April 28, 2009
Just as news that the swine flu virus is rapidly spreading across the world, raising fears of an apocalyptic plague, Sen. Arlen Specter announced that he is joining the Democratic Party bandwagon, which is currently on a "highway to (egalitarian) hell." Now, why on earth would Specter do such a thing right when the fate of our fair republic hangs in the balance? Does he agree with ditching our nation's heritage of freedom? Specter explained his defection by saying that the Party of Lincoln has been taken over by the right wing. See the Washington Post. I can understand his frustration, having first-hand experience in grappling with the ideologically-rigid "conservative base," but he should be aware that the forces of reason are reasserting themselves within the party. I think his timing is way off. If Al Franken is declared the winner of the disputed Minnesota Senate election, then the Democrats will have a 60-vote supermajority.
Even though this was called a political "earthquake" by pundits this afternoon, it's not really a big surprise. As I commented on Shaun Kenney's Facebook note,
Indeed, the only reason it's big news is that it puts the Dems on the threshold of a filibuster-proof supermajority. Specter was a shaky political ally, it's true, but he was occasionally useful. Even though most of his policy views were off base, I take no pleasure in his departure. It reinforces the decline of the GOP in the northeast, its traditional (pre-1932) heartland.
Specter made it clear that he won't vote with the Democrats on every issue, so President Obama's dream of a filibuster-proof Senate majority is still just out of his grasp. Specter probably would have lost in the Republican primary race in Pennsylvania next year in any case, so this was an understandable switch out of political expediency for a man who has devoted his life to public service and feels he deserves better treatment. But in "cashing in" on his good name (in many if not most circles, anyway), Specter now puts his legacy as a public-spirited statesman in grave danger. If his desire to be reelected to the U.S. Senate next year means that the United States is transformed into a quasi-socialist economic system, then he will not be remembered well by future generations.
RNC Chairman Michael Steele is furious at Specter, saying he "flipped the bird" at the Republicans, and was acting out of "political survival." See CNN.com. Steele has every right to be upset by this move, which will undercut his efforts to rebuild a broader-based GOP.
Let's review the sequence of events that led Specter to switch parties. In May 2005 he was one of the "Gang of 14" moderate senators whose compromise averted the "nuclear option" over judicial nominations. I was rather skeptical at the time, but time proved that that was the wise and prudent course to take. During the nomination hearings on Samuel Alito in January 2006, Specter chastised Sen. Ted Kennedy for his bullying tactics, showing that his bipartisan approach did not mean meek submission.
In June 2006 Specter expressed belated willingness to compromise on the immigration issue, agreeing to more border guards and greater law enforcement. It was a reassuring sign that he was often amenable to rational persuasion.
In February 2007, Specter was one of seven Republican senators who voted with the Democrats on a procedural vote, in opposition to President Bush's troop surge policy. At the time, I shared his skepticism of the surge, which has turned out better than most of us thought -- so far.
Specter's defection raises the question of party loyalty, and who is entitled to define what that means. Ironically, Specter's then-colleague in the Senate, Rick Santorum, lost his reelection bid because his erstwhile social conservative supporters punished him for backing Specter. As I observed in June 2007 (just before the primary election victory of State Senator Emmett Hanger),
Santorum's defeat last year proved (among other things) that the Pennsylvania conservatives who didn't bother to vote for him were too spiteful and short-sighted to see the consequences of giving away the election -- and thus, the U.S. Senate -- to the Democrats.
I dearly hope that more of those hard-core "true believers" wise up before no one else is left in the Republican Party but them. And finally, this past February, Specter voted for President Obama's stimulus bill, and that was the final straw for most Republicans.
Heroes, or jackasses? You be the judge! A new leftist Web site, filibusted.us, is focusing public attention on Republican senators who are most prone to filibustering as a means to blocking the Democrats' more egregious spending bills. I don't believe in obstructionism out of pure spite, when nothing better is offered as an alternative, but it seems to me that the senators listed on that page are by and large motivated by a sincere belief that the President's agenda is leading us toward economic perdition.
I recently heard rumors about a "purge" in the Augusta County Republican Committee, but as usual some people are making too big a deal out of it, trying to create another "dust storm." A large number of people lost their membership after failing to attend committee meetings three consecutive times. Since the ACRC only meets every three months, that means they haven't been to a regular meeting for over nine months. I read in a forwarded e-mail newsletter that "SWAC Girl" is outraged -- outraged! -- that the committee chairman Bill Shirley is enforcing the rules, just as he should. Unfortunately, some of the people who are engaged in that struggle are not helping the full truth about what has been going on come to light. For a truly "fair and balanced" take on all that, read Steve Kijak.