Transcript: Face to Face with Arlen Specter

Bill Plante: Welcome to Face to Face, I'm Bill Plante and today we're talking to former Senator Arlen Specter who's written a new book called Life among the Cannibals. And the first question I have to ask you, Senator, what's the title mean?

Arlen Specter: The title means that cannibals are devouring senators. That the gridlock in Washington today comes because, like cannibals eating their own, that's what's happening in Washington. You had a senator like Bob Bennett, with a 93 percent conservative rating. He cast one vote to support the bailout of the auto industry and he got dumped by the Republican party. Same thing happened on the Democratic side, Joe Lieberman, outstanding senator, can't win a Democratic primary. The cannibals have taken over and it's produced a gridlocked senate and a dysfunctional government.

Bill Plante: You suggested moderation and compromise are dirty words now on the Hill.

Arlen Specter: When you have people running on the platform that I won't compromise. When you have a Republican leader saying the Senate agenda is to defeat Obama four years from now; When you have a key leader of the tea party saying that we're going to make this Obama's Waterloo: nobody cares about governing, all people care about is winning an election. It's a rarity when someone takes a political risk in Washington today in the public interest.

Bill Plante: You write the word "extremism" is no longer sufficiently extreme to describe what's going on. Can this be fixed?

Arlen Specter: It can be fixed. The example of Sen. Lisa Murkowski in Alaska is a peephole into what could be done. She lost to the tea party. She was cannibalized in the primary, lost. She won on a write-in, which is unprecedented in American history. Do you know how hard it is to spell Murkowski? If you put it with a "y" instead of an "I," or an "o" instead of a "u," the ballot goes out. If the electorate is sufficiently informed and sufficiently motivated, you can beat the extremists. That's why people ought to read this book, Bill, because it tells what's going on behind the scenes in Washington, why the government is broken. It lays out the experience I've had. I cast 10,000 votes and the one vote on the stimulus package which I passed to avoid a depression cost me my seat.

Bill Plante: Since you bring that up, that vote, which did cost you your seat, for health care, the Obama health care plan, is about to be argued in the Supreme Court and you voted for every one of the justices that are going to hear that case. How do you think they're going to rule?

Arlen Specter: I believe the odds are that they're going to strike it down. I'm uncertain, but those are the odds. We have an ideological court today. They've gone far beyond what they should do. They are changing laws, not interpreting laws. What they had about Citizens United, they destroyed the American political system. Big money is ruining the political system. That ideological court elected Bush over Gore by one vote. And the ideology which is coming out of that court today suggests they're going to strike it down.

Bill Plante: Are you sorry you voted for all of these justices?

Arlen Specter: No, just maybe some of them. I'm glad you didn't ask me which ones.

Bill Plante: I was about to. Would you like to tell me which ones?

Arlen Specter: That's in my next book, Bill. I can't divulge all my secrets on one program.

Bill Plante: Well let's talk about 2012. What about Rick Santorum? He supported you in a tough primary, but he said earlier this week that - quote - that certainly wasn't one of my prouder moments I look back on - unquote.

Arlen Specter : Well I'm not too much concerned about what he's proud of or not proud of. We worked together, I supported him, he supported me in an election. But when you come down to the presidency, Sen. Santorum is not in the mainstream of American political thinking. In Pennsylvania where people knew him very well, he lost 59 to 41. You can't have a position, as Sen. Santorum does, against contraception, saying that the woman has no place in the workplace. Saying that, with respect to gays, that it's bestiality, it's man on dog. John Kennedy's famous speech in Houston, separating church and state, is wrong for America. That's the basis of America. Next Santorum's going to attack Jefferson.

Bill Plante: He said that he supported you back then because you told him you'd back all of the president's Supreme Court nominees if he did. Was there a deal?

Arlen Specter: Absolutely not. Laughably not true. I wouldn't ever make a deal to support somebody sight unseen. My record for independence and thoughtfulness is well established.

Bill Plante: So you don't think, to go back to Santorum, that he's going to be the nominee?

Arlen Specter: No. No, I really don't. America is finding out what Pennsylvanians knew, they saw him for twelve years. He's not going to be the nominee. I urged Sen. Santorum and his campaign to have an unexpressed idea. He never had one that was unexpressed. And here in recent days he's committed, made a great many statements: I don't care about unemployment, the extremism of his articulation on trying to bring church into state. America's founded on separation of church and state, religious freedom. Sen. Santorum is too extreme to be the Republican nominee, let alone the president.

Bill Plante: Do you think it will be Romney?

Arlen Specter: He's doing everything he can to throw road blocks, too. It's a very unsettled situation. You talk about a brokered convention. People are very unhappy with the Republican slate. On this day of the record, the conventional wisdom is it will be Romney, but this Republican scramble has been filled with unexpected turns, so I'm waiting and watching.

Bill Plante: Do you think Mitt Romney is conservative enough for a Republican electorate?

Arlen Specter: Well it depends on which Mitt Romney. I think that Bill Maher had it right the other day on his comedy show when he said that Romney has changed positions more often than a pornographic movie queen. So it depends on which Romney comes forward. We have to wait. We have to wait and and see how much the American people will tolerate on changes of position for political expediency. Or to see how little principle you can get away with.

Bill Plante: Tell me what happened to the Republican Party, or at least the wing of the Republican Party you were most identified with?

Arlen Specter: The extremists took over the primary process. So that when you have, in Delaware, you have Mike Castle, who is a terrific congressman, running against a woman who has to defend herself as not being a witch, the extreme right defeated Castle. You have again Bob Bennett in Utah, 93 percent conservative rating. As far as the purists are concerned, Ivory soap is contaminated at 99.44. I cast one vote out of 10,000 for the stimulus package and I can't win a primary. Olympia Snowe is driven out of the party. Susan Collins is scared to death. She has passed some votes which really surprised me. We had Citizens United when the Supreme Court lifted open, they handed down that decision which is really so destructive, to allow corporations and unions to make anonymous, unlimited expenditures. The Court left open a narrow avenue for Congress to legislate and require disclosure. If you're going to be able to make those contributions, at least let's know who's making them. Fifty ninepeople on one side of the aisle voted for cloture, that is to cut off debate and move the case, move the bill forward. Not one Republican would step forward. Not Susan Collins, not Olympia Snowe because they're so terrified of the right wing of the primary process.

Bill Plante: Is the right wing speaking for the party or are the other people in the party simply afraid to voice their opinions?

Arlen Specter: They're staying home. That's what I'm writing about in this book. If enough people would come out the right wing, the extremists couldn't dominate. This book tells you what's going on behind the scenes. I've had the unique experience of being in both caucuses - both the Republican caucus and the Democratic caucus, so I know what's happening behind the scenes. And how the extremists have taken over. And my ideas on how to turn it around. To make the Senate like it was when I was elected in 1980. The voters have the key, and if they're informed - and that's what this book seeks to do -and they're motivated, and again what I'm trying to do is, they can throw the rascals out. If Lisa Murkowski can win in Alaska on a write-in with a name like Murkowski, it can be done.

Bill Plante: It's a good read because it tells the story of your career, and there's pretty funny stuff in there, too. I don't know if you meant it to be or not - just kidding.

Arlen Specter: It was intended to be. When I talk in this book about calling up to Sen. Dole on his birthday I said Bob, happy birthday, you're 80, how do you feel Bob? He said I feel like a teenager, Arlen, problem is I can't find one.

Bill Plante: On that note Senator, I thank you very much but I want to ask you one more question. Would you vote for President Obama? Should he have a second term?

Arlen Specter: It remains to be seen. What he does in Afghanistan, what he does on stimulating the economy, and whom he is running against. I'm now citizen Arlen Specter, I'm waiting and watching.

Bill Plante: Arlen Specter, former senator from Pennsylvania, thanks for being with us.

Arlen Specter: Thank you.

Bill Plante: This has been Face to Face. I'm Bill Plante, see you again.

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