A Good kind of Turncoat: Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter switching to the Democratic Party

April 28, 2009

I had an experience that caused me to become a turncoat…. and I am not embarrassed about it.

When I was a kid, I was a Philadelphia 76er fan. One big reason is that basketball was not really televised much.  Occasionally, you got a tape delayed game, or you got the game of the week.  Two major moments defined who I rooted for.  The first reason was this

Dr. J was beyond cool in this movie.  Plus, I am a Pisces as well, so there is some symbolism in the movie for me.  The second reason is the TV.  Lots of people are always up in arms about why I am a Laker fan.  It stems from the fact that I was a Sixer fan.

The Sixers were eliminated twice in the Eastern Conference Finals. In 1979, Larry Bird entered the league, reviving the Boston Celtics and the storied Celtics-76ers rivalry; these two teams faced each other in the Eastern Conference Finals in 1980, ’81, ’82, and ’85.

The Bird vs. Dr. J matchup became arguably the top personal rivalry in the sport (along with Bird vs. Magic Johnson), inspiring the early Electronic Arts video game Julius Erving-Larry Bird One-on-One.

The battle lines had been drawn.  I wore out the Commodore 64 playing this game on the green screen, then finally in color.

I was clearly rooting for Dr. J, just like I rooted for Magic and Michigan St against Larry and Indiana St in the finals of the NCAA tournament as a kid.  It would continue later, in a different form.

The Dr. J, Bobby Jones, Moses Malone, Mo Cheeks and Andrew Toney team was the reason that I played basketball.  With other personalities like Darryl Dawkins and Marc Ivaroni, this team was ready to roll.

Philadelphia finally had its missing ingredient. Malone’s physical presence and tireless rebounding took the pressure off the rest of the 76ers, and the team jelled as never before. Malone was MVP for the second year in a row, becoming the only man to win the award in consecutive years for different teams. He averaged a team-high 24.5 ppg and a league-leading 15.3 rpg, and also gave Philadelphia a last resort: Whenever the offense broke down or got stuck, the Sixers would simply dump the ball in to Malone, who would wheel to the basket and either score or get fouled (Malone would make 600 of 788 free throw attempts, both league highs).

Meanwhile, Julius Erving averaged 21.4 ppg and was spectacular at one forward, joining Malone on the All-NBA First Team. Marc Iavaroni was the silent banger at the other forward spot, with All-NBA Defensive First Team selection and fast-break finisher Bobby Jones coming off the bench. Andrew Toney, a deadly shooter whose proficiency against the hated Celtics earned him the nickname. “The Boston Strangler,” averaged 19.7 ppg and teamed with playmaker Maurice Cheeks (6.9 apg, 184 steals) in a classic backcourt. Clint Richardson and Clemon Johnson were other key reserves for Head Coach Billy Cunningham, who was emerging as a strong NBA bench leader with the able support of assistant Chuck Daly.

The Sixers raced through the regular season, finishing with a league-best 65-17 record. Heading into the Finals, Malone was asked for his prediction and responded with the classic “Fo’, fo’ fo’.” Philadelphia came close to living up to Malone’s prediction of an unblemished playoff record, sweeping New York, beating Milwaukee 4-1 and then sweeping a Los Angeles Lakers team weakened by injuries to Norm Nixon and Bob McAdoo in the NBA Finals. Philadelphia’s 12-1 playoff record is the best in NBA history, and an amended version of Malone’s prediction was engraved on the players’ championship rings: “Fo’, five, fo’.”

That 82-83 team was the only one to break through the wall of green known as the Celtics.  I hated watching them beat my team in seven games most years.  As soon as the Eastern Conference Finals were over, I was ready to root for the West.  Almost every year, it would be the Lakers playing the Celtics.

That, coupled with the Video Games, I finally decided that I rooted for the Lakers.  They have been the only team I root for since 86.  Its funny that my friends get so up in arms that I root for the Lakers. It makes me laugh because its only an issue when they are doing well.  I wasn’t hearing this when Magic retired and I was rooting for Ced Ceballos, who quit to go hang out at Lake Havasu one year.  I supported the local team, the Warriors, until the one player I really liked, Mitch Richmond, was dealt on opening night, with me in the stands.  I stopped rooting and supporting  for the local team, except when they play my team, or its the playoffs, since playoff basketball has a special feel to it.

Plus, they forget that I lived in LA as a kid for awhile and I worked at LMU, where the Lakers routinely held practice and summer scrimmages, but there is not ever a need to remind them, since they are just pissed about the fates of their own teams.

Another person has seen the light and has decided to change affiliations.

Specter To Switch Parties

Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter will switch his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat and announced today that he will run in 2010 as a Democrat, according to a statement he released this morning.

Specter’s decision would give Democrats a 60 seat filibuster proof majority in the Senate assuming Democrat Al Franken is eventually sworn in as the next Senator from Minnesota. (Former Sen. Norm Coleman is appealing Franken’s victory in the state Supreme Court.)

“I have decided to run for re-election in 2010 in the Democratic primary,” said Specter in a statement. “I am ready, willing and anxious to take on all comers and have my candidacy for re-election determined in a general election.”

He added: “Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right. Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to become Democrats. I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans.”

Specter as a Democrat would also fundamentally alter the 2010 calculus in Pennsylvania as he was expected to face a difficult primary challenge next year from former Rep. Pat Toomey. The only announced Democrat in the race is former National Constitution Center head Joe Torsella although several other candidates are looking at the race.

This is a weapon that Obama has to use.  This is what Democrats were hoping for in the election, the 60 person majority that can block filibuster attempts that could prevent measures from getting past.  This is a powerful tool Presidents can use to drive their agenda.

This does not mean that Obama can rest.  It is always possible to lose members of your party on the more controversial issues that can drive the proverbial wedge between supporters.  But, with numbers like this, you can force  Republicans to the drawing table, where negotiations on issues can take place.

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