The Meaning of the Specter Switch
By Mary Lyon
Arlen Specter?!?!?! The first time I blurted that out was during an industry screening of Oliver Stone's "JFK", in which his name came up in connection with the rogue "magic bullet" issue. I just had another Arlen Specter blurt a few minutes ago (as of this writing, anyway).
He's switching? Defecting? "Coming home," as some people on the other side of the aisle (oops, I mean, his side of the aisle now, don't I?) have noted with the added word "welcome"? The newest Senate Democrat, the Man of the Hour, has even moved the Swine Flu and his former GOP sister Susan "we don't need no stinking epidemic funding!" Collins off the top of the breaking news watch.
Well, okay, I'm celebrating. I guess.
My instinct is not to trust this too much. I can't help looking this gift horse directly in the mouth, through the teeth, and down the hatch. At least he seems to be somewhat honest, openly admitting how he recognized painfully well that he'd be eaten for breakfast by a primary challenge from a more rigidly conservative challenger, which would likely move his seat into the Democratic column in the 2010 election anyway.
Specter also seems honest enough to tip his hand on the nomination of Dawn Johnsen to the Office of Legal Counsel. Good to know, and not particularly surprising. I remember what a rough time he gave Anita Hill when she tried to warn us about the questionable judgment and character of then-Supreme Court Justice nominee Clarence Thomas. I remember him posturing on any number of issues through the years and SOUNDING as though he was going to be as reasonable as can be to the Democratic or liberal point of view, only to wind up back in Republicans' arms again when it counted.
Look, when I'm out there blogging or in some political chat room or even occasionally just on Facebook, I'm the first to say I'm as Machiavellian as the next guy. I'm glad he's one of us. Kinda. Because I'm not sure I'll ever be completely certain about him, and I won't be counting on him too much. He's been a Republican, or at least, been in bed with them, for far too long to convince me completely. He's admitted that he, too, is pretty Machiavellian - this latest maneuver being the most glaring example. He's not the only one worth watching closely, though. Looks like we're going to see some mighty elaborate political chess-playing in the weeks and months ahead. This changes the game board, and there'll be a ripple effect that will be gobsmackingly fascinating.
Despite Mitch McConnell's insistence that this is strictly a Pennsylvania story, it's anything but. The Minnesota Senate stand-off starring the hapless Norm Coleman now becomes ever more glaring. Pass the popcorn and watch the ramifications start to roll out. It's probably gonna get GOOO-OOOOD.
This may wind up moving Governor Tim Pawlenty up in the GOP food chain as their great white hope for the future. I strongly suspect he secretly believes that if he'd been John McCain's choice of running mate instead of Sarah Palin, he'd be vice president now. How long will he play politics with that seat and obstruct Al Franken's increasingly justifiable claim to the job, now that the Dems will technically have 59 votes? Perhaps we'll see Pawlenty staking out a claim as party savior as their last fire door as the flames roar down the hallway toward it? Pawlenty certainly has no motivation to hand the 60th vote to Senate Democrats anytime soon. And the longer he holds out (and the hell with what his own state might need, with only 50% Senate representation in these tough times), the bigger a hero he's likely to be to his party's hardcores.
And there's the hardcore thing, too. The more moderates - either civilian or office-holder - will continue to defect from the Republican Party as we now know it. Specter's move has made that all the more acceptable and will give them cover if they were previously hesitant to stick their necks out this far. The 13th-century minds currently in control of the GOP, who are hellbent on pushing it as far to the right as they can, will continue to alienate reasonable minds of every persuasion. I've tried to have conversations with them myself, and they seem determined to avoid getting the message. Whether it's some congressional staffer in a hardline GOP representative's office or my pleasant but misguided neighbor down the street, there's a surprisingly prevailing feeling that they lost in November either because they didn't package their positions effectively, or they weren't conservative enough.
These poor souls have spent a couple of decades by now trying to move the country to the right, and then prematurely proclaiming that America is a center-right country philosophically. Well, they're wrong. Arlen Specter's decision just puts a period on the end of one of the sentences here.
Liberal principles have been under assault since the dawn of the Reagan era, but majorities in America STILL support a woman's right to choose. The last eight years of horror - on the GOP's watch - have been enough to convince solid majorities of voters to give Barack Obama an absolute mandate - not the house-of-cards pretend version Republicans boasted nonstop that George W. Bush had earned. Overwhelming adversities, especially those that cross state lines, ranging from Hurricane Katrina to the foreclosure crisis and Wall Street mess and now the spreading Swine Flu, are waking people up to the value and need of a strong and able federal government - and the fact that these kinds of necessities cost tax money. Look at Texas Governor Rick "maybe we just oughta
secede" Perry desperately scrambling for help from the CDC only days after excoriating federal spending and priorities, with the Swine Flu now infecting his state. Yes, it's true, freedom isn't free, but neither are all those government services and programs you don't want to admit you really do want and can't live without. Much of what's left of the GOP just doesn't get that. And they won't. It's simply not in them.
The Specter Switch will mean that BOTH parties have to look at themselves and at their future. Personally, I'd dearly love to see the dreams of Karl Rove and Grover Norquist turned upside down and inside out - and forever if possible! The carefully-engineered "great political realignment" of Rove's design appears ready to morph into perhaps a generation of Democratic control. Norquist's long-cherished goal of shrinking the federal government so small that it could be drowned in a bathtub shrivels by the day into near-nothingness itself. I know all about the arguments in favor of a two-party system and checks and balances and all that. But the one-party rule that we just barely survived as a nation during most of this decade inflicted so much damage, some of it of the gravest kind on our poor country domestically and in all corners overseas, that we're in desperate need of strong and decisive reversal and a whole lot of it. The Republicans and their increasingly radical political philosophy have hurt and divided this country so profoundly that they deserve to wither on the vine - while the rest of us clean up their many messes.
Democrats now have to make sure their own burgeoning majority is protected and nurtured, and keeps its integrity so it survives for many years. There should be more of us on the Democratic/liberal/progressive end of the spectrum, anyway. After all, the multiple disasters that Republicans and extremist conservatives left behind, everywhere you look, will require an increasingly large clean-up crew anyway. And, Senator Specter, since it's your now-former crowd that screwed everything up and left us in all this wreckage, it's only fair that you be one of the first to grab a broom and some scrub-brushes.