Arlen Specter Dies at 82

Longtime Pennsylvania senator Arlen Specter died Sunday morning, from complications from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, at home in Philadelphia. [CNN]

The veteran Pennsylvania senator had overcome numerous serious illnesses over the past two decades, including a brain tumor and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He had been in the public eye since the 1960s, when he first gained attention as a member of the Warren Commission.

In 1966, the magazine’s Gaeton Fonzi questioned the credibility of the “single-bullet theory” put forth after the Warren Commission Report’s investigation of the assassination of President John Kennedy.

The interviews revealed that Arlen Specter is unequivocal in his support of the final conclusions of the Warren Commission Report. They also revealed that Specter displays an articulate confidence in discussing those findings of the Report based on postulations and theories deduced from the evidence and testimony.

In general, however, he could not explain satisfactorily certain basic inconsistencies which exist between the Commission’s conclusions and the details of the hard-core evidence. In fact, he appeared at times evasive and, uncharacteristically, embarrassingly uncertain.

[Philadelphia magazine’s “The Warren Commission, The Truth, and Arlen Specter: Part 1” and “The Warren Commission, The Truth, and Arlen Specter: Part 2“]

Specter was a prosecutor, and later the district attorney of Philadelphia, before failed attempts at the city’s mayor’s seat and Pennsylvania’s governorship. Specter won a PA senate seat in 1980.

Mr. Specter served in the Senate from 1981 to 2011 and was the longest-serving senator from Pennsylvania. For most of those years, he was a centrist Republican, but in early 2009, when a strong GOP primary challenger stepped forward, Mr. Specter switched parties and became a Democrat. [WSJ]

An oral history of Arlen Specter published by Philadelphia magazine in 2006, pointed to the central role Specter played in the nation’s political arena:

For the past quarter-century, he’s also been a Zelig-like national figure. From his role in sinking Robert Bork’s Supreme Court nomination to his cross-examination of Anita Hill, from stem-cell research to the impeachment of Bill Clinton, Specter’s greatest talent may be his unique ability to put himself—somehow, some way—in the center of the nation’s most important debates.

It’s not just Specter’s ubiquity, though, that has led us to think of him as an institution. It’s also the niche he’s carved out for himself as one of the few true wild cards of Washington politics. He is reviled by those on both the right and the left. Charming and churlish, brilliant and pedantic, he can be fiercely independent, entertainingly eccentric, and simply maddening. In September, Specter voted along with his party to approve a bill governing the interrogation and trials of terror suspects, just hours after he had declared the bill blatantly unconstitutional.