Yes, it happened almost twenty years ago, with the controversial and sharply acrimonious Anita Hill hearings beginning October 11, 1991, but the memories of many Pennsylvania feminists along with other Democratic Party activists are long.
It was one thing for President Obama and Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell to back Senator Arlon Specter for reelection after he switched parties and became a Democrat. It was an entirely different matter for the state's progressive activists to accept their recommendation, as evidenced by his defeat and the uphill and ultimately decisive victory of Congressman Joe Sestak.
Specter prior to his career in elective politics was a Philadelphia prosecutor. He used his adversarial interrogation skills against Anita Hill as she offered testimony into the Senate hearings for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.
The tactics used by Specter and Republican pro-Thomas advocate Orrin Hatch were deemed so odious by Senator Ted Kennedy that near their end he charged in a tone laced with bitter emotion that the "treatment of Ms. Hill was disgraceful." When Hatch chimed in a quick objection, Kennedy repeated, "Yes, the treatment was disgraceful."
Progressive activists have a related reason to oppose Specter in addition to the treatment of Hill during the tense hearings. With Thomas' confirmation, for which Specter strove mightily, George W. Bush's 2000 selection for the presidency was secured.
In the all-crucial Bush vs. Gore U.S. Supreme Court Case it was Antonin Scalia along with fellow Federalist Society ideological soul mate Clarence Thomas who cast the crucial deciding votes in the 5-4 decision that ended recount efforts and handed the presidency to Bush.
In Specter's next re-election bid following the Thomas Hearings he drew a strongly committed female activist in the general election. Her distaste for what he had done to Anita Hill sharpened her antagonism for Specter to the point where she refused to shake his hand before a televised debate between the senatorial candidates.
The savage treatment of Hill and continuing propaganda efforts to vilify her prompted one of the most fascinating mea culpa books and a corresponding change of philosophy by David Brock. As a then neo-conservative activist Brock wrote the bestseller right wing hit piece "The Real Anita Hill."
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