Politicians change parties. Some have done so for very noble reasons. They have changed their political philosophy and then acted in accord with those changes, much the way Christians do when they change churches out of deep conviction. I am thinking here of my friends who have either gone from evangelical churches to the Roman Catholic Church, or from the Roman Catholic Church to a Protestant evangelical church. I have shared in this difficult process as some go through this gut-wrenching decision in order to make a hard choice. So I am not opposed to people like Arlen Specter changing political party. I am however, like most who have followed this man for nearly thirty years, not surprised by this decision either. He has always been to the left of his own party and now, to a certain extent, he finds himself to the right of his new party. This is what it is. This is politics.
What stuns me, though I am not so easily stunned by politicians anymore, is the reason(s) Arlen Specter gives for this move. I am also more than a little amused by the response/welcome that he got from Democrats. Senator Specter's move got approval from Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Obama, who were more than happy to increase their strong majority. And Specter always had a healthy and strong relationship with the powerful labor unions in Pennsylvania. (By the way, Specter came to the senate in the Reagan era and President Reagan was never very impressed with him.)
Specter openly admitted that he could not win a Republican primary in 2010. So he did the pragmatic thing and changed parties. But he is not even certain to win the Democratic primary in 2010 regardless of his experience and this switch. The party bosses are still weighing his "new" decision and what they should do about it. Many are skeptical. Bill George, president of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, says Specter has only a 68% voting record on labor, which is OK for a Republican but lot more is expected from a Democrat. And Neil Oxman, a Democratic strategist who advises Governor Rendell and Joseph Torsella (who is planning a run for this seat in the senate in 2010) described Specter as a politician "who transforms himself for every election." Oxman adds that he is not "disguising the fact that he supported Bush 76% of the time and voted for all of these Republican judges." (This is such a misleading number since the opposing party often votes with the president on many issues that are not so partisan.) Oxman asks the really hard question: "Will Democrats buy this?" I have my personal doubts.
Will Arlen Specter be able to move from being a left-leaning Republican, who expressed an independent mind, to an even further left-leaning Democrat, who really toes the party line faithfully? This is really all about playing by the party rules. If you think otherwise, just read the print media and online responses to Specter's announcement. Specter's presence as a Democrat will clearly help the party reach its goal of 60, once Al Franken is seated from Minnesota. They would have 58 seats, with two independents who will caucus with them, thus they will have their magic number of 60 (a super-majority). With this they can get almost everything they desire through the Senate before the 2011 congress is ever seated. This has to be one reason why Obama and Reid are openly thrilled.
But Arlen Specter has consistently opposed making it easier for unions to recruit new members. I believe this position may doom him as a Democrat. But he could change his mind again, like he has done over and over. On Tuesday, Specter said he opposes Obama's choice to head the Office of Legal Counsel, Dawn Johnsen. Her outspoken radical support for abortion-rights, and her strong opposition to Bush interrogation policies, have brought her under considerable fire. (Don't expect this to stop her confirmation in this Senate, however.)
But Arlen Specter also has a bad record on another favorite issue of Democrats, the environment. He has voted only 27% of the time in the way that environmental groups consider positive. Specter is a strong backer of abortion rights and stem cell research that includes human embryos, which are not viable political issues for conservatives right now, especially in Pennsylvania. (They might be again someday, but this is in doubt for the moment.) Specter already voted for the stimulus bill that most of his party rejected. Here he is already in line with the president.
At the end of the day Arlen Specter admitted that his decision came about due to polling data. He said that he did not discuss policy with Harry Reid in their private meeting, knowing full well that they would differ on significant items. Dick Durbin (IL) said that there was a five year process aimed at winning Specter to their party. One Democratic congressman, who is eying a possible run for Specter's seat in the Senate, said the results of the party primary need to "reside not in the hierarchy of my party but with the citizens of Pennsylvania." He added, "The party leadership is making a judgment call on what they evidently think is best, because they are caught up in how many votes they have in the Senate. But we promised a new era."
That is a powerful observation from a "new" Democrat. He takes the words right out of my mouth frankly.
My questions about Specter are two:
1. Can either party actually operate in real response to the people, or does the two-party system always result in this kind of "king making," back room, deal-making stuff?
2. Given Arlen Specter's response to Jim Jeffords leaving the Republican Party in 2001 what kind of person is this guy?
Specter said, at that time, "If somebody wants to change parties, they can do that. But that kind of instability is not good for governance of the country and the Senate."
Well Senator Specter, "What is good for the goose is still good for the gander." I wish you no personal ill, but I think you just showed us what kind of man you really are. In my view you are the problem in this nation's leadership. I have far more respect for a liberal who runs as a liberal and tells us what he/she will attempt to do in governing us. The same goes for a conservative or a libertarian or any other thoughtful political view. Obama did this. Some people weren't too sure about his actual views but what he was, and what he really said, is just about what he has done, at least so far. The possible exception seems to be his moderation in foreign policy, which happens to most presidents once they are in office.
Arlen Specter is a different breed however. He reminds me of the people in the Civil War who wore gray trousers with a blue shirt. If he were really honest he would have done what Jim Jeffords did. Or even what Joe Lieberman did. I disagree with both of these sen
ators on a number of issues
but I still hold respect for them as men of principle. I lost all respect for Arlen Specter this week. For me he represents precisely what is wrong with too many in the U. S. Senate!