PROFILES IN COURAGE…. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) was, of course, one of only three Republican lawmakers in Congress to support the economic stimulus bill. To hear him tell it, however, some of Specter’s GOP colleagues wanted to vote for the package, but didn’t think they could get away with it politically.

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), who broke with his party to support President Obama’s stimulus package last week, said before the final vote Friday that more of his colleagues would have joined were they not afraid of the political consequences.

“When I came back to the cloak room after coming to the agreement a week ago today,” said Specter, “one of my colleagues said, ‘Arlen, I’m proud of you.’ My Republican colleague said, ‘Arlen, I’m proud of you.’ I said, ‘Are you going to vote with me?’ And he said, ‘No, I might have a primary.’ And I said, ‘Well, you know very well I’m going to have a primary.’” […]

“I think there are a lot of people in the Republican caucus who are glad to see this action taken without their fingerprints, without their participation,” he said.

Asked how many Republican lawmakers we’re talking about here, Specter said it’s a “sizable number.”

My first instinct was to blast GOP cowardice — in the midst of a crisis, they’re voting against a bill they know to be good — but upon further reflection, I’m actually kind of relieved by Specter’s admission.

If his assessment is right, there are more than a few Senate Republicans who’ve looked at the evidence, read the reports, listened to the experts, and seen the kind of impact the stimulus package can have, and they believe the bill is worthwhile. They just don’t want to deal with the partisan consequences of voting for it. These lawmakers aren’t crazy, and aren’t out of touch with reality, they’re just afraid of being punished for doing the right thing.

Craven political gamesmanship I can understand. It’s stupidity that bothers me.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.