Arlen Specter's Appalling Farewell Address

Posted: Dec 22, 2010 12:14 PM
In which the outgoing senior Senator from Pennsylvania seizes on the occasion of his final floor speech to berate ideological foes, grouse about partisan gridlock, and wistfully lecture his colleagues about a bygone era of Senate civility and moderation.  As grating and off-putting as it may be, I strongly recommend watching the entire performance to appreciate just how rancorous and ungracious is was.  Plus, if you merely skim through it in a cursory manner, you're liable to miss any number of unforgettable moments:

- Arlen affirming some foreigners' view of Americans as "ugly."
- Arlen taking gratuitous shots at Christine O'Donnell, Sharron Angle, and Joe Miller.
- Arlen chastising America for its "scandalous" inattention to curing cancer (!)
- Arlen sniping at Justices Roberts and Alito, all but calling them liars.
- Arlen likening the electoral primary process to "sophisticated cannibalism."
- And much, much more!

How fitting: A handful of Senate Democrats standing and applauding a bitter, partisan screed against...bitter partisanship.

As I witnessed it live on C-SPAN yesterday, I live-tweeted the nearly half-hour harangue with varying degrees of bewilderment, disgust, and -- ultimately -- pity.   Bewilderment, because I was truly taken aback that even "Snarlin' Arlen" would use his last hurrah to rattle off grievances and settle scores.  Disgust, because the speech was revolting from start to finish.  It was small, petty, and, at times, mean-spirited.  It seemed as if Specter was determined to sap all remaining traces of goodwill anyone on the Right may have still harbored for him.  If so, mission accomplished.  And pity, because at its core, yesterday's Arlen Specter Show was really quite sad. 

This is a man who's served in the planet's most august deliberative body for nearly three decades -- a privileged existence that has afforded him untold opportunities to help shape the direction of the nation, and the world.  The people of Pennsylvania placed their collective confidence in him on five separate occasions -- a great honor, by any measure.  Despite his unreliable political impulses, his erstwhile party supported him in a litany of high-profile battles, including his 2004 re-election campaign, and his controversial elevation to the chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

When he was diagnosed with cancer in 2005, Specter received the finest medical care in the world.  When he lost most of his hair as a side effect of intensive chemotherapy, a fellow Republican Senator shaved his head in solidarity.  And despite a relapse scare in 2008, Specter survived and lives on.

As soon as he sensed power slipping from his clutches on one side of the partisan aisle, he bolted for the other (for the second time in his career).  When that ploy failed to secure him a Senate nomination, he had no choice but to hang it up -- culminating in yesterday's dyspeptic diatribe.  As outlined above, Sen. Arlen Specter has much to be deeply thankful for.  If ever there were an opportunity to convey magnanimity, grace, and gratitude at the close of a lengthy public career, a farewell speech is it.  Yet Specter made a conscious choice to adopt an acerbic tone and leave on a bitter note.  At the risk of engaging in armchair pop-psychology, Specter looked and sounded like a man who is fundamentally unhappy, and that, more than anything, is sad.

Good riddance, Senator.