Arlen Specter on presidential politics, putting the Supreme Court on TV

    When Arlen Specter arrived at our studio for an interview this afternoon, I was struck by how well he looked, and how well-dressed, in a crisply-pressed blue suit. I told him he still looked senatorial.

    He grinned. “That used to be a compliment,” he said.

    Specter doesn’t think much of American politics these days, which maybe is to be expected. He fled the Republican party in June, 2009 in an unsuccessful effort to keep the Pennsylvania U.S. Senate seat he held for 30 years.

    Specter now sees the national debate as driven by extremists of both parties, and he has little patience for it.

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    But he’s busy. He testified at a Senate hearing last month, urging the body to open U.S. Supreme Court proceedings to television cameras.

    He explains why and discusses presidential politics in our interview, which you can hear by playing to two audio clips above. An excerpt of the conversation is featured on Tuesday’s edition of Newsworks Tonight.

    It’s hard not to marvel at Specter’s energy.

    I asked him if he still plays squash every morning. Most days, he said, but added that he’s now lifting weights, too. He’s 81.

    Specter’s finished a book with writer Charles Robbins about the last, dark chapter of his political career, called Life Among the Cannibals: A Political Career, a Tea Party Uprising, and the End of Governing As We Know It.

    It’s out in March, and I’ll look forward to reading and hearing his stories. One that’s already emerged is the time after he’d lost his Senate primary and was with president Obama at Carnegie Mellon University. In his speech the president named most of the dignitaries attending, but overlooked mention Specter.

    It reminded Specter of the old Washington adage: “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.”

    One day I’d like to get Specter to sit for a chat about his early days in Philadelphia politics. Not so many people remember that he was District Attorney in the 1960’s and came very close to being elected mayor as a Republican.

    Would you be interested?

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