Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Specter Switch

Today Pennsylvania's Sen. Arlen Specter switched from his longtime Republican affiliation to the Democratic party. Is he the 59th Democratic vote in the Senate, or will he be a Lieberman clone? And what about Al?

The New York Times:
In a stunning turnabout in political loyalties that he acknowledged was driven by a desire for re-election, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania on Tuesday announced he was leaving the Republican Party to become a Democrat, handing President Obama a potential 60th Senate vote and further marginalizing Republicans on Capitol Hill.

Mr. Specter said he had concluded from his own polling and travels through his state that he could not survive a Republican primary against a conservative candidate and would instead align with a Democratic Party he said was more compatible to his political views.

Mr. Specter’s surprise decision shook the Capitol, opening the door for Democrats — if they can resolve the lingering Minnesota Senate race in their favor, as they seem likely to do — to have the 60 votes necessary to defeat Republican filibusters. Republicans acknowledged that Mr. Specter’s switch was a major problem, and it exposed their continuing vulnerabilities as the party loses its remaining moderates and finds itself up against a popular president.
Another rat jumps ship! John Cornyn is forced to admit that the Republican party as presently constituted isn't a national party anymore, Joe Biden shows why he's a valuable member of the team for his influence on Specter's decision, and maybe we can finally get Al Franken seated. But what are we getting out of this? Specter has been a center-right Republican, will he now find Jesus & FDR and become center-left, voting for things like the Employee Free Choice Act (that he once cosponsored, then said he wouldn't support)? Will this pressure Maine's Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins to also defect to the Democrats?

Specter's one constant trait is that he will always look out for Arlen Specter first. Facing declining poll numbers for his 2010 primary fight, Specter chose to switch rather than fight. Rather than face a far-right challenger in the PA Republican primary, a state party that has shrunk dramatically thanks to FatAss Limbaugh's "Operation Chaos" and the tidal wave of blue the covered the Northeast electoral map last fall, Specter saw the writing on the wall. After obtaining a promise from PA Gov. Ed Rendell that he wouldn't face any opposition in the primary, Specter switched his party identity to (D).

So what does this do for the Democratic party? Specter was originally a Democrat, switched to the Repugs in the early '70s, and now "comes home" again in the time of Barack Obama. He's been one of the more socially liberal Republicans--although I can never forgive him for giving us Clarence Thomas--but he's a warhawk, supporting both Vietnam and Iraq, and has flipflopped on EFCA. He's not going to be in the forefront of the fight for health care, and don't expect him to fall in lockstep with the rest of the party to help us overcome the inevitable Republican filibusters.

What this does do for us, though, is several things. First, with the seating of Al Franken in the Senate, this gives us a supermajority of 60 votes--though not reliably. It loudly sounds the call for other moderate Republicans, the three or four left in the party, to join Specter with the Democrats. Specter's defection is, as Nate Silver has said, "a manifestation of the Republican Death Spiral," and:
The more conservative [...] their message becomes, the more they alienate non-base Republicans. But the more they alienate non-base Republicans, the fewer of them are left to worry about appeasing. Thus, their message becomes continually more appealing to the base -- but more conservative, partisan, and strident to the rest of us. And the process loops back upon itself.
And as people like Michael Steele, FatAss Limbaugh, John Boehner, and Michele Bachmann prove every time they speak, what's left of the Republican party is the hardcore wingnuts. And how will they attract moderates and independents with the kind of nonsense that gushes from their mouths? No wonder Olympia Snow freaked out when she heard the news about Specter today.

Specter's defection also gives the GOP a big black eye. Think about it: Specter would rather switch parties than be identified as a Republican in Pennsylvania? Well, PA went Democratic bigtime, and all that's left of the national GOP now are the old Dixiecrats and the Christian Taliban. The GOP base is shrinking down to just old, far-right white people, mostly poor but with a few plutocrats:
But outside Washington, the reality is very different. Rank-and-file Republicans remain, by all indications, staunchly conservative, and they appear to have no desire to moderate their views. GOP activists and operatives say they hear intense anger at the White House and at the party’s own leaders on familiar issues – taxes, homosexuality, and immigration. Within the party, conservative groups have grown stronger absent the emergence of any organized moderate faction.

There is little appetite for compromise on what many see as core issues, and the road to the presidential nomination lies – as always – through a series of states where the conservative base holds sway, and where the anger appears to be, if anything, particularly intense.
And if the intolerant far-right holds sway, then where in the Republican party is there room for anyone else with a differing view? They've become the party of dittoheads and teabaggers!

In other words, those that best respond to the current GOP message are becoming an increasingly smaller part of the American electorate, while the newest voters are essentially repulsed by that message. And despite the valiant efforts by the likes of Republicans like Mehgan McCain and Steve Schmidt, the base won't let the party moderate on gay marriage (even though gay marriage could easily be recast as a "conservative" position -- keeping government out of the business of regulating how people live), or any other issue the base considers part of conservative orthodoxy like immigration, taxes, or government spending. I mean, how ridiculous did Govs. Palin, Sanford, and Jindal look trying to reject federal stimulus money?

Yeah, I'd switch too, if I had to rub shoulders with that crowd.

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