!

But like his bullet, it's all false, it's all illusion. One defies physics and the other defies the new politics of Obama. (And p.s. -- I'm not buying Specter's "gaff" about hoping Norm Coleman gets seated in Minnesota).

What Specter might've done -- albeit messy and fraught with distinct risks (like unemployment) -- would have been to stick with his grand old party (screw the "filibuster-proof majority" fantasy) and fight it out, come what may -- MAKE his reactionary brethren and sisteren reject Limbaughism. But that would've required guts and principles. Arlen opted for the easy solution, once again.

If Pennsylvania Democrats are true to THEIR principles, they will run a strong candidate, such as Rep. Joe Sestak, an actual Democrat, against Specter in the primary -- come what May!

bob illes

This time around, reject that magic bullet.

by Robert Illes

Robert Illes is an Emmy winning television writer and producer, currently developing series for Nickelodeon and TV Land. He is an LA native, and a graduate of USC, who lived in Sherman Oaks for 23 years before escaping to Santa Monica (but visits a lot). A member of Valley Democrats United, Bob is also an AirAmericaRadio freak, active in the Writers Guild mentor program, as well as the Democratic party, and is constantly Bush bashing, fighting for verifiable voting procedures, and fighting against Jerry's Deli showing Fox News on their overhead TVs. What's the matter with those people!?

Internet radio show "Funny is Money" starring Bob Illes is now on nightly at 7 PM Pacific time CHECK IT OUT!

Reprinted with permission from the Valley Democrats United newsletter, Margie Murray, Editor, where the article first appeared.