In a week packed with apocalyptic headlines, none held the Geiger-counter-crazy-nuclear-mushroom-cloud kick of Tuesday’s party affiliation switch by the senior senator from Pennsylvania, Arlen Specter. Pushed to the left by philosophical differences and a curiously well-funded primary challenge, Specter keeps not only his seat, but the dealmaker clout he snagged during the stimulus bill. Further, he flies a solid prime-time middle finger to the party that planned on lynching him for going off the reservation so early in the Congressional session.
Though the balance in the Senate tips closer to the magic filibuster proof sixty seats, the switch is not an unqualified victory for the Democrats. In his very first day as a Dem, Specter voted against the President’s budget, signaling his intention to remain an independent – dare I say, maverick – mind in this Congress.
While Arlen Specter switching parties may not be a magic wand for the Blue, it is nothing but fail for the Red who in one news cycle saw an already upset apple cart get shit on by the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. For both sides of the aisle, Arlen Specter wiped all the bets at the bookies and blanked every Washington forecast. Here’s the five big ways the Pennsylvanian senator changed the game for Obama’s first term.
1) Michael Steele Gets Neutered
The already embattled RNC chair is out of the driver seat for this election cycle. It was primarily his buddies in the Club for Growth which funded Pat Toomey’s primary challenge to Specter’s incumbency and it was the leaks from his office that suggested the push was coming from a GOP establishment upset over the deals Specter was making with the White House.
The problem now is what to do with him. Keeping him would admit impotence and ousting him would invite savage infighting. The national GOP is going to be marginalized until after the next election.
2) 2010 Is The Democrats’ To Lose
With a compromised national office and a publicly undermined fundraising network, the Republicans are looking at a Sisyphean climb next fall. Specter’s switch is a loud no-confidence vote by the GOP’s moderate majority in its neo-con leaders. Without their money and full throated support, the best Republicans can hope for is a non-fatal loss.
Democrats, on the other hand, need to deliver some economic win. Change needs to be real by the summer of 2010 or Republicans will have something to run on besides teabags.
3) Ideology Takes A Back Seat To Pragmatism
The biggest win for the country is that Specter’s switch makes political moderates the most precious commodity in this government. The more Specters and Snowes and Landrieus and Pryors that get pampered in policy meetings, the closer we are to real solutions. Toomey’s campaign said to elected Republicans that they must stay true to the talking points or expire.
Specter’s switch gave the keys back to the moderates.on both sides of the aisle. Nays on principle aren’t going to be enough to get elected in this next decade. Results are back in style.
4) Do or Die for Neo-Conservatism
Arlen Specter leaving the Republican Party is not a sign of its death, though it may be a sign of the death of its neo-conservative element. Less a wakeup call for the party as a whole as the fanatics that drove it into the dumpster, Neo-Cons are on the cliff. Specter sent a real message that as long as the Rush Limbaugh crowd is setting the agenda, the party as a whole is going to suffer.
Republicans will survive, but the teabaggers got to go.
5) Health Care Happens This Year
Whether or not it is the sweeping reform Obama promised remains to be seen, but the Democrats didn’t let Specter keep his job for free. He may not vote for the bill, but he will vote for cloture and finally bring healthcare reform to the floor for an up-or-down vote.
And if healthcare and the economy shows dramatic improvement by 2011, Specter will have assured a second Obama term and, perhaps, a better nation.