Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) shocked nearly everyone this past week when he changed the R-PA following his name to D-PA. (He switched parties from Republican to Democrat, for those who choose to remain blissfully unaware of things political.
During the press conference when he announced the change, Specter had some interesting observations. He was first elected to the Senate in 1980 under Ronald Reagan’s “Big Tent” Republican Party philosophy. Specter said that the tent had grown smaller over the past 29 years (shrunk from circus tent to wigwam?), and that there wasn’t any room for moderates in the Republican Party anymore. And as a Republican for the past 43 years, Specter said that his views are now more in line with the Democratic Party.
But was Specter’s switch one of conscience or convenience? Certainly, it can be argued that, like John McCain, Specter hasn’t always toed the party line. He voted against confirming Robert Bork to the Supreme Court. His recent vote for the Obama stimulus plan angered many on the right, especially those pundits on talk radio and Fox News. But Democrats shouldn’t expect Specter to morph into another Ted Kennedy anytime soon. (And complain all you want about the stimulus—it’s bringing a much-needed $25 million for Keys wastewater projects!)
Perhaps Specter, in a moment of rare abject truth-telling on Capitol Hill, explained the real reason for his fence jumping. It not only has to do with the Republican Party becoming more conservative, but also with the desire to keep one’s job. He watched his friend and colleague, Senator Lincoln Chaffee (R-RI) spend his campaign war chest against a very conservative primary challenger put up by right-wing groups like The Club for Growth. Having blown all his money early, he lost to the Democrat challenger. (Chaffee is now a registered Independent. And one should never confuse The Club for Growth with The Hair Club for Men, even though it sounds like they want the same thing.)
Specter knew he would be a target for just such a right-wing campaign in increasingly blue Pennsylvania, so he won support of key Democrats for his next election before switching sides. He also blasted The Club for Growth and like-minded groups, saying, “They make no bones about their willingness to lose the general election to ‘purify’ the party… there ought to be a rebellion!”
(By the way, did you know that Pennsylvania has a town actually named Blue Ball? It’s just down the road a ways from Intercourse. I swear I’m not making this up.)
Regular readers of this column will remember that my views fall closely in line with our first President, George Washington. He warned the new republic about the consequences of forming political parties, and boy, was he right.
Hardball’s Chris Matthews was contacted about running for Arlen Specter’s Senate seat as a Democrat a few months ago. He did his due diligence, met with other office-holders as well as local and state party leaders, and decided… to remain a TV news anchor and commentator. Appearing on MSNBC’s Countdown, Matthews explained his reasons for refusing to run for that Senate seat:
“I don’t want to be the toady of a political party. And when you join these damn political parties, no matter which one it is, you end up buying the blue plate special, you gotta buy card check, you gotta buy trade restrictions, you gotta do everything they want—you gotta eat it. And I didn’t want to eat it.
“Now, Arlen is willing to eat it. This guy is willing to do anything to keep that Senate seat. Keep your eye on these politicians, because you may have principles as a voter—but don’t count on them having any.”
It would be wonderful to see a return of principles to Washington, as opposed to the posturing that goes on night and day on Capitol Hill. It would be great to see our elected representatives working in a bipartisan fashion toward making our country better, perhaps voting one’s conscience as opposed to taking instructions from radical pundits and think tanks or just voting the party line. Maybe they should actually take part in drafting, crafting, and reading their own legislation, as opposed to allowing the bureaucrats to amass power and entrench themselves even more. After all, isn’t that what we send them there to do?