Well today Senator Arlen Specter (PA) switched from the Republican party to the Democratic.
Personally, I have some mixed feelings about this. I think it is good in the short term but does seem to prevent a more progressive candidate from taking the seat in the next election.
Sen. Specter was facing a serious challenge from the right wing of the Republican party. He probably wouldn’t have been the nominee unless the Republican challenger completely self-destructed somewhere along the way. This wold have turned the race into a contest between a far right ideologue and probably a moderate Democrat with possibly a independent run by Specter. Now, the Democrats are going to back Specter which does really limit the chance of moving that seat to someone more progressive.
However, in the short term it seems to be a good thing. Once Al Franken is seated, it will put the Democrats at 60 votes, enough to stop a filibusterer. Honestly, if Sen. Specter just casts vote to stop debate and votes against the Democrats on nearly everything else it will be a win. Of course, even that level of support is not a given. He voted against the Republicans pretty frequently and will I’m sure vote however he wants as a Democrat. Hopefully, now he will side with the Democrats a bit more often.
The other part of this is that it demonstrates how broken the Republican party is. The Republicans have moved so far to the right they have completely lost the center. They’ve been losing the moderates for a while now. The last moderate Republican Senators are in Maine. The rest of the party is running to the right as fast as they can and alienating everyone else. In some ways it is satisfying to watch the party that has caused so much of what is wrong with our country fall apart. The voices from that side of the political spectrum only get more angry, desperate and extreme. Unfortunately, this makes the idea of any kind of working together or middle ground impossible to reach.
My concern with the Democratic tent getting bigger is that as the Democrats hold the center, and at this point even the center-right, of the political spectrum the progressive values espoused by the left may not remain core to the party. Just making the tent bigger does not necessarily mean that the newest Democrats will actually help advance progressive values. It just means there are more competing views in one party. Ideological purity like the Republicans have tried to enforce isn’t the way to go. I’m just not sure the giant party of people who get elected and then bicker amongst themselves is ideal either.
Trading a chance at getting a someone who actually shares most of the values of the Democratic party for an unreliable 60th vote is not unnecessarily a good thing. Maybe Sen. Specter will surprise us all. I really hope this all works out well in the end.