In a conference call with political bloggers, Senator Arlen Specter (Still-Fresh D-PA) reported that in a recent gathering of the Senate Democratic caucus, he suggested his colleagues pledge to stick with the party on a cloture vote when the merged health care reform bill came to the floor. Much to Specter’s surprise, according to him, his idea was not embraced by his fellow Dems. And, perhaps even more surprising, Majority Leader Harry Reid approached Specter after the meeting (again, according to Specter), and thanked him for stressing a point that Reid, himself, admitted he was “reluctant to make.”

Specter’s revealing tidbit was part of a rather interesting conference call I participated in yesterday. We covered a lot of ground, mostly healthcare, but also some pretty wonky questions on Afghanistan. The cloture story was in the form of a rather a casual remark toward the end of the call, and came almost as an afterthought.

Specter recounted that during a recent Caucus meeting, he spoke up and suggested “all 60 go on the record committing to vote for cloture.” This, um, very appropriate idea went nowhere.

After the meeting, Specter continued, Reid went up to him and said, thanks for saying that, I was reluctant to make that point myself.”

Huh? Isn’t Reid the Majority Leader? Isn’t it his job to make these points?

Progressives had been told by Reid that he couldn’t do anything without 60 votes. Now that he has his 60th, he is afraid to use it. It now appears that not only is it that Reid has failed in his arm-twisting to get the party to vote together on cloture, it’s that he’s afraid to even politely ask them to behave like a party and stick together.

It’s a sad day when newly minted Democrat Arlen Specter has to be the guy telling Democratic senators they should act like Democrats. It is the responsibility of leadership to lead; it should not fall to a “rookie” member.

When even Arlen Specter is actively questioning why the Democrats got him to be their 60th senator if they were not going to use their 60 votes, then you know there is something wrong.

If you care, on to my impressions of the sixtieth Democrat.

Don’t everyone jump down my throat at once. I was prepared to thoroughly dislike the guy, but came away more impressed than I expected.  And yes, I know his poll numbers are horrendous, and he’ll say anything to bolster his Democratic bona fides. And it was more than a little strange to be speaking to the man who was once the enemy. That said, if he steps up and takes a lead in the health care debate, I’m willing to hear what he has to say. We urged him to do just this. He  carefully listened to what we had to say, asked some questions, and told us to stay tuned.

I don’t live in Pennsylvania, I can’t vote in Pennsylvania, and I’ve never met his challenger. But as I see it, Specter is way, way better in private than he is on the tube. He struck me as decent, kind, engaged and even acknowledged things he wasn’t familiar with, including the concept of job lock vis-a-vis health insurance.

So, Arlen, we’re watching, we’re waiting, we’re going to stay tuned.  Show us your stuff.