Former Senator Arlen Specter died yesterday after a long career in the US Senate and before that as a prosecutor in Pennsylvania, at times as a Democrat, and others as a Republican, and then again as a Democrat. I don't have a lot to say about him except that I always found him unscrupulous, untrustworthy, and just plain "creepy." I know that "creepy" is not a well-thought-out position, and is the sort of thing that really, really smart leftists from "elite" universities usually say about conservatives, but that's the way it is.
I met him once in Panama some years ago. He and his wife flew in on a week-end on board a military transport, a C-17, if I remember correctly. The plane was a support flight bringing some supplies to Panama and flying on to Colombia and Peru. It would pick up the Specters a couple of days later on the return flight. The USAF had installed a VIP "Executive Package" for the Senator and his wife. Specter was allegedly coming to town for a briefing on drug money laundering. At the time, among other things, I headed the State counter-drug program in Panama so got tapped to give the briefing, along with some folks from DEA and other agencies.
We met the Specters at the airport, and took them to a very swanky five-star hotel in downtown Panama City. He asked that we come back in an hour to brief him. We cooled our heels in the hotel bar, and then headed back up to the Specter suite.
Chaos! The Senator was in an uproar! He was yelling at some poor junior military officer. The Senator was demanding that the military liaison officer call the plane and make it come back. The officer was saying that would be very difficult as the plane was on a schedule. Specter would have none of that: He wanted that plane to return to Panama right away.
Specter than turned his fire on us. He insisted that the Embassy make the plane return. One of us asked, "Why?"
"My racquetball racquet and my wife's gold clubs got left on the plane!" He blurted out furiously. He blamed the military liaison officer for the error.
I called the Defense Attache's Office, and they confirmed that the plane was long gone, was on a schedule, and, besides, having it fly back to deliver golf clubs would cost a fortune. We had to tell a very angry Senator that the plane would not come back, and we would try to find some ladies clubs for his wife and a racquet for him to use. Which is what we did.
We went through the briefing with a clearly grumpy and distracted Senator. He seemed to have little interest in what we were saying; it became clear he was in town to play golf and racquetball.
By the way, it turned out that the bags had been left on the plane because Specter's wife had moved them during the flight. When the liaison officer went to get the bags off the flight, he took the Senator's golf bag but not his wife's as that was not where it had been when the plane had left the US.
The whole episode left me with a very negative view of Arlen Specter. You can tell a lot about a person by how he treats subordinates in a time of "crisis." You can also tell a lot about a public servant by how he treats taxpayer provided resources.
Anyhow, Arlen Specter, R.I.P.