Commentary Magazine


Specter’s Switcheroo

Here in Philadelphia, the local television networks are abuzz with news that Senator Arlen Specter has switched parties.  Specter’s detractors and supporters will likely spend the next few weeks debating whether the longtime Republican has sold out his party or, alternatively, finally bought into the Democrats’ policy agenda after many years of being a Republican.  Either way, a few points are in order:

1. The MSM that once hailed former Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords’s party-switch as “brave” should control itself.  Far from brave, Specter’s move is nothing short of an exercise in outright survival: Specter was trailing so far behind GOP primary challenger Pat Toomey in the polls that he seemingly had no choice but to switch parties.  And even if this weren’t the case, Specter’s move reeks of political opportunism on the national level.  At least Jeffords had the temerity to buck the recently-elected president’s party when he caucused with the Democrats – and thereby gave them the Senate majority – in mid-2001.  Specter, on the other hand, is joining the president’s party and – assuming that Al Franken is declared the winner in Minnesota – has given Obama’s agenda a filibuster-proof free-ride in the Senate.  Our system of checks and balances has rarely been so fragile, and this fact should temper the MSM’s excitement.  (But don’t count on it.)

2. Pennsylvania Republicans played their part in this.  Much as Connecticut Democrats’ decision to reject Joseph Lieberman in the 2006 Senate primaries in favor of Ned Lamont ultimately came back to bite the party – Lieberman, after all, won the state-wide race as an independent – Republicans do not help their prospects by rejecting a figure from their own party who has long represented state-wide political consensus.  Granted, a left-wing Republican might not serve many Republicans’ policy priorities effectively – but neither will representation by two Senate Democrats.

3. With a filibuster-proof majority, the Democrats have reached a major political peak.  How long they stand on this peak is an open question.  But Republicans have physics on their side: what goes up must come down.