The switch of Sen. Arlen Specter LAW ’56 from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party has left me with a bittersweet feeling: some genuine happiness, lots of schadenfreude, a fair amount of cynicism.
Or maybe graduation’s rapid approach is sparking a similar bittersweet tinge (minus the schadenfreude, of course), and I’m projecting my own emotions into, of all places, the United States Senate.
My political predilections tell me I should be thrilled by Specter’s decision to jump off the sinking Republican ship. With Specter’s switch and Al Franken’s eventual certification as the junior senator from Minnesota, the Democrats will gain a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. With 60 votes, the Democrats significantly improve their chances of passing a viable health care reform bill, taking substantive steps to address global warming and seating Barack Obama’s judicial nominees. Insofar as I support all three of these outcomes, I’m glad for Specter’s role in making them suddenly more attainable.
At the same time, I can’t help but be disgusted by Specter’s naked opportunism. A self-interested desire to remain in the national spotlight has been the guiding principle of Specter’s political career. I find it impossible to convince myself that Specter’s most recent shift is somehow different from the others in his past.
Specter left the Republican Party because he didn’t want to give up his seat in 2010, and he saw no chance of winning the upcoming Republican primary. He didn’t like the game he was playing, so he grabbed the ball and stomped off to find a new game — one where the other players would promise not to foul him so hard and let him play for as long as he wants.
Specter’s antics — right down to the “I didn’t start it, they did!” remarks about the Republican Party’s rightward shift — wouldn’t be out of place on a third-grade playground. Subsequent statements from Republicans reek of the sort of childish powerlessness that causes a toddler to scream louder and louder because mommy won’t let him have what he wants. And the Democratic response, consisting of fawning remarks from Joe Biden and implicit promises of invitations to Chuck Schumer’s super-cool fundraising parties, takes me right back to middle school.
As I leave Yale, I’d rather not be confronted with evidence that our government is run by adults who act like spoiled children. I’d much rather go on persuading myself that the academic experience here — rife with big ideas, characterized by an intellectual bent, and genuinely fascinating on a near-daily basis — persists after graduation. I’d like to think that the real world is kind of like Yale, except that I’ll be eating my own cooking instead of dining hall food (for better or for worse).
I recognize, of course, that such a view of the real world is overly idealistic. But I’ll always treasure Yale precisely because it enables that sort of idealism. In college, like nowhere else, we can be spectacularly wrong without much in the way of meaningful consequences. Here we can write and think and talk about what the world ought to be without getting smacked too hard by the reality of what it is.
On May 25, the class of 2009 will lose the luxury of virtually unfettered idealism — and a hundred other luxuries — that we’ve been afforded here. I know I’ll miss the opportunity (given to me by Yale in general, and by the News in particular) to look at and think about the real world from a vantage point safely on the outside.
My emotional reaction to Arlen Specter’s party switch offered me a lesson in the stark difference between outcomes and process. Graduation — the transition from the process-driven world of academics to the outcome-consumed real world — provides a similar lesson. And in both cases, I find myself wanting to linger on the process and forego my focus on the outcome. A Yale diploma opens countless doors in the real world. But I fully expect that next year I’ll be nostalgic for the leisurely process of academia, and I’ll wish that I didn’t care so much about results.
Xan White is a senior in Pierson College.