On April 28, U.S. Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania announced his departure from the Republican Party to join Democrats. He was with the GOP for 40 years.
The announcement came as President Barack Obama marked his first 100 days in office. Obama, who campaigned on a platform of ethics and reform, saw many in his party welcome Specter with open arms, even though Specter’s political motives, to me, seem dishearteningly at odds with his own
Specter is in his fifth term. He has been highly praised for his conservative views on crime and national security, and more liberal stances on abortion and the environment. His ability to appeal to both parties has earned him tremendous respect from colleagues.
However, his party-switch really rubbed me the wrong way.
Specter mentioned something in his press conference about becoming “increasingly at odds” with the Republican Party, yet he provided no real examples beyond his already well-chronicled philosophical differences. Specter did express concern over his sagging poll numbers in the Republican Primary in next year’s midterm elections and fears of losing the raise if he hadn’t switched to a Democrat.
From the standpoint of political survival, the moves makes sense. But for a man who just three years ago was named among the nation’s best senators by Time Magazine, his rationale sounded shallow. Specter’s more liberal views would certainly hurt his chances among conservative Republican primary voters.
Washington Post columnist Howard Kurtz asked the same question that was on my mind following Specter’s announcement: Shouldn’t this move be considered a stinging slap in the face to his constituents and political supporters?
To be fair, the Republican Party is having its fair share of issues right now. The Rightwing is trying to redefine its message, decide whether or not to reach out to a more diverse base, and figure out where the real leadership is in the party.
But as we’ve seen in the last five years of U.S. politics, things can change so quickly.
In 2004, the Republicans controlled the White House and Congress, and media pundits were predicting long-term electoral losses for the Democrats. But the party regrouped, found a new voice in Obama and the rest is history. By switching sides, Specter seems to be taking the easier path to reelection. He doesn’t want to stand up for the party that has supported him for 40 years. Nor did he want to discuss ways to rebuild the Grand Old Party. He bailed out for fear of losing an election. That makes him the worst kind of political poseur.
Ask yourself this right now: if the White House, Congress and the Senate were still controlled by Republicans, would Specter have still defected? Personally, I hope the Pennsylvania voters do the right thing and vote against Specter regardless of what party he’s in. I don’t care if they have to vote outside of their own party. Specter should not be rewarded for such a cynical move.
If Specter wins and Minnesota’s Al Franken is finally seated in that drawn out race, that would provide the Dems with a filibuster-proof 60 seat majority. Can the Democrats, though, really count on Specter if their party falls out of favor by 2010?
Can Pennsylvania democratic voters?