Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Spectre of Arlen Specter

Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter announced this morning that he his switching parties and will run in the 2010 Pennsylvania as a Democrat.

Specter’s decision would give Democrats a 60 seat filibuster proof majority in the Senate assuming Democrat Al Franken is eventually sworn in as the next senator from Minnesota. (Former senator Norm Coleman is appealing Franken’s victory in the state Supreme Court.)

“I have decided to run for re-election in 2010 in the Democratic primary,” said Specter in a statement. “I am ready, willing and anxious to take on all comers and have my candidacy for re-election determined in a general election.”

He added: “Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right. Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to become Democrats. I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans.”

To be sure, there will be plenty of “Good riddance!” posts from conservatives and Republicans who have been exasperated by Mr. Specter’s pro-choice stand and his vote for the stimulus package (not to mention that a lot of Republicans find him to be personally abrasive; one of my Republican friends who works on Capitol Hill refers to him as “Snarlin’ Arlen”). What they will fail to see is that Mr. Specter’s decision is based not only on the fact that Pennsylvania is trending to the Democrats and that he faced a daunting challenger in the Republican primary from former Rep. Pat Toomey who is a hard-right-winger, but that the Republican Party, both in Pennsylvania and nationally, is pushing the moderates out. It’s the party of Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, and people who casually throw around words like “secession” and “Fascist” because it has a nice ring to it.

While President Obama said he was “thrilled” to have Mr. Specter join the party, it will be interesting to see how warm the welcome truly is from the Democrats on the Hill and in Pennsylvania. I suspect a lot of people will be thinking he’s an opportunist and hitching along on President Obama’s high approval ratings to stay in office. Given the fact that Mr. Specter is not known for his humility, he may be irksome in that he’ll book a heavy guilt trip the first time he tangles with the Democratic leadership: “Hey, I gave you the 60th vote, you lucky people.”

Trust me, this is a big hit against the Republicans, and you will be able to gauge that by how much they’ll say they’re glad to get rid of him: the louder the dissing the more they admit that it hurts. But the Democrats shouldn’t go all giddy, either; Mr. Specter has already proved he can be a thorn in the side of both parties.

It’s not a surprise to see Mr. Specter switch; the next question is who’s next? The two senators from Maine — Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe — are moderate Republicans, too. However, they’re probably more in line with the politics of the state, and since neither of them have faced serious challengers in recent primaries, they can probably be counted on to remain where they are… and vote with the Democrats when, in true Mainer common sense, it is good for their state.