Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Thoughts on Arlen Specter

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) is now Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA). He is the 59th Democratic Senator. Once Minnesota seats Al Franken, there will be sixty Democratic Senators. Specter will still be finicky on certain issues there is no doubt, but this is nevertheless a huge procedural move that will have a remarkable impact on politics for the next 2-6 years.

Specter was one of just three remaining Republican moderates. A friend asked me if I expect the other two, Maine's Susan Collins and Olympia Snow, to follow suite. Honestly, I would have expected it from one of them before Specter, but I do predict that this is the last Senate party switch we'll see this cycle. While the national GOP has left its moderates behind and the Democratic party has grown to include them (see last year's voter switches and new registrations), the story is very different at the state level. In Pennsylvania, 200,000 moderate voters bolted the GOP for the Democrats and left the state party even more conservative than it already was - which, given the intra-party prominence of Rick Santorum and Pat Toomey, was pretty darn right-wing. Specter was going to face a second primary challenge from Toomey next year, so this is a move of survival. The Maine GOP, on the other hand, certainly has its conservative elements, but is on the whole a calmer body with high regard for both Collins and Snowe, neither of whom are up for re-election next year.

So am I happy about this move? Well, yes, which kind of surprises me. I may be a Democrat, but I'm no partisan and I'm certainly no left-wing ideologue. Though I may be quite liberal on social justice and environmentalism, I'm also a pro-life budget hawk. I voted Republican for three local offices last year and would support various Congressional Republicans if I lived in their district/state. I like balanced government, and don't think one party should ever control the whole apparatus.

But things are very different right now. Partisanship rules Washington. At the present time, balanced control wouldn't mean negotiation and accountability; it would mean gridlock. When I say I'm a fan of balanced government, I assume that both the parties in question are rational, respectable entities. That's just not the case right now, given the state of the current Republican Party. Go ahead, smash them. Hopefully the phoenix that arises from the ashes would be something with moderates like David Brooks and the moderate Maine duo on its left and respectful conservatives like Chuck Hagel, Lindsay Graham, and Mike Huckabee on its right, with the authoritarian fundamentalist right-wing stuck in a third-party lurch. This is unlikely, but there's no way I'm going to settle for giving Eric Cantor and Sarah Palin a dominant voice. Until the GOP gets its act together, bring on the Arlen Specters.

(Also, this is the 600th post at Wayward Episcopalian. Yay.)


Leonardo Ricardo said...

Congratulations Nathan and Arlen!

You´re both very wise men (however, watch out for those neo-Nazi´s moving back to Northern Idaho)!


Nathan Empsall said...

Thanks, Leo. Although I'm not worried about any Neo Nazis moving back to North Idaho - the organized groups are gone, bankrupt, and infighting; this is just one or two crazies with their leaflets. And now the community is more willing to scream NO than it was before.

Cany said...

Thoughtful post, Nathan!

And this coming from a very hard lefty who has NEVER voted for a republican. My only attachment to the party was that my mom double dated with Ronald Reagan... and that is as close as I will EVER get. I don't buy ANY of the GOP platform.

On Specter, I'm not surprised, but it seems to be it is also self-serving. He knows darned well that he stands little chance of being elected next time as a Republican. And that is, actually, not only correct but selfish.

Nonetheless, as you pointed out, he will still vote sometimes dems, sometimes republicans, and will remain anti-union which I abhor.

It's the GOP's own fault. With the exception of Collins, Snowe and Specter, I really cannot think of any republicans that are even anywhere NEAR moderate.

There are plenty of social libs who are fiscally conservative that have been absolutely frightened away by a party that has become more theological in policy than secular. That's the mistake they keep on making and given the current alighment, will keep making.

As society becomes less inclined to church and more inclined AWAY from Christian theology (represented, mostly in the news, by those from the IRD and Focus on the Family types), they are not only marginalizing the party, they are marginalizing any and all possible ideas with it. Not that they HAVE any ideas right now. Clearly, they don't.

The only thing keeping the GOP afloat right now is Fox News and talk radio. And, I predict, that won't work for much longer.

Congrats on your 600th, BTW!

Nathan Empsall said...

I don't agree with much of the GOP platform myself, and I am a registered Dem. It's more about the individual politicians than the party. You're right, only three - and now two - in the Senate right now would count as moderate, but for me, style (results- rather than ideologically-based; willing to reach across the aisle; respects disagreements; etc.) is almost as important as substance, and there are others I can vote for for lower offices or under certain circumstances because of who they are, if not what they believe.

Double-dated with Reagan? Now that's a story I'd like to hear! Thanks as always for your compelling thoughts, and for the congrats.

Cany said...

I'll post the photo of her and Ronnie if I can pry it out of her:) It's one of those very kewl restaurant photos taken in the restaurant booth. Sort of a time of eating elegance thing, I guess.

I don't know what restaurant, but I will ask. Might have been Ben Brown's.

Jordan said...

Well congratulations, Nathan, you have your working 60. :P

I meant to post that on Facebook when I found out. Also, I'm afraid to say that I agree with everything you said. I view myself as a staunch Libertarian on most federal issues and you know my views on political parties but this Specter thing bothered me a little at first. Why should one change parties just to be reelected? My mind immediately goes to congressional term limits, but I'll drop that ball.

You put it best, he's doing it to survive. And even though I find this tactic to be utterly repugnant (after all it took getting Biden to VP to get that guy out of the senate!) I agree with your synopsis of the situation.