Saturday, May 2, 2009

Specter’s switch illustrates two big problems in politics

(Originally published 5/2/09)

It's not often that one event encapsulates all the big things wrong with politics in Washington.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, former Republican, now Democrat, of Pennsylvania.

Tuesday's news of Specter's party switch was greeted with breathless glee among Democrats in Washington. One pundit yammered on about how Specter's new party ID would "liberate" him to vote his conscience.

My head actually hurt from rolling my eyes at that one.

In his statement released Tuesday afternoon, Specter made continuing reference to his "independent" nature and his "independent" judgment.

Sounds like he would make a pretty good independent, right?

This brings us to big problem No. 1: Big money in politics.

All his high-minded, philosophical protestations to the contrary, this move was all about power and the money it takes to keep it. Even Democrats accept as general knowledge that Specter's move was not nearly as much self-realization as it was self-preservation. Specter all but admitted that he can't win a Pennsylvania Senate primary as a Republican: In talking to GOP leaders and office-holders and supporters across the Keystone State, "it has become clear to me that the stimulus vote caused a schism which makes our differences irreconcilable," he said in his statement.

But independents don't get party money, and it's going to take money -– a lot of money -– to win that Senate seat next year.

Thus, Specter's sudden realization that he has so much in common with Democrats.

But that's only part of the story. Specter's announcement commanded an entire day's news cycle and cast a long shadow over the 100-day mark of President Obama's administration. With Al Franken's win over Norm Coleman nearly finalized in Minnesota, Specter makes 60 -– as in, 60 Democrats in the United States Senate.

Sixty: The magical, mystical supermajority that renders minority members powerless to filibuster.

Specter was quick to point out that no one should consider him an automatic vote for cloture, though. You know, because he's ... independent.

Pundits peppered their 100-day analysis Wednesday with speculation about what Specter the Democrat will mean for Obama's ambitious legislative agenda. How much will Specter assert himself and seek to impact policy? Will Obama lean on him as a matter of course, or will he try to convert other Republicans on individual issues?
If it's the former, Arlen Specter has just become America's most powerful lawmaker.

This brings us to big problem No. 2.

I've written frequently in this space about this country's need for a genuine third-party. Because of America's either/or political system, Specter may now hold life-or-death power over some of the most profound legislation this country has seen in its modern age.

The Founders didn't mind concentrating a lot of political power in one citizen. They just called him "president."

Rich Galen is one of this country's foremost Republican pundits. He agrees that we need to have more parties at the party.

"Perhaps it is time to form a real, no kidding around, third party ... A real third party would allow the Democrats to be the Liberals; the Republicans to be the Conservatives; and the Moderates to be everyone who does not believe that ideological perfection –- on the left or right –- is a prerequisite to holding public office," Galen wrote.

A mechanism for ideologically imperfect citizens to participate in their government?

Now that would be liberating.

No comments: