Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Et tu, Arlen?

Arlen Specter was elected to the Senate on the coattails of the Reagan Revolution in 1980. While I've never liked him, I have to admire his tenacity. He's beaten cancer. In 2004, he narrowly beat back a furious primary challenge for his Pennsylvania Senate seat by Pat Toomey. Recently, it's looked like Specter's long career was finally coming to a close. Pat Toomey has opted for another challenge for Specter's seat in the GOP primary for 2010, and polls have shown that Toomey was very likely to give Specter the boot this time around.

Today however Specter unleashed a big surprise for all those who had already written his political epitaph: He switched to the Democratic Party. I've come up with two different metaphors for what Specter has done.

It might be said that Specter is the Republican Party's "magic bullet." Specter of course was the young Warren Commission counsel who authored the single-bullet theory which suggested that only one bullet caused seven different wounds in President Kennedy and Texas Governor John Connally in Dallas in 1963. Specter's defection has wounded the GOP in at least seven ways, probably more.

But a more poetic metaphor would be to think of the Republican Party as Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. Mortally wounded, the GOP in 2009 staggers toward one of its most venerable supporters, only to be administered the coup de grace by Arlen Specter as Brutus.

So what does it all mean?

Al Franken will probably be sworn in to the Senate around the Fourth of July, when the court battles over the 2008 Senate election in Minnesota finally run their course. The make up of the Senate will then be 60 Democrats, 40 Republicans. 60 is the magic number, as it takes that many Senators to pass a cloture vote, which stops debate on any bill and brings it to a final vote. The bill then requires only majority support to become law. Since the GOP has gotten into the practice of filibustering pretty much every vote in the Senate, Democrats may finally get the chance to stop the obstructionism and get good government working again.

Speaking of Al Franken, the Specter defection gives Democrats some good leverage to finally get him seated. Specifically, Democrats can tell Republicans: Seat Al Franken and give him his committee assignments now, or we'll block a new organizing resolution that would let you reassign Specter's previously Republican committee seats to one of your own.

The Specter defection also reinforces the image of the GOP as a regional party reluctant to embrace anyone except conservative Christians in the American south. Senator Olympia Snowe, a moderate Republican from Maine said today, "For me personally and then for the party, it's devastating... I've always been concerned about the Republican party nationally, about their exclusionary policies towards moderate Republicans."

Finally, the Washington Monthly has a good summary on how Specter's defection demonstrates that Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele is not getting any traction in his attempt to rebuild a party that has been devastated in the last two national elections: "Over the last month, the Republican Party has humiliated itself with a ridiculous alternative budget. Multiple polls show the GOP shrinking into a tiny national minority. The party lost a special election in New York where Republicans enjoy a significant advantage, and where Steele said the results would "send a powerful signal to the rest of the country." And today, the party lost one of its few remaining moderates, who noted upon his departure, "[T]he Republican Party has moved far to the right.""

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky was in full damage-control mode today when he told reporters that Specter's move, "is not a national story. It is a Pennsylvania story." Mitch, I'm afraid that it's the Republican Party that's "no longer a national story."


BuddhaBlog said...

"Arlen Specter" is an anagram for "Learn Respect".

M. Joseph Goodfriend said...

Yes. It is also an anagram for "clean pet errs," but I'm not sure what that portends.