Sen. Specter Joins the Democratic Party

Sen. Arlen Specter, a Republican senator from Pennsylvania since 1980 (longer than any of us have been alive), took the final step in the growing alienation from his party. Obviously this is big news, and there is plenty of coverage and reaction over the internet. I personally have some things I like about this, and some things I dislike. Breaking them down as such looks somehting like this.

The Good

  • The Democrats, with Al Franken's eventual seating, have a 60 member caucus, nominally enough to break fillibusters (caveats apply).
  • This both highlights and reinforces the idea that the Republican party has grown radical and isolated, controlled by its crazy base.
  • This makes the Democratic party look reasonable and attractive to self-identified "moderates", if not actual ones.
  • It was likely that T.J. Rooney and Rendell were going to pick a challanger to Specter that would be in the mold of Casey (one of my least favorite senators), and this buys PA Democrats time to grow their field of challangers. Joes Sestak and Schwartz are only serving their 2nd and 3rd terms in the house, and in 4-6 years will be more credible candidates for statewide office. And who knows where Seth Williams will be in 2016...
  • Senator Specter probably won't be a senator for 25 more years, whereas a Casey-esque DINO would.
  • Specter came out during his press conference and said that PA Republicans are too crazy to be allowed to judge his record.

The Bad

  • Senator Specter has already announced his intention to vote against Obama's agenda. He voted against the 2010 budget, he flip-flopped and now opposes EFCA. He opposes budget reconcilliation to pass healthcare and energy legislation, and it's not at all clear that he has made any deal with Harry Reid to vote for cloture when the Democrats really need it.
  • It's clear that Specter's decision was motivated solely by personal interest, as he was doomed to defeat in the GOP primary. Nothing wrong with that per se, but Specter needed the Democrats more than we need him, and I haven't heard anything about what we've gotten in return. Hopefully that's just being kept private.
  • Sen. Specter is a torture apologist, something I find personally abhorent, and not something we need more of in the US Senate.
  • Specter could become a useful idiot, like Joe Lieberman, a Democrat used by the media to bash Democrats.
  • People may not understand that even with 60 members of the caucus, a handful of holdouts (like Specter, Ben Nelson, or Evan Bayh) can still hold up important legislation that Americans are expecting action on. Nothing says "moderate" in this country like obstructing a popular agenda, afterall.
  • TJ Rooney and the PA Democratic party have reportadly agreed to support Specter in the primary. Again, I don't know what concessions, if any, they extracted, but if they move to clear the field, it will be an ugly and deeply undemocratic move, the kind they're known for.

All things considered, I think this could be a good thing. On balance, though, I really don't think we know enough yet to know who got the better of this deal.

I would suggest reading Atrios, Steve Benen, and Matt Yglesias for their reactions. Also, Brendan's reaction closley matches mine.

Bottom line? I'm donating to Joe Sestak!