The news this morning that Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter [R] has announced that he's switching parties should be a wake-up call for a Republican Party that has moved so far to the right that it is in danger of alienating the increasing majority of moderate Americans, especially those in the northeast where the Republican Party appears to be slipping into obsolescence. The GOP has long prided itself on tarring the Democrats with "being out of touch with mainstream American values."
Today, that tag seems more applicable to them than it does to the Democratic Party.
As it stands, Specter will be the 59th Democratic Senate seat. If, as he's widely expected to, Al Franken wins the disputed Senate race in Minnesota, the Democrats will have filibuster-proof majority.
Among the many messages here for the die-hard conservative element of the Republican Party is that they are rapidly become dead weight as a new generation of Republicans takes a long look at the outcome of reactionary conservative stances towards social issues, in addition to economic and political ones.
Among the assembled constituents outside Specter's office this morning were members of the self-identified "Christian middle," whose concerns include poverty and social justice. In sharp contrast to the crowds who applauded Sarah Palin at the Republican National Convention last summer as she jeered at Barack Obama's history as a community organizer, a growing number of moderate Republicans appear to be slowly realizing that they've become sharecroppers in their own party.
In the years since the Religious Right staked its claim on the GOP and metastasized itself to the party with a mantra of harsh social conservative rhetoric, the true tenets of the Republican Party ---small government, fiscal conservativism, personal freedom ---have been lost in a tidal wave of fundamentalist Christian-driven hysteria focusing on rabidly anti-gay, anti-choice, anti-science, pro-war oratory and policy-making. This in turn appears to be alienating the next wave of Republicans in their early twenties (the Meghan McCain generation, for lack of a better term) who not only don't share their elders' prejudices, but also indeed take pains to distance themselves from them.
In the coming days, expect a barrage of snide official commentary from the self-identified "leaders" of the Republican Party about how Specter was "on his last legs" and was going to lose his Senate seat in the next election. Expect nominally "off the record" comments about "traitors" and "false conservatives." Expect a public front of regret, and a private orgy of confusion, hand wringing, rhetoric, and blame.
But at the same time, the GOP would do well to take a long hard look at what the next generation of Republicans sees when it turns on the television and watches Dick Cheney ogreishly defending the torture of accused "terrorists" in defiance of international laws to which the United States is signatory. Or what it saw during the "tea bagging" protests: red-faced, ranting right-wingers calling the president of the United States a "fascist" who wants bring "white slavery" to America, recalling the protesters who waved watermelon slices and stuffed monkeys at anti-Obama Sarah Palin rallies last summer. Or what it takes in when it sees the same group of old, white male also-rans (and of course, Sarah Palin who seems to have forgotten she's supposed to be running Alaska, not running for President of the United States) snapping at the actual president's heels every time he attempts to move America out of the selfish, brainless nationalism of the Bush years and back to the position of respect and prestige it enjoyed under the Clinton years and before, at the same time as he attempts to heal the egregious economic wounds inflicted on the country whose presidency he won.
If the GOP has any real desire to survive as a significant political influence in America, it would do well to rethink its allegiances to the Religious Right and the rabid social conservatives who decided, eight years ago, that America was their personal feeding ground. It would do well to listen to moderate Republicans who remain steadfastly loyal to their party, like Olympia Snowe of Maine, who have admitted that moderate voices in the Republican Party are regularly drowned out and dismissed.
It would do well to take a long hard look at not only itself, but what America thinks of when it thinks of "the Right," and ask itself why so many people are backing away from it---slowly, carefully, as from a rabid dog they don't want to provoke into an attack.