April 28, 2009

Wherein I Reiterate Something I’ve Said

Filed under: Politics — PolitiCalypso @ 6:16 pm

I cannot say I’m too happy right now about Arlen Specter’s switch to the Democratic Party. Sure, I think it’s hilarious, but underneath that, there are implications that trouble me. Although I now consider myself an unaffiliated independent voter, my views are certainly to the left of the Southern majority, so I generally end up voting for Democrats at the national level and I take an interest in what direction the party is moving. As far as that goes, I really don’t mind that Specter is a moderate on certain issues, but I am troubled by his (current) refusal to switch his support in favor of the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill that would make it easier for employees to form a union and would give them the right to choose how they wanted to do that. I’ve come to believe that widespread unionization was a major driving force behind the boom period of the 1950s, in which household wealth (real wealth, not debt) skyrocketed and the country’s GDP grew. Unionization levels the playing field significantly in the private sector, taking away the near-absolute power that managers would otherwise have to determine salaries, benefits, and working conditions. EFCA is a good bill and it needs to become law.

Therefore it is my hope that, despite his statements that he will not switch to supporting this bill, Specter does come around. If this happens, I don’t think it would be a self-centered political move like this party switch indisputably is. Specter has a very long track record of supporting labor, which is why the unions in Pennsylvania have tended to support his election campaigns. If anything, his statement that he would oppose EFCA was a self-centered political move, a failed Hail Mary pass to try to get him through the Republican primary next year. He may very well decide to support it after all if that is where his true convictions (such as they are) lie. After all, he went on record as saying that he would not switch party affiliation, and look what happened.

In any case, whether Specter switches back on EFCA remains to be seen. I’d tentatively bet on it, but I think it would take time for him to announce that. There are other issues relating to this man’s switch, though, that are actually far more troublesome.

I have posted before that the Republican Party needs to become a bigger tent, and that the way to begin that is for moderates in the South to run in Republican primaries rather than Democratic ones. Now, with the loss of yet another moderate member from GOP ranks, I think the message is even more important. I realize that it’s not that likely that many current members of the GOP, especially Southern Republicans, would be all that interested in what a former staffer for a prominent Democrat would advise. And I’ll be fully honest here; I don’t give this advice because I care about the Republican Party. I give it because I care about the political landscape of the United States of America, and I think it is profoundly unhealthy to have something approaching one-party rule, with the sole viable alternative being a monolithic, highly ideological party based out of one region. A party whose ideology, in fact, contains pillars firmly grounded in theocratic government rather than the Constitution. I’ve expounded upon this before in that piece I linked. It’s just not a good thing.

Republican Jim Tedisco, who on paper looked like a very good candidate, recently lost a special election in New York to Scott Murphy, who had no political experience. Specter has defected. Maine Senator Olympia Snowe, a Republican, had this to say about Specter’s switch:

“For me personally and then for the party, its devastating,” Snowe said of Specter’s move. “I’ve always been concerned about the Republican party nationally, about their exclusionary policies towards moderate Republicans. That’s not a secretly held view on my part.”

If you peruse any right-wing blog today, you’ll find ’wingers telling her in no uncertain terms to GET LOST. They are cheering Specter’s defection as well. This is what the base has turned into, an intolerant, rigidly ideological collection of malcontents who will brook no dissent whatever from the right-wing orthodoxy.

The GOP is based in the South. It has all but lost the Northeast and Middle Atlantic states now. GOP voters in those regions have largely switched over, leaving behind the Tea Party crew. It is falling behind in the Midwest and West. The change that this party desperately needs must come from the region that it is still strong in, the South. It needs to come from a region where a lot of people identify as Republican not entirely out of ideology, but also because of such factors as family history, tradition, and the presence of a strong organization in the community.

In recent weeks another wrinkle has appeared in Mississippi in particular. The state Democratic Party organization has all but fractured along racial lines. Ike Brown, who provides mega ammunition for right-wing whining that “black-on-white discrimination happens too” and “the Democrats suppress votes too,” is the source of some of the conflict. The selection of Sam Hall for a key leadership post, a white man who has supported some rather right-wing Republicans, is another. From what I hear, they might as well establish a DMZ, it’s so bad. That party is in no condition to conduct elections properly at the state level until the race issue is ironed out somewhat.

I think that moderates who might be considering running for office should challenge the ’wingers on their home turf, the Republican primaries. Ideally this should include some African American moderates as well, because of the racial tensions in Mississippi politics. That is a stroke that I doubt the ’wingers would expect. With the Mississippi Democratic Party in a state of virtual civil war, it really makes much more sense for moderates to challenge theocrats in Republican primaries. They would not have the stain of association with a party whose state branch is currently at war with itself over race. (The exception I give is if they already have notable experience in office as Democrats, such as Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, likely gubernatorial candidate in 2011. Such candidates could probably stand on their own records instead of being associated purely with their party label as first-time candidates often are, and it would then be inadvisable for them to switch.) And if they won, it could be the beginning of the Republican Reformation.

As I said, my views tend to the left on most areas except education, and in that area I can’t really pinpoint what they are except “civil libertarian, school choice, individual-oriented, big money for gifted education, anti-NCLB, and get the bureaucracy OUT.” I don’t expect either party in Mississippi to field candidates whose positions are closely aligned with mine. But this isn’t about me. It’s about saving a party from national oblivion. That benefits everyone, including Democrats.

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