05/03/2009 02:25 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

No Doubt that the Political Pendulum will Swing Again

Democrats could hardly control their glee, while Republicans offered the most implausible spin on the news that Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Arlen Specter would seek re-election next year as a Democrat.

Assuming Al Franken will someday become Minnesota's junior senator, Specter's departure from the GOP would potentially give the party of Andrew Jackson, Franklin Roosevelt and Barack Obama the 60 votes required to override any filibuster in Congress.

Though I agree with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that Specter's decision to switch parties was motivated by politics, it is still not good news for the Republican Party.

Moderate Republicans in Congress are an extinct group. As a Republican, Specter represented 33 percent of that contingency, with Maine Sens. Snowe and Collins comprising the other two-thirds.

According to Amy Walter of The Hotline, only Republican senators Gordon Smith, Ted Stevens, Chuck Hagel and John Warner voted as moderately as Specter in 2008, and none of them currently serve in the Senate.

The loss of political moderates is perhaps the best indicator of a political party in decline. When the extremes on either side of the political aisle become the dominant voice in a two-party system it tends to suggest that their beliefs are normative, diminishing the value placed on compromise, which is where moderates most often exist.

But losing Specter is not simply losing a moderate seat in the Senate; it is reflective of the public's perception of the Republican Party. A recent Washington Post poll indicates only 21 percent self-identify as Republicans.

Conservative grass-roots activists want a party that is pure. A noble thought, but hardly one that can comprise a majority. Just peruse the current Electoral College map and see that on its present course the Republican Party brand is not that appealing beyond the true believers.

But there is a cautionary note for Democrats in The Washington Post poll as well. While 35 percent identify as Democrats, 43 percent identify as Independent/Other, which ought to be a concern to both parties because that number has been trending upward over the past decade.

The loss of GOP moderates also means Democrats must govern more from the center. How will this play with those on the left, who rightly or wrongly believe it's their turn to enact policies shunned by the Republican majority?

The good news for Republicans is a party in decline is the first step in becoming a party on the rise.

Federalist and Whigs notwithstanding, Democrats and Republicans must endure the highs and lows of political approval. It is necessary for the long-term vibrancy of the republic.

In 1992, Democrats controlled the executive and legislative branches of the federal government. By 2002, Republicans held that distinction. Moreover, the cyclic aspect of politics is inextricably linked to the changing current events.

The decline of Republicans can be attributed to three areas: Length of time as the majority, which breeds complacency; issues, which they were accountable being in the majority; and arrogance, which historically is the natural by-product of being in the majority.

It wasn't that long ago when Karl Rove held the grandiose notion of making the Republican Party the nation's permanent majority party. He portrayed President George W. Bush's narrow victories in 2000 and 2004 as landslide mandates. But Rove's arrogance also led to his overreach.

The result was the Republican Party circa 2006 had become a mere shell of its conservative rhetoric as it financed two wars on the federal credit card, attempted to dismantle Social Security, engaged in runaway spending, involved in multiple scandals, and even tried to politicize the Justice Department for its own gain.

But it is such mistakes in judgment and the subsequent banishment to political exile by the electorate that allows one to not only discover its political voice, but to rekindle the humility required in order to once again become the majority.

Sooner or later, Democrats will fall victim to the same vices that the put the Republicans in the minority; it's the cyclic nature of American politics. The only question is whether the Republicans will be in position to take advantage of their opportunity when it resurfaces.

Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor and syndicated columnist and blog-talk radio host. He is the author of Strip Mall Patriotism: Moral Reflections of the Iraq War. E-mail him at or visit his website: