An NCEW Conversation with Arlen Specter: A Proud Republican Moderate Works the Room

Article excerpt

In a time where politicians are hell-bent on preaching to the choir and not exposing themselves to unscripted questions from uninvited guests, U.S. Senator Aden Specter, R.-Pennsylvania, turned back the clock.

Holding his opening remarks to a self-imposed nine-minute time limit, he turned his time in front of the NCEW's annual convention into a wide-open question-and-answer session with a full room of opinion honchos from across the country.

As attendees lined up at a microphone set up in the center aisle of the large conference room, Specter stepped out from behind the podium and off the stage, often standing only feet away from his questioners and listening intently.

With a dose of dry, self-effacing humor, Specter was candid and earnest as he discussed topics ranging from President Bush's controversial handling of enemy combatants to Capitol Hill dinner parties. (Bush is "short-circuiting the Geneva Conventions" and Vice President Dick Cheney doesn't talk much, in case you were wondering.)

While it seems many Republicans are falling all over themselves to establish their conservative pedigrees, Specter broke from the party line several times and wasn't afraid to criticize the evolution of the GOP and its tactics, stressing that there's room for plenty for differing viewpoints in the party.

"The concept of a 'big tent' is indispensable in a two-party system," he said, noting that ideological conformity is "unrealistic."

A proud moderate, he proclaimed "the real Republican Party... is willing to work with Democrats." And his stances on enemy combatants, wiretapping, and stem cell research (Bush's veto of federal funding was "scandalous") certainly won't endear him to party hardliners. …