A sad attempt at pandering

With the switching of Pennsylvania senator Arlen Specter to the Democratic Party, many of the eyes in Washington have turned to Maine’s senators. Noted as the last strongholds of the moderate Republican wing, there is speculation that Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe might also feel disillusioned by their party and could perhaps consider changing their label to Democrat.

The idea of switching parties is very strange to me because of the things it implies and the reactions it receives. It seems natural for Democrats to be excited – they’re one vote closer to their filibuster-proof majority, one would think. And that would absolutely be true if the new member of their Senate block were new to the Senate. But should they really be welcoming Specter with open arms? He can’t suddenly be a die-hard Democrat, and his moderate line will only bring the Democratic consensus away from the liberal extreme, essentially diluting their cause.

I have to wonder what it means to Specter to have changed parties. Have all his views instantly switched from conservative to liberal? I find it hard to believe that after building a career based on a platform of largely Republican views, he would miraculously transform into a Democrat. It’s much more likely he feels the grip of many politicians: his party has left him, and his views – unchanged in themselves – now more closely align with those of the Democratic Party. If his opinions really have not changed much, then the way he votes won’t really change either. When he votes with Democrats on issues now, he probably would’ve all along, being a moderate; on issues in which he was most strongly conservative, he will probably still vote like a Republican. So although the Democrats technically have one more number in their column, the voting pattern likely won’t see any drastic changes.

And what about those Republicans who voted for him? Supposedly part of the rationale for switching parties has been the movement of Pennsylvania’s voters in the liberal direction. Specter thinks he has a better chance of winning re-election by running as a Democrat, ostensibly the larger group in the Pennsylvania voting populace. However, he’s not just a new Democrat appearing on the scene to appeal to this new wave of voters; he’s been around for a while, campaigning and advertising his platform.

I find it hard to believe that people who didn’t vote for him because he was a Republican will suddenly latch onto him now that he considers himself a Democrat. If they think it through, they’ll see that he’s still the same person, probably with many of the same views. Those Republicans who got him into office in the first place, however, would be justified in focusing on the label. After all, he proclaimed to represent them, their values and their party and now no longer holds to that. I would think they should see him as a traitor and look to vote for the Republican who steps up to go against him in his next election. Essentially, I see this switch as a sad attempt at pandering, but I don’t think it’s wise. Pennsylvanians already know Arlen Specter, and it’s insulting to their intelligence to presume that he can just change his political brand and win new votes.


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