Arlen Specter slips away , defeated yesterday in his attempt to gain the Democratic nomination for what would have been a sixth term in the Senate.

We could speak here of his failures and his oddities, his political life from the Warren Commission, to the Bork and Thomas confirmation hearings, and down to his switch, at the end, from Republican to Democrat. His support for abortion was a key, once or twice, to losses by the pro-life movement, and no one in the conservative world will remember him fondly. He was a hack’s hack, and he lived mostly off his luck.

But maybe it’s also worth thinking for a moment about such luck. Aristotle counts luck as a virtue, and H.L. Mencken’s classic little essay on Calvin Coolidge is a reflection on its manifestation in American political life.

How lucky was Specter? He spent thirty years in the Senate—the longest tenure in the history of a state that’s been around since the Founding. And he was not once the most significant, or popular, or electable figure in the state. From Tom Gola’s time to Bob Casey Jr.’s time, Specter was always a second fiddle.

A second fiddle, though, who always got played. Like a horse on the nod, he always seemed to slip by at the last minute, while the others got the bad bounce and the sun in their eyes and the unfortunate break.

Until yesterday, when Specter’s luck finally ran out.

Articles by Joseph Bottum

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