Wednesday, April 29, 2009

All about Specter

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The Reaction team really came through yesterday with some outstanding commentary on the big news of the day, Arlen Specter's aisle-hopping from the Republicans to the Democrats. Here are some quick links to those posts:

-- Capt. Fogg: "Arlen Specter, D-Pennsylvania"
-- Creature: "Specter's switch"
-- Mustang Bobby: "The spectre of Arlen Specter"
-- Carl: "What deal was cut?"
-- Carol Gee: "Big news about Congress"
-- Creature: "Quote of the Day" (Snowe on the GOP)

Here are some quick points:

-- It's pretty clear Specter's move had almost everything to do with politics, and with his own self-preservation, and, as Jon Stewart rightly noted last night, next to nothing to do with principle. Yes, he mentioned the "Reagan Big Tent" in his statement, as well as spending his 29-year Senate career representing not the Republican Party but "the people of Pennsylvania," but what is obviously of the utmost concern to him is his re-election, and he is currently running well behind challenger Pat Toomey in the polls.

-- Specter isn't so much a Democrat as a non-Republican (given the current right-wing bent of the GOP). As he explained: "My change in party affiliation does not mean that I will be a party-line voter any more for the Democrats that I have been for the Republicans." No, but he has been a Republican for a long, long time, and he obviously found enough to like in and about the GOP to remain a Republican for that long. He is admittedly more independent than most Republicans, but his claim to bipartisanship here -- actually, his claim to transcendence of partisanship altogether -- rings hollow. (As Glenn Greenwald rightly notes, Specter is hardly the liberal-moderate he is made out to be in the media: "The idea that Specter is a 'liberal' Republican or even a 'moderate' reflects how far to the Right both the GOP and our overall political spectrum has shifted.")

-- "I will continue my independent voting and follow my conscience on what I think is best for Pennsylvania and America." That a nice way of saying that he's out for himself.

-- With Al Franken, the Democrats will have 60 votes on strict party-line votes -- yes, the filibuster-proof 60 -- but we mustn't forget that the 60 includes quasi-Democrat Joe Lieberman and the Blue Dog likes of Evan Bayh, not to mention conservatives like Ben Nelson. Democrats do not do party loyalty all that well, or certainly not as well as Republicans, and so it will be difficult to secure a filibuster-proof majority. With respect to Specter, what is clear is that Democrats won't be able to count on his vote. He will be a "Democrat," but not a Democrat, that is, a Democrat in name only.

-- Given that Specter will be a Democrat in name only, should we welcome his conversion? Insofar as it makes the GOP look bad, yes, absolutely. But there are real Democrats who could have run for the Senate, and won, next year. Would it not be better to have a Democrat like Joe Sestak or Patrick Murphy in the Senate instead of a Democrat of convenience like Specter? Unless Specter votes with his new party on key issues like health care, I'm not sure how this actually helps the Democrats beyond the obvious PR boost. (Greenwald again: "Democrats will understandably celebrate today’s announcement, but beyond the questions of raw political power, it is mystifying why they would want to build their majority by embracing politicians who reject most of their ostensible views.")

-- Well, unless other Republicans follow Specter across the aisle. Collins and Snowe, Maine's two "Republican" senators? Maybe. If Specter is the first domino to fall, then it's a positive move regardless of how he votes.

-- Snowe called Specter's move "devastating." More: "I've always been deeply concerned about the views of the Republican Party nationally in terms of their exclusionary policies and views towards moderate Republicans."

-- The Republican Party is becoming ever more of an isolated, extreme, irrelevant party. And yet don't seem to care. Indeed, high-profile Republicans like Krazy Bill Kristol and Dear Leader Rush are welcoming Specter's defection. Limbaugh: "It's ultimately good. You're weeding out people who aren't really Republicans." Yes, and you're also purifying the party into oblivion.

That's it for now. Whatever my reservations, I'm still happy with the move. While Specter isn't a Democrat, and while Democrats shouldn't count on his vote, his defection hurts the Republicans and is a significant PR boon for the Democrats. The Democrats will still have to work hard to pass legislation in the Senate, and they not be able to reach 60 even with Specter in the fold, but with the Republicans further marginalizing themselves into a rightist party of rigid and narrow ideology, with a popular president in the White House, and with a huge majority in the House, there is every possibility that they will be able to overcome both internal and external challenges and enact meaningful reform.

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