Specter Jumps Ship

I don’t share a lot of political views with Arlen Specter, but I have to admit that on occassion he has said things and voted in a way that delighted me.  Like his vote against Robert Bork for the Supreme Court and some of his civil libertarian stances.  So I was like D.D. Gutterplan (biographer of I. F. Stone) who wrote in the Nation

…I’m trying to figure out why the news that he’d crossed the aisle made me smile this morning. I don’t think I have a sentimental take on how rapidly, even with 60 Democrats, the U.S. Senate is likely to bring about the blessed community.

I read about it at lunch and immediately thought to myself, now isn’t that wonderful.  But why exactly?  If Specter were to lose the Republican nomination, it is likely that one of several really progressive Democrats would win the general election, giving the Democrats another seat.  So why did the President welcome him to the party and say he would campaign for him instead of a real Democrat?  While Specter has made it clear he is not an automatic vote on anything (his first vote was against the Democratic budget resolution), he also made it clear that, according to the New York Times, he thought he could help President Obama.

Mr. Specter said he was “comfortable” with how Mr. Obama has conducted his presidency, which is 100 days old today, and that his own “centrist” approach on governance would help reach solutions on matters like health care, climate change, immigration, and the fiscal balancing act during a time of economic strain.


But let’s face it:  Specter knew he was going to lose in the Republican primary and he wants to be re-elected.  It is also true to some extent that, as he said, the Republican Party had left him.  This was echoed by Olympia Snowe quoted here in the New York Times

But Senator Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, a Republican who also supported the administration’s economic stimulus plan, said Mr. Specter’s view that the party had shifted too far to the right reflected the increasingly inhospitable climate for moderates in the Republican Party.

Ms. Snowe said national Republican leaders were not grasping that “political diversity makes a party stronger, and ultimately we are heading to having the smallest political tent in history.”

I think that the President has embraced Specter and is dissing a sure Democratic vote later because he sees Specter as a 60th vote for health care and education reform now and he wants to pass both before the 2010 elections.   And in the meanwhile it is lovely to watch the Republicans have fits.

Politico.com has a lovely article – quite long – about the finger pointing going on among Republicans. 

Faced with a high-profile defection and the prospect of political irrelevance in the Senate, Republicans took off the gloves Wednesday for a ferocious game of finger-pointing.

Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch and George Voinovich blamed the Club for Growth for imposing a right-wing litmus test that chased Arlen Specter out of the Republican Party. The Club for Growth blamed Specter — first for helping to ruin the GOP and then for leaving it. A leading Republican strategist blamed the party for turning its back on moderates. Sen. Lindsey Graham sniped at Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele. Specter’s pollster blamed the stimulus bill. Karl Rove blamed Specter himself. 

The Club for Growth President defended himself

But Andy Roth, the Club for Growth’s vice president for government affairs, said the Republican Party is at its nadir precisely because it has tolerated the likes of Specter.

“Let’s look at what a big-tent Republican Party gets you,” said Roth. “Over the last eight years, we had Big Government with a party that had no identity. People like Specter destroyed the Republican brand.”

Republicans also wanted to know why the party let someone run against Spector in the first place which is an excellent question. 

While acknowledging that Specter’s defection was “about political survival,” veteran GOP strategist John Weaver said the party must be concerned about its “political relevance.”

“If [President Barack] Obama and the Democrats control not just the left side of the playing field but also the broad middle, then we are in for generations of irrelevancy,” Weaver said. “Yes, our party principles are important. But we better be more pragmatic in how we advance our cause. There can be a center-right governing party. There cannot be one only from the right.”

Weaver said there’s “plenty of blame to go around,” and that Specter himself should receive his fair share. But he also pointed a finger at Steele, the RNC chairman, who undercut Specter by suggesting, in a recent TV interview, that he could be open to supporting primary challenges to Specter and the other GOP senators who supported Obama’s stimulus plan.

“I would remind Mr. Steele and some of our party leaders: Theirs is a job of winning elections, of increasing party strength, not of forming some sort of party purity police so this grand experiment to shrink the base to its purest form finds us confined to a phone booth,” Weaver said.

What a delicious image!