By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

The specter of Specter

As a liberal, I can’t possibly not enjoy the prospect of Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter’s joining the Democratic Party and making it easier for President Obama to enact his agenda.

In the long run, though, it’s not good for the country to have one party that’s straight-down-the-line conservative and another that is entirely liberal. A mostly liberal Democratic Party and a mostly conservative Republican Party? Sure. But hard-edged ideological differences are one of the main reasons that politics today is so unrelievedly vicious.

Looks like the last holdouts are Maine’s Republican senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins.

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The congressman who wasn’t there


  1. Ron Newman

    A couple weeks ago, Sen. Specter published this article in the New York Review of Books, a publication not generally favorable to Republicans:The Need to Roll Back Presidential Power Grabs

  2. lkcape

    Specter hasn’t changed, he just doesn’t want to have to fight for the nomination for his seat.The single party government movement needs only to look at Massachusetts to see what it can lead to.And they are licking their chops.You get what you vote for.

  3. Don, American

    Aren’t you the least bit worried that Specter will stab you in the back like he did the Republican Party? He says he’s changing because he can’t be elected as a Republican; it’s all about politics and his legacy. You can have him.

  4. mike_b1

    I don’t see this as a net positive or negative for the Dems. Will Specter want his chairmanship back? If so, that could cause in-house fighting. Specter is sure to go his own way as often as not.But this much is clear: the big government approach by the Cheney administration has gotten us nowhere. Obama is better off having all the tools at his disposal to clean up the corruption and waste of bloated government that is the legacy of the Cheney administration. Having the occasional extra vote will help.

  5. Doug Shugarts

    I think Specter learned a lesson by watching PA’s other senator, Bob Casey, Jr. Casey is a conservative Democrat who won over many of Rick Santorum’s bygone and understandably regretful constituents. Those voters are abandoning the far-right conservatives who stubbornly oppose any attempt to regulate volatile markets and who recall fondly the racial epithets they screamed last fall at Sarah Palin rallies.

  6. Bill Baar

    Spector strikes me the odd ball and while there is an impact on the Senate and majorities, when it comes to the ideological balance or shifts or whatever among the parties, Spector has no effect… he’s a pure odd ball driven solely by his own self-interest…void of the thinnest of principles. Watching Obama campaign now for this oddball in the Dem primary against authentic liberals worth the loss to the GOP.

  7. Steve

    Don, the Dems suffered Zell and they’ve *got* Lieberman sorta-kinda, so a Specter back-stab would be just like old times. I would be really surprised if Specter votes with the Democrats very much.Obama’s eagerness might prevent a better Democrat from representing PA, though. Puzzling.

  8. cavard

    I thought Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly’s “Political Animal” summed up today’s events the best. check it out.

  9. Prospecticus

    Not to be morose, but is a weakened 79yo. Specter in shape to begin campaigning this fall? And now that he’s gone all in as a Dem, will not Obama have to campaign with him constantly or risk losing a seat the party almost surely would have won with a younger candidate anyway? I know there’s considerable short term benefit, but there’s also some risk for the Dem’s.

  10. Michael Pahre

    I think you are missing the point of Specter’s defection when you say “one party that’s straight-down-the-line conservative and another that is entirely liberal.”Specter is leaving the Republican Party because it is being driven into a narrow, conservatives-only party (as indicated by what would’ve been his conservative challenger in the Republican primary) while the Democratic Party is embracing moderates like Specter and Bayh and (sort-of) Lieberman.The Democratic Party may be governing from the liberal side, but they are not trying to purify themselves of their more moderate members — they are negotiating more and more with the increasingly strident “ConservaDems” in order to push legislation through Congress.In contrast, on the Republican side the Club For Growth is handing out the (assault) weapons for their own circular firing squad to get their moderates off the ballot. Specter listed a number of their victims to date.There just isn’t a direct parallel between the two parties: one is accepting of moderates (even if not implementing their policies), while the other is cleansing them out.

  11. Dan Kennedy

    I’m puzzled by suggestions that Obama didn’t get the best possible deal out of this.If Specter had remained a Republican, there was a (slim) chance he could have held on to the Republican nomination in his re-election campaign. He would have been a far more formidable candidate than anyone else the Republicans could put up.Now it is a near certainty that the Republicans will choose a candidate who’s so far to the right that he can’t possibly be elected in what is increasingly becoming a blue state. Specter is old and hasn’t been well, but he’s not the only Democratic candidate who would win in such a scenario.So this works out well for the Democrats and Obama in the short term and the long term.Extra bonus for Bill Barr: Specter’s not from Chicago, so he may not actually be the spawn of Satan.

  12. Bill Baar

    …so he may not actually be the spawn of Satan. I’m betting they’re plenty of Progressives Dems in PA who think he is. Going to be a heck of a primary.Not to be morose, but is a weakened 79yo. Specter in shape to begin campaigning this fall? There weren’t many Spring Chickens besides him with Reid in that photo op. Campaigning alongside Obama is just going to reinforce how geriatric the Democratic Leadership in Congress is. Rember Newt drove out the old bulls when the GOP took Congress. Obama is stuck with them, and taking more on board with Spector.

  13. Prospecticus

    Providence native Twomey may be far right but if Specter has a tough time campaigning across a big state next year, I wouldn’t say the LaSalle Academy/Harvard grad, had no chance. Of course there’s short term gain. But I don’t like Specter. And while I wish him nothing but status quo health (he does look good) I wouldn’t count on it. The Pa Dem’s had a few strong candidates, one of whom would have won. The party doesn’t need a shameless peripatetic geezer.

  14. mike_b1

    Specter’s an incumbent. He doesn’t have to campaign across the state.

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