Alex Blaze

About the Arlen Specter switch

Filed By Alex Blaze | April 29, 2009 9:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Arlen Specter, Democrats, efca, Evan Bayh, HRC, labor, LGBT, pennsylvania, Republicans, Senate

I'm sure you all have heard that Senator Arlen Specter has switched from Republican to Democrat. While it isn't specifically LGBT, such an event shouldn't pass without being noted on this blog.

arlen-specter.jpgPersonally, there doesn't seem to be much of an upside to this for progressives. Unless Specter changes the way he's going to vote on major issues (which is unlikely), the Democrats are just as far from 60 votes in the Senate as they were Monday. And now Specter gets to pretend like he's actually part of the American "left" when he goes on TV to spread his conservative drivel.

Sure, it's symbolically bad for the Republicans and symbolically good for the Democrats right now. But as Glenn Greenwald points out, he agrees with the Republicans on all major issues, including the upcoming EFCA, which he specifically pointed out in his switching teams statement. I don't know about you, but these laws aren't a game and whether or not he supports the EFCA is a lot more important than whether there's a D or R after his name. This doesn't change much of anything for anyone except for Arlen Specter, who now won't have to face a Democrat in the general election in 2010.

"I will not be an automatic 60th vote," Specter said. "I would illustrate that with my position on employee choice, also known as card check. I think it's a bad deal and I'm opposed to it. I will not vote to impose cloture. If the Democratic Party asks too much, I will not vote with them."

Not an "automatic 60th vote"? You know what that means - he wants the Democrats to be falling backwards over themselves to get his support whenever they need it. He'll be worse than Evan Bayh (who I'm sure is crying somewhere now as he just lost his self-aggrandizing position as the most famous conservative Democrat). I'm sure he'll use his position as a conservative Democrat now to gut progressive legislation in the same way Bayh and Nelson were doing before.

So, yeah, primary Arlen Specter. He's got to know what no matter which party he's a part of, he can be challenged in elections from both the right and the left to make him more responsive to his constituents. Just saying you're a Democrat shouldn't mean a free pass to go as far to the right as you want because the only people who'll challenge you in the next election are Republicans.

(Just so that we're all on the same page, he got a 70% rating from HRC for the last Congressional session.)

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This just proves the point that the Democratic party IS the Republican party...even more than ever.

Oh sure, there is a rhetorical difference, but when push comes to shove, elected Democrats make decisions based on how conservative they will appear to the electorate. And if they appear conservative, then they certainly aren't being progressive. You can't (credibly) wear both of those hats.

Yet this dynamic never stops progressive types, liberal thinkers, lefties (cheerleaders that cling to a definition of the party ideology that hasn't been upheld by elected Democrats for decades) from continuing to thrill at every Democratic victory at the polls - just because the D will appear after the officials name.

Yay! The Republican party is becoming so right wing that moderates are moving to the opposition party making the opposition party more moderate...further solidifying the direction of their policies.

The choice is now between far right and less far right. Discussions of left or middle are done purely to scare people into being right.

The upshot to Specter's defection is that the news is full of "Is the Republican Party entirely under the control of the religious right now?", "Is there room for moderates?", and "Is this the death toll of a longstanding political party?"

And that's where the focus rightly belongs - why Specter left. While you might call him "conservative," Michael Steele was calling his politics "lefty." That's a huge difference between the two ideologies and technically Specter could be considered a moderate - as is Bayh.

Of course Michael Steel called him a lefty - that's the best strategy to advance a conservative agenda. He can't just say "Specter is right wing, but not extreme-right, and we have no room left for right wingers anymore in the GOP."

I don't see what's moderate about Specter:

Consider Specter’s most significant votes over the last eight years, ones cast in favor of such definitive right-wing measures as: the war on Iraq, the Military Commissions Act, Patriot Act renewal, confirmation of virtually every controversial Bush appointee, retroactive telecom immunity, warrantless eavesdropping expansions, and Bush tax cuts (several times). Time and again during the Bush era, Specter stood with Republicans on the most controversial and consequential issues.

And he's still won't change back his position on EFCA too. I don't really see much moderation there, other than his vote for hate crimes legislation (although we might want to rethink how far left a proposal to send more people to prison longer really is).

I know this makes for good teevee for the democrats, since the question is as you stated it. Although it's fairly obvious he did this because the Democratic establishment is too afraid to primary him and there's no chance that someone to the right of him would win.

PA is still a strong union state, though. I think a grassroots primary challenge could get off the ground.

I'm right wing. But of the Specter variety. I'm not ready to call myself on the left, but the reasons for his departure trouble me deeply.

Democracy requires a tension between the sane Left and the sane Right. Right now, I'm not sure there *is* a sane Right in the US any more. But diluting a Left-wing party with right-wing ideology doesn't help either. There needs to be a separation so there's a genuine choice.

You can tell how fundamentally Right Wing I am because of my belief in competition, even in politics...

Yeah, you can tell how much our politics is messed up in the US when we think that a neocon like Specter is even a "moderate," or when he's being called a "leftist" by prominent politicians.

Specter is strong on universal health care, a woman's right to choose, stem cell research; he is considered a social liberal. The biggest benefit of Specter's defection is the media can only portray the current Republican Party as anything other than extreme crazies, more rightwing anarchists than principled opposition. Senator Olympia Snowe should move on over to the Democratic Party too. There are no moderate or main stream Republican left.

Maybe Bayh and Nelson will become Republicans. I'd swap one Bayh for one Snowe anyday.

I'll give you that one on Bayh. While Specter will have more people's attention, Bayh's probably the more conservative one. Especially when it comes to health care reform.

I'm unenthusiastic about Specter for several reasons and I think there needs to be a primary challenge, but I think it's worth noting this does has some impact from a "specifically LGBT" perspective:

- Specter is a previous cosponsor of both the Matthew Shepard Act and ENDA
- Had Specter stayed a Republican and thus under pressure from Pat Toomey, he might have flaked on either of these bills. This is no longer a risk

In the short term, this is a good thing.

Senator Specter is more moderate than Consevative but in the Democratic Party his views will be conservative.So add one more Blue Dog to the list.Now if we only had a real third party for Blue Dogs GOP moderates to move into I for one would be happy being a centerist on most issues.That would leave the Republicans a Conservative party and the Democrates a Liberal/Socialist party.Hmm this would work wounders in the Congress. By working wounders I mean liberals would have to find moderates to support there issues as would Conservatives.But they could both claim a Liberal or a Conservative victory when a bill passed.They also would be spared the embassesment of members voting there own way and saying to hell with the party.

Politics is a contact sport with no rules.

Carry on Cathy


Great post. Sorry I haven't been able to respond- work has been more insane than normal.

Here is what I know internally from the AFL-CIO on EFCA. Specter will vote for cloture on EFCA at some point. It maybe renamed "EFCA 2.0" or some shit- but I have no doubt, he will vote for cloture.

The steelworkers delivered over 20,000 letters to him since he backed out two weeks ago- and labor, including Steelworkers and SEIU during his last primary challenged, actually got democrats to switch over to republicans to help him fight off toomey the first time---

he owes labor big- and will need labor in 2010 - no one likes him because he is all over the place- so he will need labor to be his footsoldiers... and I know for a fact, that those unions in PA who he will need- are not going to give him the 010 support he is going to need- unless they have some form of EFCA first.

So EFCA is not dead. In fact, with him switching I think it is more alive than ever...

But seeing as he's flipflopping on parties, he probably didn't want to flip-flip-flop on efca on the same day...

thanks for posting this alex...

Thanks for keeping us in the loop, Jeremy.

That makes sense. He can't use churches for raw manpower outside of big cities anymore, and after them the next biggest source of election help is unions. And in a state like Pennsylvania, that tension is magnified.

I hope he flips back. I don't care too much about the path he takes to get there as long as he votes for cloture. :)