Sen. Arlen Specter, a long-time voice of moderation in an increasingly partisan Congress, died Sunday at the age of 82 after a battle with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Specter, who was a long-time Republican during his 30 years as Pennsylvania’s longest-serving U.S. senator, was still often at odds with the GOP leadership. He switched to the Democratic Party in April 2009 before retiring from the Senate. Never one to just vote along party lines, Specter often warned of the dangers of political intolerance and advocated moderation.
Legendary CBS News broadcaster Bob Schieffer recently spoke to genConnect about the spiral downward toward more extreme polarization in politics. Watch the interview below:
“How it has evolved, sadly, is it’s become much more partisan, and much more bitter,” Schieffer, who has covered politics as a journalist for more than 40 years, said of Washington. “The partisan divide is deeper than it’s ever been.”
Whereas Republicans and Democrats used to socialize together and leave partisan bickering on the Senate and House floors, now, that partisanship seems to seep into every aspect of lawmakers’ professional lives.
“We now have a conversation among strangers – they just don’t know each other anymore,” Scheiffer said. Add the fact, Schieffer said, that it costs so much money to run for Congress these days, and the consistent negotiations with interest groups to get elected and re-elected, that their priorities that are not on making friends with the other side. So will this hyper-partisanship change anytime soon?
“The good thing about America is, when our back is to the wall, we always find a way,” Scheiffer said. “But I don’t know a way out of this right now.”
As for Specter’s passing, President Obama Tweeted: “Arlen Specter changed lives through years of service in the Senate with toughness, resolve, and fierce independence. He will be missed.”
Vice President Joe Biden, a friend of Specter’s is planning to attend the late senator’s funeral services on Tuesday.
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