Tuesday, April 28, 2009

On Arlen Specter

Everybody is talking about the defection of Arlen Specter today giving the Democrats 60 Senate seats, with the assumed, yet unfulfilled, seating of Franken and with the caucusing Independents. I wanted to add my two cents, but my take is relatively conventional.

Specter, along with Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, voted to support the Economic Stimulus Package, a vote that marginalized him within his party. With growing rebuke and declining personal poll numbers within his base, Specter, a long time supporter of labor, tried to shore up his right flank, to fend off a possible primary opponent, by coming out against Employee Free Choice, effectively angering Pennslyvania's Big Labor organizations. It didn't matter. Club for Growth President, Patrick Toomey, who lost to Specter in a Senatorial primary by less than 1% six years ago, threw his name in the hat. Multiple polls, both internal and public, showed Specter losing to Toomey by over 20+ points. Specter saw the writing on the wall, and he realized that he could not be re-elected as a Senator as a Republican. At this time, Democratic courting ensued with special attention from Vice President Biden. Because of blue-ness of Pennslyvania, the difficulty of running as an Independent, and the inability to run as an Independent if he lost a primary, Specter realized, pragmatically speaking, that his only chance to maintain his power was to become a Democrat. And, it doesn't hurt that, since Specter's defection, all Democratic potential challengers have now dropped out, and Pres. Obama has provided a full-throated endorsement for Specter, including promises of future fundraising.

As a Democrat, I am excited to reach the threshold of 60 Senate seats required to stop filibusters. But we should all remember that his defection from the Republican party does not mean newfound philosophical allegiance to Democratic ideals. As Specter stated, he will not be an assumed vote for cloture. Specter will still be Specter. While some Democratic activists are not overly thrilled by this move, I think there is a lot to be optimistic about. Specter is now automatically the least progressive Democrat in our caucus, but now that he caucuses - attending actual policy and strategic planning meetings - with Democrats, I would expect a slide leftward. Sure, he is not as progressive as I would like, but I'll take it - every day of the week.

Breaking the 60 seat threshold, however, should not come without any unease for Democrats. Now Democrats have complete ownership of Obama's agenda. We have lost the ability to blame Republicans for legislative obstruction. The Republican party is almost irrelevant, and we bear that burden of success, possibly a drowning millstone. Democrats are more powerful than the Republican party was during the Bush Administration, and that power did not work out so well for Republicans. Democrats must be careful and learn from recent history.

Finally, the death spiral of the Republican party is almost complete. Outside of Maine, and including the retirement of Sen. Judd, New England is almost exclusively Democratic territory. Democrats have won almost all of the swing states/districts countrywide, and Democrats have made major gains in ruby red states/districts. As such, moderate Republicans are going the way of the do-do bird. The Republican party is becoming a Southern, white, conservative party, which, ideologically speaking, is out of touch with the mainstream of current American sentiment. The nucleus of the remaining party espouses a growing intolerance for moderation, and as Specter stated, the big-tent Democratic party is now the party of moderates, of middle America.

What does the Specter spectacle mean to you?


Drew said...

Prediction: Specter came out against the Employee Free Choice Act and said that he would not vote for cloture. With the fact that Democrats in Pennslyvania need Big Labor, and the tough road ahead on EFCA as is, I expect that Specter would be more amenable to an EFCA compromise. Whether he helps broker the compromise or not, don't be suprised to see Specter vote for cloture on a compromised bill despite voting against the bill.

matt said...

prediction: the republicans are not dead, but time will tell i guess.

it's a scary thing, owning all branches of gov't. especially given the dems failure in nearly all matters of *major* public policy in ours and our parents lifetime. as an aside, most people associate the civil rights act of 1974 as a democratic victory, though more republicans voted for it than democrats. a quick google search is all you need.

to be clear, i count as major policy - the economy, social security, health care, abortion, foreign policy, and education. all are currently colored bright blue (yes, even foriegn policy - republicans used to be staunch isolationists), and all are miserable failures.

so, be careful what you wish for. i truly hope it works out for America, but with leaders as brain dead as pelosi and reid, and a rookie CEO (not debatable), i feel we're in for a real bumpy ride.

Drew said...

Matt, conservatives "own" the judicial branch, 5-4. Democrats "own" only the Legislature and the Executive.

Katie said...

Drew, another excellent post.

I think your analysis is right on the mark. It certainly does appear that Republicans are going the way of the dinosaur, as the party platform slowly creaks further right and moderates who remain are either ostracized or otherwise too turned off by the right wing's increasing levels of ridiculous venom (a la Michele Bachmann).

I really find it hard to believe that someone as established as Specter would even consider switching sides under any other circumstances. Rats, sinking ship, etc.

Also, "Specter spectacle"? You clever minx. :-)

Drew said...

matt, I also don't think that Republicans are dead. The party, as constituted now, is in serious trouble, and spiraling downward. And, I would like a strong and creative Republican minority, per our discussion on another post.

matt said...

the judicial branch of gov't is not just the supreme court, but i know you knew that.

katie - he was originally a democrat and has historially voted very close to down the middle. as drew correctly pointed out, he did it so he could potentially keep his job...just another in a long line of power hungry politicians. can anyone say term limits please?

as if it "appears" that the republicans are going the way of the dinosaur, that only because you're not looking hard enough. you guys can marginalize conservatives all you want as noninclusive extremists, but really, we're just principled. those principles haven't changed, society as a whole has.

i find it hilarious that most people, ESP those who live in large urban centers, do not recognize the power of group think. my favorite quote is "i don't know anyone who thinks that..." a quick glance outside of major metropolitan areas will reveal that the rest of the country is considerably more right of center.

please consider the lessons history has taught us before conservative principles are legislated and litigated away - "The budget should be balanced, the treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest Rome become bankrupt. People must again learn to work, instead of living on public assistance." - Marcus Tullius Cicero, 106 BC - 43 BC

Darren Staley said...

I'm not sure this is as big a coup as some Democrats are claiming. The flibuster-proof majority only works when all 60 votes come through.

While I do not mean to sound callous here, Specter is nearing 80with a history of some pretty nasty cancer. Should he be re-elected in 2010, I think it is safe to say that will be his last term.

For Democrats, this means that we throw our support behind a Republican defector who, if elected, has nothing to lose.

I suggest we primary his a** out and be done with it. Any reasonable Democrat will beat Toomey in the current environment, and will give us better votes in the short and long term.

A Faithful Reader said...

Spot on Drew. You nailed the analysis.

Matt F. said...

Matt, the polls are undeniable. Conservatism has become an insular, hidebound movement that values the party above all else. The idea that conservatives are rooted in principle is laughable given the very unconservative (and incompetent) policies of our last president. If you are going to bitch about spending and balancing the budget, you could have been throwing tea parties for the last eight years. And now that the party is in disarray, an attempt to purify the party by purging non-believers who don't fully embrace every principle you believe in with sufficient zeal is political suicide. A small tent strategy isn't probably a good thing. I think a possible issue is the fact that the Republican party has for all intents and purposes become the religious right and the libertarians. These people think of things in black/white terms, unwilling to believe that any of their beliefs could be wrong or could be improved upon. Libertarians aren't right about everything, and neither are progressives. Here's hoping that a viable and reasonable Republican party can rise from the ashes, ready to use facts and reason rather than ideology to argue for a conservative viewpoint.

matt said...

first of all, who is being polled? the average american who knows virtually nothing about public policy and civics?

W was not a conservative president, and i never said he was. about the only thing he did right was lower taxes, prevent another terrorist attack, and pass the partial birth abortion ban (which, drew, the liberal courts promptly declared unconstitutional). and i have been complaining for 8 years about the budget, NCLB, medicare, social security, etc., just as many conservatives have. in fact, most of my conservative friends can't stand W. that's called being principled. you set up your argument that we are unprincipled by first presuming that we (or me, specifically) supported W on all accounts. how the heck could his popularity rating be so low if the conservatives / republican voters in this country, which make up about 50%, all liked him?

what's wrong with trying to get back to the party's roots? who cares about a tent? i'd rather lose on principle than win with a compromised platform.

for the record, never at any point in the revolutionary war did the majority of the colonists support separation from England. sometimes it's ok to be in the minority.

Kent H said...

I'm glad you're on here, bud. I think the left wants the GOP to go more left (big tent) to either make little distinction with themselves or so they can say the GOP is without principled leaders.
You and I may be some of the few true conservatives left. You are dead on with your evaluation of W and I wanted so badly to support him (and I did where he showed a solidly conservative leadership). JC Watts is out there somewhere. Where are the other Reaganites with ideas for suring up a 21st century America - before it becomes unrecognizable?