Change of political address
Sen. Arlen Specter. Democrat from Pennsylvania. Typing that will take some getting used to. As pretty much everyone knows by now, Specter has shucked off his Republican mantle and joined up with the Democrats. When the news broke, Democrats in D.C. spent a lot of their time smiling like Cheshire cats, while Republicans cast Specter as the second coming of Benedict Arnold. Did Specter finally have enough of the Republicans' "big tent" turning into a pup tent? Or did he do the politically expedient thing in the face of a likely loss in next year's U.S. Senate primary? The answer is: both. And Specter admits as much. "I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans," said the senator, while also noting "I am unwilling to have my twenty-nine-year Senate record judged by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate." In 2004, Specter barely survived a primary challenge from Rick Santorum clone Pat Toomey, and if he had stayed in the Republican Party, a loss to Toomey next spring would have been highly likely. And then, a Toomey loss to a Democrat in the fall would have been a good bet. Now, the most likely outcome is a Specter victory over Toomey in next year's November election. Specter is a good politician, and he could read the writing on the wall. Republican leaders and donors, considering him too liberal (you know, a moderate who was willing to think for himself), were likely to abandon him for Toomey in the primary. "They (GOP conservatives) don't make any bones about their willingness to lose the general election if they can purify the party. I don't understand it, but that's what they said," Specter said Tuesday. It's the same type of thinking that essentially prevented John McCain from naming moderate Republican Tom Ridge as his running mate. Instead, he took the Moral Majority poster girl from Wasilla, and she turned out to be the village idiot. Specter's party switch left the Democrats in the Senate within reach of the 60 votes needed to stop a filibuster or remove holds placed by lawmakers on legislation or appointments. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky voiced the horror - horror, I tell you - of such a development. Said McConnell, "The threat to the country presented ... by this defection really relates to the issue of whether or not in the United States of America our people want the majority party to have whatever it wants without restraint, without a check or balance." Threat to the country? Really? I'm guessing that back in the late ’90s, when the Republicans had hopes of attaining those 60 votes, that McConnell would have been just fine with that. I don't think we would have heard a single peep from that political hack about a "threat to the country." And maybe McConnell got dropped on his head a lot when he was little, but one would think he is aware that, aside from Specter, the people - the United States of America voters - sent those Democrats to the Senate. It's called democracy, senator. If you don't like it, maybe you'd better take a good look at your own party and see where you are failing so badly that the opposing party could beat you like a 98-pound weakling and claim a supermajority. Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, one of the last of the dying breed of Republican moderates, took a look at the country's political shift and, unlike most of her colleagues, recognizes the party's central problem, and the solution. Snowe, writing Wednesday in the New York Times, bemoaned the party's loss of Specter and said, "In my view, the political environment that has made it inhospitable for a moderate Republican in Pennsylvania is a microcosm of a deeper, more pervasive problem that places our party in jeopardy nationwide. I have said that, without question, we cannot prevail as a party without conservatives. But it is equally certain we cannot prevail in the future without moderates. There is no plausible scenario under which Republicans can grow into a majority while shrinking our ideological confines and continuing to retract into a regional party. Ideological purity is not the ticket back to the promised land of government majorities - indeed, it was when we began to emphasize social issues to the detriment of some of our basic tenets as a party that we encountered an electoral backlash." In other words, the party suffered when it sold its soul to the right-wing religious crowd, and if the Republican Party wants to continue on that track, it will be increasingly marginalized as a force in American politics. Maybe the Democratic Party can continue to capitalize, but the leaders of that party have proven to be the idiotic equals of the GOP leadership. Maybe it's the Libertarians who will bear the fruit from the Republicans' planting of a spreading orchard of intolerance that would make a born-again Johnny Appleseed proud. If Republicans insist on "purifying the party," they do so at the risk of their own extinction. Snowe offers a simple road map to salvage the party's future, and it comes in the form of remarks from GOP icon Ronald Reagan. Said the Gipper: "We should emphasize the things that unite us and make these the only 'litmus test' of what constitutes a Republican: our belief in restraining government spending, pro-growth tax policies, tax reduction, sound national defense and maximum individual liberty. As to the other issues that draw on the deep springs of morality and emotion, let us decide that we can disagree among ourselves as Republicans and tolerate the disagreement." Better get busy with that tolerance thing. It hasn't been the party's strong suit of late.