Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Settle Down About Arlen Specter

It's no surprise that Republicans are in an uproar about Arlen Specter. That he turned his back on their party after 43 years of membership and 28 years of service in the U.S. Senate has drawn particular ire. Pundits and fellow congressmen have called him everything from Quisling to Benedict Arnold to "that fickle bitch Winnie Cooper." Conversely, Democrats and liberal bloggers have in the main been very excited about it. It's hard to say why, on either side.

If Specter is suddenly a Judas goat, not much has changed. He already voted against restricting abortion and for stem-cell research while criticizing gay marriage amendments. And while his Republican voting record was obviously heterodox, his Reagan Republican credentials warped over time to accommodate Bush II's under-examined Iraq War premises, sanction of torture and invasive wiretapping. In short, like Catherine Zeta-Jones in Entrapment, his ass already played both sides; meanwhile, he was obviously willing to follow whichever way the wind was blowing. (In this case, it just so happens that he can no longer win a Republican primary and has seen hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians go Democrat in the last year.) For any Republican, this is one of those surprises of apostasy that should be totally unsurprising once looked at with more than a "Holy Shit" glance.*

* — Even sadder, the other reason why Republicans shouldn't panic is that the Democrats' response to a decisive liberal mandate and majority from the 2008 elections has been to sheepishly move further to the center to avoid charges that they're too leftist. Basically, even when they're winning, they're convinced they're losing; and, in acting out of fear that they're losing, they move further to the center and thus actively lose by betraying their own principles, policies and mandates. Adding an ex-Republican to a party riddled with Blue Dog Democrats who might as well be Republican and liberal Democrats who are so gutless that they abdicate their own mandates to sound like Republicans is like the police combating graffiti by deputizing the illest taggers in the precinct.

Much the same unsurprise will probably be the case with Specter's future intractability. Those liberal bloggers and Democrat pundits celebrating his defection should, after their "Holy Shit" moment, ask themselves what they've bought with their assurance that he will be campaigned for and (if their promises hold) unopposed in a Pennsylvania Democratic primary. What they've bought is basically Joe Lieberman Redux. It's like a corseted woman with an asp in her bosom encouraged the poisonous thing to make babies. While his where-the-wind-blows affiliation will aid the Democratic program, the exact same thing that made him a heterodox liability for Republicans will make him the same for Democrats. As said, he uncritically supported all the same invasive and imperial Bush-administration extensions of presidential power that Democrats excoriated. Worse, he's expressed his determination to still vote against the Card Check, a must-win issue for Democrats in the eyes of labor.

The problem with Specter and with people's enthusiasm for his switching teams is that it solves nothing. The Democrats already had difficulty managing a 60-vote filibuster-proof majority not just because they lacked Democrats in the Senate, but because Majority Leader Harry Reid is a milquetoast useless pussy. Even amongst his own party members, the man instills as much reverence for discipline and order as a camp counselor who puts in earplugs, wears a blindfold and takes three sleeping pills before bed, just after telling all the 12-year-old boys in a Meatballs sequel not to swim across the lake to spy on the all-girl bisexual members of Camp Lolita.

The addition of Specter is a temporary and pyrrhic PR victory. For one thing, the Democrats have opened their bosom to someone unafraid to strike it, exacerbating problems of non-existent party discipline and needlessly further muddying an already almost opaque message. For another, now they're stuck with the bastard. 

Sure, Specter almost certainly couldn't have won a Republican primary in Pennsylvania, but that's also because the Republican platform overall has become so virulently ahistorical, anti-science, partisan, hysterical, NewSpeak-fueled and extremist that it admits of no disputation even from within. Couple that with the fact that new voters trend overwhelmingly Democratic, while the dems attracts more women and latinos, and it's hard to see how the Democrats could lose. But instead of letting him run as an independent and possibly split the Republican vote or instead of going straight head-to-head against an ultraconservative Republican and winning with a liberal agenda, they've pledged themselves to the same sort of obstructionist Blue-Doggery that they're trying to get rid of.

While Specter's defection isn't anything to sneeze at, why it should be any cause for celebration remains a mystery.

How sad is it that the Republican strategy in 2008 and their populist appeals since Obama's election have mostly been of such a hateful stripe that, when tagging this entry, I reflexively typed in REPUBLICANS followed by RACISM?