Wednesday, April 29, 2009

‘Specter’ of realignment

When I was in university, my professors talked about periodic realignment of America’s political parties—that the “coalition of interest groups” would occasionally change and reshape the parties, leading politicians to change parties, too. In 1980, some pundits predicted that the election of Reagan would spark such realignment. It didn’t happen. They said the same thing about the election of Bush/Cheney. It also didn’t happen.

Actually, I think it did—it’s just the media didn’t or wouldn’t notice or acknowledge it. Today we saw the first real, concrete evidence of that much-promised realignment.

Today US Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania switched from Republican to Democrat, placing the majority—on paper, at least—one vote shy of the 60 votes needed to end a Republican filibuster (an archaic parliamentary procedure the minority party uses to block legislation they don’t have the votes to defeat). Cynics say this was simply a move for political self-preservation, and it is, but there’s also far more to it.

Specter said, "I have found myself increasingly at odds with the Republican philosophy and more in line with the philosophy of the Democratic Party." Specter was among the last of the “moderate Republican” officeholders: He’s pro-choice on abortion, he cast an important vote against Reagan’s attempt to put the hard right ideologue Robert Bork on the Supreme Court and against the removal of President Clinton from office.

The far right that now controls the Republican Party has long despised Specter. In 2004 they demanded he promise not to block Bush’s conservative judicial appointments. Two years later, Republicans lost control of the Senate, and Specter blamed the hard right leadership of the party: "They don't make any bones about their willingness to lose the general election if they can purify the party." And the purity of the hard-right, christianist agenda is clearly what matters most to the Republican Party.

The minority party’s Senate leader, Mitch McConnell, declared that Specter’s switch was a “threat to the country”. Why? Because the majority party in Congress might be able to move its agenda forward without the minority—you know, like the Republicans did up until 2006.

All the attention has been on the Democrats having 60 votes once Senator-elect Al Franken of Minnesota is finally seated. But Specter himself has said he’s not a guaranteed vote for the Democrats on all issues. Unlike Republicans, Democrats often vote contrary to their party’s position (the “Blue Dog” Democrats being the best example). Specter promises to vote against the Employee Free Choice Act, which may cause him some trouble being re-elected as a Democrat.

Pennsylvania is increasingly voting Democratic in national elections, and Specter himself noted that 200,000 Republicans in that state switched to the Democratic Party. Specter barely won his Republican Party primary in 2004 against a conservative Republican opponent. Specter saw the obvious truth: A moderate can’t win Pennsylvania’s Republican primary.

For a long time, I said that real Republicans needed to take their party back from the christofascists who are running it. I was wrong: It’s too late. I now believe that there is no way for anyone who’s even slightly to the right of centre to find a home in the Republican Party—it’s already too far gone.

So: Which of the few remaining Republican moderates will jump ship next?


Jason in DC said...

You mean there actually are moderates left? Sorry I guess I should say remain. Using the word "left" in any context with the Republican Party no longer makes any sense.

They could probably all fit in a phone booth. Then again finding a phone booth might be as difficult as finding a moderate Republican.

Yes, there are the Senators from Maine, but how long will they last.

It is interesting to see a party slowly but surely become irrelevant on the political scene.

Now a great deal can happen but . . .

Arthur Schenck said...

I've seen political parties in New Zealand self-destruct, but I never thought I'd see it in America. From a purely intellectual standpoint, it's fascinating watching a once-great, once-proud party disintegrate before our eyes. I just wonder how many parties will eventually replace it.