Liberals got very excited yesterday when Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter announced that he was leaving the GOP to join their side. Daily Kos and The Nation both ran excited pieces about how this great victory for Barack Obama and the Democrats.
But perhaps no one went as far as Jacob Heilbrunn who yesterday wrote in The Huffington Post:
Pundits have been feverishly speculating about what Barack Obama's most important accomplishment is in the past 100 days. I say it came today. Senator Arlen Specter is switching from the Republican to the Democratic party. The specter of Specter as a Democrat will enrage Republicans and should come as big relief to Democrats.
The big victory isn't something worthwhile like ending the occupations of Afghanistan and/or Iraq, warrantless wiretapping or the illegality of marijuana, which now that I think about it, Obama didn't do. It is getting somebody new to join the party.
Heilbrunn does go on to say this move brings the party of LBJ and Clinton closer to a filibuster proof majority in the Senate but mentions nothing about policy except for this curious bit about how Specter is concerned that the executive branch has too much power:
Specter's move was prefigured by his opposition to the Bush administration's aggrandizement of power. In the latest issue of the New York Review of Books, Specter has a lengthy and perspicuous essay titled "The Need to Roll Back Presidential Power Grabs." In it, Specter notes that he worries that Obama will rely on signing statements and on a "state secrets" privilege to stymie lawsuits "challenging controversial policies like warrantless wiretapping." But as a Democrat, he will likely have more influence in pushing legislation that would, in his words, allow "Congress and the courts to reassert themselves in the system of checks and balances."
So Obama has scored a major accomplishment because now someone who opposes him on some not exactly unimportant matters will be in a stronger position. Makes sense.
And where will the other Democrats stand on the matter if Specter tries take power away from Obama and the Oval Office and give it to the other branches of government? Heilbrunn says nothing on this matter, not that you should look to him for wisdom. If the last year or so is any indication, Democrats don't look too kindly on those who oppose any aspect of Obama's agenda, so maybe they will eventually kick him out of their party.
(For the record, I have not read "The Need to Roll Back Presidential Power Grabs" (May 14) and I am doubtful that Specter will press the issue.)
This incident brings up a very intriguing possibility for the Republicans, or at least the Republicans who have a sense of humor. If all of the congressional elephants were to declare that in unison that they are joining the donkeys, it would be hillarious to see the netroots respond with glee. The defectors wouldn't even have to say they are changing their stance on any issue -Specter apparently hasn't. And when the Republicans rejoin their old party the following day, it will probably be just as funny to watch the coalition for change, or whatever they call themselves, react in disbelief.