Friday, May 1, 2009

The Big Tent Becomes The Pup Tent


I'm a little surprised to find that some Republican responses to Arlen Specter's defection have not been quite as predictable as I had assumed they would be. But of course it didn't take long for Curly, Moe and Larry to ring in:

Rush Limbaugh:

Conservative host Rush Limbaugh said Tuesday he isn't sorry to see Arlen Specter leave the GOP — and that many Republicans wish the Pennsylvania senator would take a few others with him when he goes. "A lot of people say, 'Well, Specter, take [Sen. John] McCain with you. And his daughter [Meghan]. Take McCain and his daughter with you if you're gonna…" he told listeners, dissolving in laughter.
"…..It's ultimately good. You're weeding out people who aren't really Republicans," he said.

Sean Hannity:

"...Senator Specter is still trying to follow that magic bullet, this time to save his own political career and that is our headline this Tuesday night, day No. 99 of socialism across America -- Benedict Arlen.

Now, the senior senator from Pennsylvania in a cynical move to save his job, switched parties today, leaving the Republican Party and joining the Democrats. And this is how Benedict Arlen justified his self- preservation, today..."

Glenn Beck:

GLENN: So Arlen Specter, a guy who I never voted for even though I lived in Pennsylvania, nor would I vote for because the guy was never a Republican. He was only a guy who just wanted to win elections and do what he wanted.

Pretty deep stuff, don't you think? It reminds me a of a Peanuts comic strip with Good Ole Charlie Brown in the last panel standing alone on the pitcher's mound in a torrential thunderstorm shouting "Quitters!".

I can hardly blame the guys up on point for trying to put some kind of positive spin on this. The trend has been to caricaturize Senator Spector as a self-serving political hack and a RINO - and the Republicans are better off without him. But let's unpack this.

Conservative front groups like the the preposterous "Citizens Against Government Waste" as of 2006 ranked Specter's voting record at 45%, which put him close to the bottom of Republican Senators, but still ahead of 7 of them, and ahead of every Democratic Senator (all of which are consistently ranked in the teens) except for Ben Nelson of Nebraska. These numbers reflect that while Senator Spector may indeed qualify as a moderate, he is in no sense a liberal, unless of course the GOP is contemplating some sort of ideological purge - in which case Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Kit Bond (R-Missouri) - all of whose lifetime numbers are lower than Spector's, ought just as well follow his lead and become Democrats.

But this brings us to the real reason why Arlen Spector was in the position of having to make the pragmatic decision to switch parties in the first place. And I think his explanation was spot on:

"Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right. Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to become Democrats. I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans."

In other words, it wasn't Spector who abandoned the Republican Party, but the Republican Party which had abandoned him. But is this true?

Olympia Snowe:

"...I am reminded of a briefing by a prominent Republican pollster after the 2004 election. He was asked what voter groups Republicans might be able to win over. He responded: women in general, married women with children, Hispanics, the middle class in general, and independents.
How well have we done as a party with these groups? Unfortunately, the answer is obvious from the results of the last two elections. We should be reaching out to these segments of our population — not de facto ceding them to the opposing party.

There is no plausible scenario under which Republicans can grow into a majority while shrinking our ideological confines and continuing to retract into a regional party. Ideological purity is not the ticket back to the promised land of governing majorities — indeed, it was when we began to emphasize social issues to the detriment of some of our basic tenets as a party that we encountered an electoral backlash..."

Lindsay Graham:

"I don't want to be a member of the Club for Growth, I want to be a member of a vibrant national Republican party that can attract people from all corners of the country — and we can govern the country from a center-right perspective... As Republicans, we got a problem..."

And (improbably) from someone who really shouldn't have a dog in this fight, Christine Whitman:

"Unfortunately, a preview of the Republican Party’s future came from the reaction to Senator Specter’s switch — many conservatives evinced a sense of “I told you so” satisfaction and denigrated his service to the country. As was to be expected, the blogosphere is full of people saying that Arlen Specter was always a Democrat and now he’s simply proved it.

...Arlen Specter made his decision to leave the party after years of being attacked by fellow Republicans. I can understand how he felt, but I believe that now, more than ever, it is important for us moderates to stay and work from within. One thing we can be sure of is that we will have no impact on the party’s direction if we leave."

The really ironic part of this is that I didn't have to go to a single liberal pundit or politician to refute the conservative media blowhards - in fact, the most cogent comments come from within the Republican Party itself.

This country needs two working political parties consisting of people who can think for themselves and who are capable of constructive dialogue. For a man like Arlen Spector to switch parties is in a sense more of a loss for Democrats, and indeed all Americans, than for Republicans, since every time the GOP loses another rational voice, it becomes less able to contribute meaningfully to that dialogue.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it...


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