Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Defection Of Arlen Specter-- The Day After


Spokesmen for the sore loser/obstructionist end of the GOP-- Newt Gingrich, William Kristol, Michael Steele (who called Specter "left wing"), and party pacesetters Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, who suggested Specter take the entire McCain family with him, are positively celebratory in their hysteria about the loss of one of their best known senators, Arlen Specter. These really are the voices that have helped push the GOP to a place where only 21% of Americans identify themselves as Republicans. What a shame Cheney has chimed in yet! As crazy and entertaining as he is, there are times when Michael Steele just is not enough.

The more practical-minded Miss McConnell (R-KY) sees Specter's defection in more apocalyptic terms. After someone had given him some smelling salts, and his first attempt at spin-- "this is not a national story" proved to be the dud of the day, he tried pushing the line that it posed "a threat to the country," since it basically endangers the Senate Republicans' detested strategy-- which he leads-- of lockstep obstructionism. This morning's Washington Post got reactions, to balance Gingrich's forced glee, from Republicans who see Specter's departure as part of the Republican Party death spiral. Yesterday we heard from mainstream conservatives who serve with Specter in the Senate, like Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Susan Collins (R-ME), that this should be a wake-up call for a party that has drifted way too far to the right and whose agenda is being set by crazed mass media entertainers like Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and Bill O'Reilly trolling for ratings points in segmented media markets that are utterly unrelated to national politics. Snowe suggested that the loss of Specter should be the occasion for "serious soul-searching," not the uncorking of champagne bottles as Limbaugh and Steele insist.

Like Specter, ex-Senator Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) was basically forced out of the GOP by far right extremists-- the Club For Growth-- and he sees these bizarre reactions on the right as a "celebration of ideological purity at the cost of winning elections."
After the '06 Senate losses-- of myself in Rhode Island, Mike DeWine in Ohio, Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania, Conrad Burns in Montana, George Allen in Virginia and Jim Talent in Missouri-- put the Republicans in the minority, there was no introspection or strategy change to stop the hemorrhaging. Indeed, in '08, it was another debacle: Sununu in New Hampshire, Smith in Oregon, Dole in North Carolina, Stevens in Alaska, Coleman in Minnesota.

After the election, it was reported that some Republicans were happy to be free of the "wobbly-kneed Republicans." Happy in their 41-seat minority! I assume that Sen. Specter told the right-wing fundraising juggernaut, "If you fund my primary opponent, I'll switch parties." The likely response? "Don't let the door hit you on the way out."

That attitude signals the demise of the Republican Party as a viable national party.

Ed Rogers never ran for office but he helped run two White Houses-- Ronald Reagan's and George H.W. Bush's. He's a little more clear-eyed than Republican clowns like Limbaugh, Steele and Gingrich: "Arlen Specter changing parties is good for the Democrats and President Obama and bad for us. If you think otherwise, put down the Ann Coulter book and go get some fresh air... Specter didn't want to be a Democrat. The party deteriorated to the point where there was no place for him."

Former Iowa Congress-man Jim Leach is working as a professor at Princeton now, not exactly in the cards for the kooks and loons like Jim Bunning, Jim Inhofe and Jim DeMint if they ever have to look for another job. He wonders how the GOP went from being a party of individual rights that fought to abolish slavery, fought for women's suffrage, fought to break up dangerous corporate monopolies, fought for a clean environment to a party that is all about being against Choice, against sane gun controls in urban areas, unwilling to consider anything that jeopardizes unending tax cuts for the very wealthy and bizarre "pandering in Texas and Alaska to irrational secessionist anger. Arlen Specter didn't fit" and Leach points out that there are plenty of traditional Republicans who don't either.
The challenge for Republicans is thus not to obsess about the loss of one seat in one state at one moment in time but to reflect about the progressive values that made the party great. The question cannot be ducked: Is an uplifting correction overdue?

I suspect there isn't much on the uplifting side coming down the pike from Republicanville anytime soon. Instead, we're going to see mainstream Republican voters, the few that are left, looking at Specter-- they've heard of him; they never heard of Jim Inhofe unless they caught the punchline of a joke about climate change on late night TV-- and wondering if the GOP hasn't become too extreme for them too. What isn't a joke, though, is that the real result of Specter's defection is that it will make both political establishments more conservative. The Inside-the-Beltway Republicans have lost one of its last respected mainstream voices while the Inside-the-Beltway Democrats will have another voice pushing it away from serving the interests of ordinary working families and towards the reactionary goals of the Evan Bayh anti-Obama Bloc of Conservadems. Thia morning's National Journal featured a roundup of opinions from bloggers across the spectrum on the meaning of Specter's label switch.

I made this little clip when McConnell and Cornyn started pushing Jim Bunning out of the GOP-- not because he wasn't ideologically pre enough, but because they think he's too senile to win in 2010. I wanted to re-do it in honor of Snarlin' Arlen but... can you just use your imagination instead?

Jim Bunning from Howie Klein on Vimeo.

UPDATE: Will A Real Democrat Run Against Specter?

Although Harry Reid and Joe Biden, likely with Obama's approval, "guaranteed" Specter that he'd have no primary opponent if he jumped the fence, real Democrats in Pennsylvania feel otherwise. Joe Sestak said he'd give Specter a few weeks to show he's a Democrat and if he doesn't, he'd be open to entering a primary against him.

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At 2:59 PM, Anonymous Balakirev said...

You go, Club for Growth! Go after more of those spineless stealth Democrats in Republican clothing! Get strong candidates who believe what we believe in through those primaries! Ideological correctness matters. Don't let anybody tell you otherwise!


What with Obama supposedly promising to pitch for Specter next election time, the Party bigwigs in PA behind him, full seniority, a committee chairmanship and a Manly Hug from Reid, what else could Specter possibly wish for from the Most Spineless Party in All Creation? And how much less could he possibly have given to get his ass saved?

Truly, the Dems have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.


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