Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Dismissive Panic

Watching the GOP reaction to Sen. Arlen Specter’s party switch is a study in contrasts. It’s both dismissive and panic-stricken. Some Republicans waved it off as just a political tactic aimed at the Pennsylvania electorate while others saw it as a threat to national security.

As I noted yesterday, the degree to which they trash Mr. Specter will be a measure of how much consternation this is causing in their ranks. Apparently it’s a lot: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell claims it represents a “threat to the country”, and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) says that it gives Americans the choice of “potentially unbridled Democrat super-majority versus the system of checks-and-balances that Americans deserve.” Oddly enough, neither of them said that when then-Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado switched from the Democrats to the Republicans or when the Republicans had the majority in the House, the Senate, and held the White House. And of course the Republicans are sending out a fund-raising letter that says “Good Riddance!” to Mr. Specter. These folks are as predictable as a rooster at sunrise.

Contrary to Mr. Cornyn, William Kristol predicts that this will ultimately be good for the Republicans.

I wonder if today’s Arlen Specter party switch, this time to the president’s party, won’t end up being bad for President Obama and the Democrats. With the likely seating of Al Franken from Minnesota, Democrats will have 60 seats in the Senate, giving Obama unambiguous governing majorities in both bodies. He’ll be responsible for everything. GOP obstructionism will go away as an issue, and Democratic defections will become the constant worry and story line. This will make it easier for GOP candidates in 2010 to ask to be elected to help restore some checks and balance in Washington — and, meanwhile, Specter’s party change won’t likely have made much difference in getting key legislation passed or not. So, losing Specter may help produce greater GOP gains in November 2010, and a brighter Republican future.

Plus, now the Democrats have to put up with him.

However hypocritical the Senator from Texas may be, at least his concern is based on a principle of governing — checks and balances — rather than Mr. Kristol’s purely partisan electoral outlook. He doesn’t care what the Republicans do in office, he wants them in power. I suppose that’s to be expected from someone who views governing on the same level as a high school locker room pecker contest, including his rather juvenile sour-grape-flavored “neener neener” punch line. (Glenn Greenwald writes that in one respect Mr. Kristol might be right: “Arlen Specter is one of the worst, most soul-less, most belief-free individuals in politics. The moment most vividly illustrating what Specter is: prior to the vote on the Military Commissions Act of 2006, he went to the floor of the Senate and said what the bill “seeks to do is set back basic rights by some 900 years” and is “patently unconstitutional on its face.” He then proceeded to vote YES on the bill’s passage.”)

As is usually the case when something like this happens, regardless of party, the people caught off-guard come up with the most outrageous excuses for something they inflicted on themselves. To be fair, some in the Republican ranks are acknowledging that the hard right turn the party has taken is causing the damage, including, of all people, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), John McCain’s BFF during the 2008 campaign. (I have a notion to call up Williams-Sonoma and send him a pot/kettle set.) But to listen to Rush Limbaugh and his kind, Republicans such as Ms. Snowe and Mr. Graham are just as bad as Mr. Specter, and he wants them purged. It’s classic traumatic denial, and when events like this keep happening — as they undoubtedly will — they will still keep looking for the reasons outside of their own little circle when, of course, they have no one to blame but themselves.

On the upside, watching the meltdown of the right-wing commentariat has been a hoot.