Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Specter's Party Moves



Senator Arlen Specter's decision yesterday to defect from the GOP to the Democratis is causing ripples across the American political spectrum. While Republican leaders tried to brush it off as a tempest in a teapot, they were mostly unsuccessful as Specter's party switch dominated the political news and will likely continue to do so for days to come. But in the end, what's the significance?



For Specter, it may mean survival. His relectuance to support the past Bush adminsitration carte blanche or provide obstinate opposition of Obama's initiatives (Specter voted for the recent stimulus) has made him a target of the more extreme right-wing of the party. And recent polls have shown him being trounced in a head-to-head match up against challenger Pat Toomey, former president of the ultra-conservative Club for Growth. Facing possible defeat, it had been rumored Specter might run as an independent. He seemed however to have decided that a larger camp was the place to be. And as a Democratic challenger easily defeating Toomey has long been expected, Specter decided to become that challenger--keeping both his more moderate GOP constituents disillusioned with their party, and gaining Democratic support.

For the GOP, it is another in a long series of recent train wrecks. Specter, considered by most to be one of the few remaining Republican "moderates," was a voice to temper the more reactionary elements in the party. With his defection, the GOP edges closer to a balkanization of right-wing fringe ideology that is drifting further away from anything resembling mainstream popular American thought. For a party considered by most to be in disarray, this is a crushing embarrassment. More than likely however, there is apt to be more outrage from the GOP and their supporters, than any attempt to engage in a teachable moment.

For the Democrats, it is an inch closer to the magical "60-seat majority" in the Senate, once the inevitably of the Al Franken's torturously slow win in Minnesota is confirmed.

For President Obama it is another notch on the belt and a new shiny pin to place on the 100 Days hat.

And for the rest of us, it's a wonderful bit of schadenfreude.

But Specter's switch comes with it's own set of issues. Arlen Specter, while a moderate voice of sorts in the GOP, is not joinging the progressive wing of the Democratic party. His votes in the Senate during his long career show at most a mixed-bag. He's supported Stem Cell Research and Healthcare reform, but also helped authorize the Iraq War and blocked investigations into defense contracts. More recently, he's withdrawn his support on the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) and has stated that this party switch does not mean he's revisiting that choice. This may cost him vital union support in Pennsylvania, and set up the possibility for a strong Democratic party challenger. Where Democratic officials, both local and in Washington DC, will weigh in is anybody's guess--but it's certain to cause some party fractures.

For more opinions on the Senator's big switch, see below:

What Kind of Democrat Will Specter Be?- NY Times

Specter's Switch- Chris Hayes, The Nation

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