Arlen Specter is gone. The Democrats are jubilant in celebration; their mouths watering at the thought of a filibuster free Senate. The Republicans are hurt, downtrodden, and licking their wounds. We are already seeing the cries from the Right- “Good Riddance,” “We didn’t need him,” and “He wasn’t really a Republican anyway.”
But before we let our embarrassment and hurt turn into an emotional lashing-out at the one who wounded us, we should step back and ask ourselves ‘why’? What is going on that one of our own has forsaken us? Why, in such a crucial time, did such a senior (and yes moderate) Republican abandon ship?
Of course there are the easy answers; some of which are true, others not. He was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Probably not true. After all he was a Republican Senator for some 29 years. It was expedient. Most definitely true. Specter says this much himself. The demographic in Pennsylvania has shifted and he feels he needs to follow in order to keep his position. (See his official statement here: http://www.specter2010.com/news6.html).
Expediency is probably the correct answer. Most Republicans throw up their hands here in disgust and indignation- and rightly so. It isn’t fun to feel betrayed. But I think we need to press this further. It must be expedient for some reason. Presumably, Specter hasn’t thrown in the proverbial Republican towel for personal fame, fortune, or power. He’s switched sides because he believes it is the way to stay in office and make policy. The question is- why does he think this?
The fact of the matter is that Republicans lost Congress, we lost independents, and we lost the election. We now seem to be losing the Northeast completely. Some may say good riddance, but I think this is the wrong approach. We need to take a long hard look at what the party is becoming and where America is going. Ranting and raving will not help us. We can slink into a corner and bemoan our sorry state with the few stalwarts left, or we can step up, be strong, and redefine ourselves.
When Reagan swept to the White House, he had a broad and strong coalition behind him. The modern Republican Party has always admired Reagan as its poster child. However, we appear to have moved very far from that historical greatness. How can we expect to persuade all of America to support us when we can’t convince our own Senators to stay in the party?
Unfortunately, the Republican Party is slipping from a national to a nearly a regional party. We cannot allow ourselves to devolve into a small, narrow party. We cannot allow ourselves to be a pipsqueak of a voice to a new mighty big-tent Democratic Party.
It is easy to get caught up in a kind of ideological hubris. We can protect our egos by ‘trimming’ the fat, by driving out those that fail to tow the orthodox party line. But we do little to help the party. We need to develop new ideas, new policies, and new ways of presenting old ideas and policies that will appeal not only to the current core, but to independent Americans. We have to reconsider what our priorities are. We may even have to be willing to compromise on some issues. This is unfortunate, but we can do a lot more good for this country compromising on certain policies in order to regain control of the House, Senate, and eventually the Presidency, than by being an obstinate, minority party.
Maybe Specter’s leaving is good for us. Maybe it will force us to rethink. I truly believe we have it mostly right. The majority of our changes are in presentation. However, it needs to be utterly clear that we cannot simply be a party of the South. Until we realize that, we will remain in the wilderness.