Arlen Specter


Newspapers and magazines aren’t the only ones who must adapt or die these days. Politicians sometimes find themselves in a similar situation, as did U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, who announced today he is defecting from the Republican Party to the Democratic side of the political aisle.

“As the Republican Party has moved farther and father to the right, I have found myself increasingly at odds with the Republican philosophy and more in line with the philosophy of the Democratic Party,” Specter, 79, said during a press conference.

There is truth in what Specter said, as he was a moderate member of the Republican caucus. He was one of only three Republican senators to vote in favor of President Obama’s economic stimulus package. But make no mistake, he switched political parties because there was a real chance he would lose the upcoming Republican primary for his U.S. Senate seat. Now he will run unopposed in the Democratic primary.

“The bottom line is the Republican Party has become inhospitable to moderates,” U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, told CNN. “It was just very uncomfortable for Arlen Specter. He was being challenged on the right. When he did what he thought was principled, he was scorned by the overwhelming base of his party.”

As has been shown time and again since Barack Obama won the presidency last November, no one has been a bigger Republican base rallier than talk-show host Rush Limbaugh. He said this about the Specter defection: “A lot of people said, well Specter, take McCain with you, and his daughter. Take McCain and his daughter with you.”

Way to prove Specter’s point about the Republican Party being less inclusive, Limbaugh. Rip another moderate Republican senator, John McCain, and his outspoken daughter, Meghan McCain — who dares to call for a dialogue about the future of the Republican Party — while you’re angry about Specter. If the Republican Party continues to listen to the likes of Limbaugh, it deserves to fall apart.

With that said, I am slightly concerned about the 60-vote, filibuster-proof majority the Democrats will have in the U.S. Senate if and when Al Franken is seated as Minnesota’s junior U.S. senator. I normally don’t think it is good for a single political party to be in charge of the White House and both congressional chambers. I suspect most people feel that way, and the Republicans will rise again as a result. But this may be a rare time when it is palatable for one political party to have control of both reins of the federal government. Desperate times demand clear, decisive leadership, and the GOP’s current modus operandi appears to be simple: oppose anything and everything suggested by Democrats. Things need to get done NOW to prevent the economic crisis from getting worse.

Incidentally, Specter said he “will not be an automatic 60th vote.” Good. I don’t want 60 rubber stamps running the U.S. Senate. Nor do the American people as a whole. But we do want consensus to be reached so things get done — not stonewalling tactics and opposition just for the sake of opposition. The stakes are too high to screw around.

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Chris Matthews, the host of MSNBC’s “Hardball,” reportedly is considering a run for the U.S. Senate.

According to The Patriot-News, a Pennsylvania newspaper,  Matthews met with Pennsylvania Democratic Party officials this week to talk about challenging incumbent Republican Senator Arlen Specter in 2010. Matthews, a Philadelphia native, was a speech writer for President Jimmy Carter and a top aide to former House Speaker Tip O’Neill.

Anyone who watches Matthews on TV knows he has a tendency to babble and interrupt his guests, which makes me think he would come in handy when the Democrats need somebody to deliver a filibuster. Of course, it remains to be seen whether the Democrats will even need to employ that obstructive tactic two years from now. Will the Democrats hold onto power in 2010 or will the Republicans take back some of the legislative seats they lost in the past few years? I suppose the answer to that question will rely heavily on whether the country’s economy improves by then and whether Barack Obama is perceived as having done a good job as president up to that point.