I will miss him because, whatever his faults, he fought the forces of party unity and ideological purity that are pulling the country apart. “Let me tell you,” he complained in 2005, before both parties disowned him, “it’s heresy — I mean rank heresy — to say you’re an elected United States senator and you want to exercise your independence and vote your conscience.”…

Specter will probably be remembered for that unprincipled quote. I’d prefer to remember him for something else. While everybody was worried about his apostasies on abortion and Anita Hill, he secured a 10-fold increase in spending on the National Institutes of Health over his Senate career — motivated in part by his own heart surgery, brain tumor and lymphoma. His biggest triumph was the $10 billion he won for NIH last year in exchange for his vote for the stimulus bill — the very vote that would lead to his banishment from the Republican Party.

In the end, Specter calculated that billions of dollars for medical research — research that he accurately noted has “saved or prolonged many lives, including my own” — was more important than satisfying party loyalty enforcers. Only in our very sick political system does that make somebody a heretic.