Sen. Nobody: what Specter forgot

Charles Myers

Note from the editor: Charles Myers is the president of Villanova College Democrats.

In one of the more memorable passages of Western Literature, the cyclops, Polyphemus, is blinded by Odysseus as our hero – a man of “twists and turns” – makes his escape with the surviving members of his crew.  When asked who was responsible for blinding him, Polyphemus yells out the name Odysseus gave to him: “Nobody! Nobody did this to me!”  After reading Sen. Arlen Specter’s recent opinion piece, I could not help but sense a resemblance.

In the piece, our state’s senior senator said that “Congress must be vigilant in guarding our rights and liberties as Americans” as well as “our system of checks and balances designed to protect against arbitrary government.”  While it is proper to applaud the senator’s words in support of civil liberty, it is also necessary to examine his past actions to see if there is a man behind them.

During the furious debate over warrantless wiretapping conducted by the Bush Administration in late 2006, Specter introduced a bill which would grant retroactive amnesty to individuals who had monitored conversations without a warrant or any other grant of law.  Supposedly, this was needed to allow members of the Executive Branch to protect us without fear of going to jail.  Practice, however, has shown differently.

The issue with the wiretaps was not that they were conducted without warrants – FISA law allowed warrants to be obtained up to three days afterwards – but that the Administration did not even pretend to care about the formality.  Instead, it had Pennsylvania’s senator of (then) 26 years make noise about civil liberties while introducing – and twice voting for – retroactive immunity.

This “festering wound” as Specter has recently called it, is something repugnant to the voters.  In fact, in a poll conducted by the Mellman Group in 2007, just 35 percent of voters supported the concept compared to 61 percent who opposed it.  The same poll revealed that a majority of voters registered “strong” support for a “requirement [of] warrants.”  Now that our senator has to face those voters, it is no surprise that he has discovered words to paper over his deeds.

Specter, a self proclaimed “vigilant” guard of our civil liberties, also saw fit to talk to us about health care.  While some appreciate the sentiment, all should bear in mind that it comes from a man who once managed a whopping 12 percent rating from the American Public Health Association and who voted against prescription drug price negotiation, only to vote for it when he knew that the bill containing the provision would not pass.

In his opening, Specter spoke of his experience with public service, quoting President Kennedy’s famous invocation on the subject.  In his haste to align himself with a popular former president, Specter forgot something important: that president valued political courage over all other things and wrote a book on the subject (titled, appropriately, “Profiles in Courage”).  Had Specter shown any political courage in his voting over the past few years, I would probably be voting for him in 2010.  He is, after all, pro-choice.

Instead when faced with the “challenges” of “serving the people,” our senator retreated from defending our liberties and our seniors while telling us what a strong advocate of the things the polls showed him we valued.

Speech, unfortunately, can never be considered the equivalent of action or even reality.  In Specter’s case, it appears to be the opposite of both.  Our senator, like Odysseus, is a man of twists and turns – hoping against hope that two years from now on election day, we, like Polyphemus, will mistake Senator Nobody for a Somebody worth re-electing.


Charles Myers is a junior political science, history and philosophy major from Elkins Park, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected].