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Carne Ross

Carne Ross

Posted May 5, 2009 | 08:48 PM (EST)

Why Arlen Specter is an anarchist


I have been pondering Arlen Specter's defection to the Democrats. The only plausible explanation of his behavior is that he is, in fact, an anarchist. Only someone dedicated to the destruction of democracy would act in such a manner. Consider the facts. He serves the Republican party for 40 years, latterly serving, with scant public complaint, the most incompetent and right-wing Administration in at least a generation. Only when his own reelection in Pennsylvania is threatened does he defect, when the Republicans are in disarray and descending the polls like a bootless mountaineer on a scree slope.

Those who voted for him in Pennsylvania have every right to feel outraged. Having voted Republican, they must now watch him side with the opposition for the remainder of his senatorial term. Meanwhile, those Democrats who worked against him in the recent elections will be forced by their leadership to accept him. Those Democrats who celebrated this defection, as many have done in a somewhat tasteless manner, have successfully reconfirmed the scepticism of many that politics is not about people, but about Washington. Their naked ambition to achieve the magical filibuster-proof 60 votes serves a similar disillusioning purpose.

Consider the British example - of how not to do it. Here, the idiosyncracies of the electoral system invariably produce large majorities for the governing party, currently Labour. What it doesn't produce is healthy political discussion of legislation nor, as you would thus expect, good policy. The childish behavior of parliamentarians at the Punch and Judy show known as Prime Minister's questions (you can view it on C-Span) is entertaining, but the British parliamentary experience is not otherwise to be emulated.

Even if the Democrats are the winner, the clear loser is belief in congressional politics, and thus in democracy as currently formulated. Barack Obama implores voters to rediscover their faith in politics and bravo to that, but episodes like this serve precisely the contrary effect, as he - at least secretly - must know. Specter's selfish act, and the Democrats' ill-judged hurrah for it, instead only deepens the chasm between voters and their representatives. The deeper that chasm, the more alternatives, like a politics without parties, indeed without government, look appealing. That's why there are convincing grounds to suspect that Specter is, in fact, an anarchist.