Define "a Life"...

... still searching for a clear definition of that thing people keep telling me I need to get...

Location: Springfield, PA

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I feel somehow...

... vindicated? I'm not sure that's quite the right word, but it's the best I can come up with at the moment. I just heard the news a bit ago on NPR, and, frankly, I'm still taking it in.

Well, to put it accurately, Specter has switched party affiliation. If he'd done this a month ago, it would've been the best April-Fool's-it's-not-actually-April-Fool's for real April Fool's Day news story ever. As it is, this move is a sign that the landscape of Washington politics is still far from settled after the tectonic shift of Obama's election.

As for how this news hits me... well, we need to put things in context.

I have no party affiliation. I'm registered as such. It's a personal thing, mostly: I have such serious disagreements with the realities of the two-party system as it stands that I cannot in good conscience sign onto it. So I vote based primarily on issues and candidates, and use my own situation to illustrate the flaws in our party system. Sure, much of the time my beliefs and personal politics have me voting Democrat. But not all the time. I don't believe in voting a party ticket just because it's the party ticket. (I think that's a huge problem with the way our parties work the system now.) And over the last dozen years or so, there have been elections when the Dems seemed unable to get a strong candidate onto the ballot. When that was the case, I had to consider how to use my vote. I'll grant that it was probably never a deciding vote, but, still, it's my vote. And if the stronger candidate had no campaign policies or allegiances that might give me cause to vote against him, I'd consider voting for him. Arlen Specter is the Republican for whom I've voted. 

I don't like the man personally, nor do I agree with a lot of his politics, but I know he's a capable politician. Specter himself has not always toed his party's line, so I've had some reason to believe he wouldn't lightly fall into giving his support to shortsighted initiatives simply out of party solidarity. And as far as I know, he's not a nut. In those years when the Dems weren't fielding viable candidates and the Republicans were pushing -- successfully pushing -- candidates who're blatantly unqualified, incapable, and just plain nuts, a known quantity career politician like Specter looked pretty good. I had reason to believe he wouldn't do anything stupid. Better yet, I had no cause to think he would. That's more than can be said for some other Repug senators from PA.

So, yes, I've voted for Arlen Specter. And it's like he has somehow rewarded my faith (if you can even call it that) and become the more fully realized version of the politician for whom I voted in spite of his party affiliation.

Of course, this new party affiliation is still new news. How it will play out is anyone's guess at this point. I do confess to liking some of Specter's soundbites, though -- "This is a painful decision. I know I'm disappointing many of my colleagues. The disappointment runs in both directions." Zing!

While Specter has said he's "putting principle at the top of the list," I'm full well aware that the heading on that list is Arlen Specter's Political Career. The man's sense of enlightened self-interest was part of the basis for my voting for him, after all. No one should delude himself that the Democrats are gaining a new team member. At best, a sometime ally will be less encumbered than in the past. Specter himself says, "Whatever my party affiliation, I will continue to be guided by President Kennedy’s statement that sometimes party asks too much. When it does, I will continue my independent voting and follow my conscience on what I think is best for Pennsylvania and America." Which is fine by me.

But Specter's move does spark a bit of optimism in me, though. I can't quite help seeing it the the context of the Republican Party's slow self-destruction. It's hard to keep from feeling that there's some honest truth in Specter's explanation that "as the Republican Party has moved farther and farther to the right, I have found myself increasingly at odds with the Republican philosophy and more in line with the philosophy of the Democratic Party." I've heard to-the-core Repugs assert their belief that they've lost recent elections because the Party let itself drift too middle-of-the-road, that the way to win back votes is to retreat to their "core values," to swing farther to the right. It does seem the GOP as a whole believes its future lies in appeasing this far-right base. And I've long felt that as it draws tighter to that unwavering core of dunce conservatives and rabid religious simpletons it's going to find its narrowing circle leaves more and more of its non-fanatic constituents outside its circumference.

For most of my lifetime, the GOP has defined itself by the politics of self-interest. Their conservative "christian" allies will talk in terms of issues of morality, but in most cases all that means is that the strictures of their particular "moral" cause define their own identity so entirely that their sense of self-interest demands that those strictures be totally accepted, affirmed, or at the very least thoroughly enforced. The interests this voter base possesses do not shift in response to changes in the world; that unwavering predictability is what makes them so attractive as a voter base; you only need to answer a few clearly-defined demands to win their support. The catch, of course, is that their list of deal-breakers is long and equally nonnegotiable. The politics of appeasement must eventually become the politics of exclusion. When the policies appeasing these core groups begin to exclude those on the outer rim, the party experiences internal divisiveness. Once that appeasement starts to chafe at the self-interests of those individuals on the outskirts, those not bound by allegiances of fanaticisms, the party will see those individuals drop off, driven or drawn away by the same concerns that brought or held them in the first place.

I hold no illusions about Specter's departure from the Republican Party. I resist the temptation to attach any idealism either its motivations or its repercussions. Still, I cannot wholly keep myself from hoping that there are others in the party who can shut out the noise of dismissal and condemnation within the ranks and consider -- really consider -- what's happened here, and why.


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