Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Specter's Switch Signals The Gradual Extinction Of Republican Moderates

Senator Arlen Specter's switch to the Democratic party is first a matter of political survival, in that he would have lost the Pennsylvania primary to Pat Toomey, his challenger to the right. Following Specter's vote in favor of the stimulus package, Republicans, who were always ambivalent about him, were ready to toss him out. 

Specter's change is also a sign of the gradual extinction of Republicans moderates. In making his announcement, Specter recounted past moderate Republicans who also were deserted by their party and opposed by the right-wing Club for Growth PAC:

Specter: ...And for the people who are Republicans to sit by and allow [the Club for Growth] to continue to dominate the party after they beat Chafee, cost us Republican control of the Senate and cost us 34 federal judges, there ought to be a rebellion, there ought to be an uprising.

Olympia Snowe, moderate Republican senator from Maine, wrote about Specter's departure in similar terms:

It is true that being a Republican moderate sometimes feels like being a cast member of “Survivor” — you are presented with multiple challenges, and you often get the distinct feeling that you’re no longer welcome in the tribe. But it is truly a dangerous signal that a Republican senator of nearly three decades no longer felt able to remain in the party.

Senator Specter indicated that his decision was based on the political situation in Pennsylvania, where he faced a tough primary battle. 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 governing 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.

The addition of Specter as a senate Democrat and the likelihood of Al Franken finally being seated as Minnesota senator would give the party a filibuster proof majority–in theory. Before we Democrats celebrate excessively, however, we should remember that the independent streak that enabled Specter to buck the Republicans can also be turned against the Democrats. Specter is opposed, for example, to the Employee Free Choice Act, legislation that would give workers the right to unionize either through signing cards or secret ballots. Such a bill is essential to the Democratic party's traditional support for labor rights. Watch:

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