Sunday, May 13, 2012

Life Among the Cannibals by Senator Arlen Specter, a book review

Vigorous and feisty, Senator Arlen Specter names names, dates, times, and places in his newest book, "Life Among the Cannibals."

This insightful primer on political shenanigans reveals layer after layer of treachery, lies, difficult decisions, and ever increasing party squabbles and vindictiveness - written by somebody who was there.

This historically accurate diary of Congressional and political activites moves forward at an amazing pace. I have to offer this caveat - do not expect to take this book to bed, read a couple of pages, and put it down. That won't happen. It's a page turner and the reader wonders will Senator Specter survive or be knifed in the back again.

Senator Specter suffered defeats for Philadelphia mayor, for Philadelphia DA, for senator, and for Pennsylvania governor before winning the senatorial seat in
1980. Born in 1930, Senator Specter's first career ambition was to be a sports broadcaster. He joined the debate team in Russell High School in Kansas and said that debating was the best education he ever had.

His role on the Senatorial Judiciary Committee resulted in his unhappiness with justices Roberts and Alito who both promised to follow prcedent and promised to follow Congressional fact finding but they didn't. He laments that the Supreme Court has become a super legislature, an imperial court, with no TV's. It's almost as if the Supreme Court is saying "let the public be damned."

Specter's main thesis is that the people's business is not being done. Congress is gridlocked and dysfunctional. The extremists of both parties show no inclination to minimizing their views, even a little bit. "I always called them as I saw them," Specter repeats many times, using different words.

Senator Specter, discussed his vote for Obama's stimulus bill. He lived through the "great depression" and the economic disasters and shortfalls are permanently imprinted on his memory. "I voted my conscience to prevent another depression." He viewed this as a very important vote and he had to do it, as an act of patriotism. When Senator Reid, President Obama, and Vice President Biden backed down from their assurances that they would back him, he writes that of course he took it personally.

Many times, during the course of this book, Specter writes that "it is important to compete and take your chances of winning and losing." Once you win one, you forget the losses. He also chose his fights carefully, reminding me of the lines from the song "you have to know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em."

His optimism and hope for the future is evident in this book. "Democracy is not a spectator sport," Specter asserts over and over again.

I'm still looking forward to an interview with Senator Specter. I have lots and lots of questions for him.

1 comment:

  1. Arlen Specter called me today to discuss both his book and answer any questions I had. My major question was how he learned when to fight for what he believed and when to give in. He said that he always followed "my own conscience," especially on important issues and "I gave in to party pressures when I felt I could without a conflict with my own values."
    He said that he fought his party on Bork, school prayer, abortion, and the stimulus package. I asked if such decisions could be taught and he replied, thoughtfully, it's "part of an individual's value system; a sense of intergriy; learned from parents and siblings and from role models." He added that he had always acted in an individualistic manner.