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Arlen Specter's Deliciously Bitter Farewell to Fellow Senators: You're a Bunch of Cannibals! | The Nation

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John Nichols

John Nichols

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Arlen Specter's Deliciously Bitter Farewell to Fellow Senators: You're a Bunch of Cannibals!

No one expected Arlen Specter, the grouchiest member of the Senate, to leave the chamber quietly—or, for that matter, gracefully.

But who would have thought that the Democrat turned Republican turned Democrat would exit the Senate calling his colleagues a bunch of “cannibals”

Referring not just to the intense partisanship that has come to characterize the chamber in recent years but also to the internal ideological wrangling that forced him from the Republican Party in 2009—only to be defeated in a Democratic primary in 2010—the senior senator used his valedictory address Tuesday to declare: "Eating or defeating your own is a form of sophisticated cannibalism."

Dismissing specific colleagues, particularly South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, the Tea Party Republican who has sought to impose ideological purity tests on the GOP, as destructive players, Specter growled in a 2,600-word valedictory speech that: "Collegiality can obviously not be maintained when negotiating with someone out to defeat you, especially in your own party. In some quarters, compromising has become a dirty word… Politics is no longer the art of the possible when senators are intransigent in their positions."

The was the general tenor of Specter’s remarkable farewell address, which was characterized at some points by a refreshingly angry, bitter and at times mean-spirited tone, and at others by a sort of mourning for the decay of the Senate into a chamber of horrors. 

"The days of lively debate, of many members on the floor, are all gone,” Specter bluntly announced.

Decrying abuses of Senate rules in general, and the filibuster in particular, Specter grumbled: "That's not the way it was when (retiring Connecticut Senator) Chris Dodd and I were privileged to enter the world's greatest deliberative body."

Specter is, of course, correct. The Senate is dysfunctional. And his proposals to reform it are spot on:

-- Repair the filibuster rule by returning to traditional practices, such as a requirement that those engaging in filibusters actually speak on the floor of the Senate rather than threaten to do so.

-- Allow a simple majority vote of 51 senators to cut off filibusters on judicial and executive-branch nominees, rather than the current 60-vote requirement.

-- Limit the ability of senators from placing secret "holds" on nominations.

Allow senator to offer amendments to bills—reversing the practice of recent majority leaders of both parties—and assure that those amendments can be debated and voted on by the full Senate.

"By allowing senators to offer amendments and a requirement for debate, not just notice,” says Specter, “I think filibusters could be effectively managed as they have in the past.”

Specter’s reform proposals are essentially sound, as is his bitterness about the decline of the Senate.

But I would debate his “sophisticated cannibalism” reference.

While the “cannibal” reference is appropriate enough with regard to DeMint, there really is nothing sophisticated about the senator from South Carolina. His political flesheating is as unrefined as it is brutal.

And if the recent defeat over extending Bush-era tax cuts offers any indication, most senators are better described as “zombies.”

 
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