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     "I have found myself increasingly at odds with the Republican philosophy and more in line with the philosophy of the Democratic Party"__ Arlen Specter, April 28, 2009

     Among the listings in the contents of the May 14, 2009 Volume 56 number 8 of The New York Review of Books is an op-ed titled: The Need to Rollback Presidential Powers by Arlen Specter, United States Senator from Pennsylvania; a Republican so disenchanted with the rightwing of his party that he has decided to register as a Democrat as soon as his state’s law will permit him to do so. Until then, he declared himself caucused with the Democrats, and the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in the 2010 Pennsylvania Primary. Specter held a press conference on April 28, 2009 to explain his decision to switch parties, during which he, also, promoted his op-ed.

     This was not the first time Specter changed parties. He was originally a registered Democrat and ran as so on the Republican ticket for Philadelphia District Attorney. He won, transferred to the Republican Party in 1965 and served as DA for two terms. source: Wikipedia

     “I think he’s more of a liberal than he lets on,” Chris Matthews remarked on MSNBC’s Hardball hours after Specter’s announcement.  

     Indeed, Senator Specter’s op-ed may be a shrewd first step in appealing to a base of Obama Democrats disappointed by the President’s reluctance to criminally pursue the torturers and those who ordered torture during the Bush Junior Administration: crimes among the many abuses of presidential authority a majority of Democrats want rectified.


     Specter begins his seduction of Pennsylvania Democrats and moderate Republicans with a stern rebuke of Bush Junior’s power grabs. In the op-ed, he fumes:


In the seven and a half years since September 11, the United States has witnessed one of the greatest expansions of executive authority in its history, at the expense of the constitutionally mandated separation of powers.”

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     Then Specter presents three legislative objectives he intends to pursue:


(1)   legislation that will mandate Supreme Court review of lower court decisions in suits brought by the ACLU and others that challenge the constitutionality of the warrantless wiretapping program authorized by President Bush after September 11

(2)   reintroduce legislation to keep the courts open to suits filed against several telephone companies that allededly facilitated the Bush Administration’s warrentless wiretapping program….and substitute the government as defendant in place of the telephone companies….with the government footing the bill for any damages awarded

(3)   reintroduce his legislation, the “Presidential Signing Statements Act”  in order to prohibit courts from relying on, or deferring to, presidential signing statements when determining the meaning of any Act of Congress


The Need to Rollback Presidential Power op-ed allows Specter to uproot the history of Bush Junior’s manipulations of Congress over The Terrorist Surveillance Act (with notes and plush bibliography), yet offers no apologies for his own, eventually successful, efforts to “reauthorize and improve” The Patriot Act, even though shaken when the New York Times revealed in December 2005 that Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts. Specter attributes the New York Times article as spawning “a fierce debate about the extent of presidential authority in the war on terror that has yet to be fully resolved”.

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In the op-ed,  Specter, also,  rebukes the head of his new party, writing:

     “two days after criticizing President Bush's signing statements, President Obama issued one of his own regarding the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009. Citing among others his "commander in chief" and "foreign affairs" powers, he refused to be bound by at least eleven specific provisions of the bill including one long-standing rider to appropriations bills designed to aid congressional oversight. As I told The Wall Street Journal, 'We're having a repeat of what Democrats bitterly complained about under President Bush,' and if President Obama 'wants to pick a fight, Congress has plenty of authority to retaliate.'"

     So, if President Obama is thrilled by Specter’s closing the gap from 58 to 59 democratic senate seats toward the Al Franken supermajority of 60, Spector, in the op-ed, warns the President not to be anywhere close to Bush Junior’s gluttony with signing statements. Specter laments the President’s reassertion of the “states secrets” privilege to block lawsuits challenging policies like warrantless wiretapping.

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Retired, Robert Arend was president of an AFSCME local from 1997-2007.

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Like Matthews, I've viewed Specter more a... by Robert Arend on Thursday, Apr 30, 2009 at 11:03:08 PM