THE BLOG
06/12/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Specter Switch: The Downfall of the Democrats?

Years from now, Arlen Specter's seismic switch may well be marked as the undoing of the Democrats.

No, not the Republicans. Their cyclical demise was cemented before the 2006 election by backing the ruinous Iraq War and regarding basic ethics to be as stifling (and optional) as government regulation (see DeLay, Tom).

Karl Rove's master plan of a permanent Republican majority was predicated on the idea of playing to the base. So the GOP has blithely refused to give up the ghost of wedge issues like guns, gays and abortion, thus playing into the Dems' hands. They now have lopsided majorities in Congress not seen since Bush the Elder.

Arrogance and bombast also doomed the GOP. What's remarkable is that Republicans haven't let up, even as their base has shriveled to an anemic one-fifth of the voting public.

Not that Democrats are immune to that, although in defeat, the donkeys tend to cower, while elephants evidently charge. The Dems' power-hungry ways bought them the Republican Revolution of 1994.

Now their haughtiness about Specter could prove just as damaging.

The Republican senator, elected back in 1980, did the Democrats an enormous favor by swapping parties last week -- something that should have sent them scrambling to throw a ticket-tape parade.

Instead, it just brought out the Dems' pettiness and divisiveness, which have always their fortes. The party has popped one helluva big tent in the Senate, ranging from reformed Republican Specter to Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders. And it's not clear that that even the Democratic Party can sustain that much diversity.

Of course, there was self-preservation at work, as right-winger Pat Toomey was all but assured to obliterate Specter in the Pennsylvania GOP primary next year. But the moral outrage from the chattering classes is beyond silly. Politics is an exercise in narcissism, to some degree. When did perspiring pundits like Chris Matthews get so naive?

The bottom line is, thanks to Specter, the Democrats will have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate as soon as Al Franken is seated. Not on every issue, as "real" Democrats have already voted against the budget and serious foreclosure reform. It's true that Specter is not a guaranteed vote on pro-union card check or health care legislation.

But historically, those who switch parties tend to vote with their new team significantly more of the time. Beats having Specter as a Republican running scared and veering to the right...right?

Evidently, no. Preening senators did what they always do: throw temper tantrums. God forbid Specter leapfrog others on committees after 28 years of service, so Iowa U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, et al., fought valiantly to strip Specter of seniority and won. Way to make the new guy feel welcome. I'm sure he'll be extra-inclined to vote on your ethanol welfare bill next time around.

The reaction from liberal activists and the blogosphere was yawningly predictable: Off with Arlen's head! Purity rituals worked so well for Republicans that the Democrats are hankering to give them a try. U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak hath been anointed the savior of progressive values (i.e. special interests) and will likely challenge Specter in a primary.

Reasonable Democrats -- say the president of the United States -- have swung their full-throated support to Specter. But what does Barack Obama know? He only overwhelmingly won the last national election. With his courting of the pro-lifers and the insurance industry, he's not really one of us anyway. Primary the popular president in '12!

Specter is the ultimate test for Democrats, many of whom are gripped with the delusional belief that the good times will roll on forever -- partly because of their own inherent awesomeness and partly because of the Republicans' repugnance. Which sounds a lot like the Tao of Rove just a few short years ago.

Lately, I've heard from several of U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer's supporters who bray that the Battle Creek Dem will be an entrenched incumbent before the GOP gets it together in 2014. The idea that a freshman -- who won a Republican stronghold with less than 50 percent of the vote -- could get knocked off next year or redistricted out of his seat for '12 apparently hasn't crossed their minds.

The pendulum does swing both ways. Those who forget the fact that America is a moderate country tend to perish.

Many centrist Republicans have voted Democratic in recent elections. But it wasn't so much a vote for the Dems as it was donning a Hazmat suit against the hard-right elements of a hostile Republican Party. That alliance is already starting to crack; note big Obama supporter Lincoln Chafee running for Rhode Island governor as an independent.

Here's a scary thought for both parties. You combine the moderate Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats and what do you get? A fiscally conservative, socially liberal party that could easily win 60 percent of the vote -- the majority that doesn't believe it's adequately represented by either party right now.

It's unlikely in our two-party system buoyed by entrenched interests on both sides. But major parties do occasionally self-immolate, a la the Whigs. And the seeds of discontent are there in abundance.

One has to wonder how much longer the majority will endure being ignored and insulted before they demand something better.