The news this week is swollen with commentary about the defection of longtime Republican Senator Arlen Specter to the enemy camp. The right wing talking heads have dubbed him 'Benedict Arlen' and wish him nothing but the worst of luck in his new endeavors. The left wing commentators are gloating almost more than when their candidate took the white house (and I dare say perhaps they were looking for something else to gloat about these days). I wonder though if this switch which would have been hard not to predict, is really such a big deal for anyone and if so what it might actually mean.
Let's face it Specter has never been a very good Republican by anyone's standards. The left hasn't ever been particularly fond of him, even though he votes with them far more often than the right would like. The right can't stand him since he is an outspoken pro-choicer and clearly loves government spending. The truth is he follows the wind and polling data in his state and has no real set of values. His own representatives have been all over the news this week spelling out the fact that he left, not due to some ideological schism (though one could easily show that there is one) but simply because he had no viable means of being re-elected if he ran again as a Republican. The right wing of the Republican party responded to his support of the bloated stimulus package by supporting a more conservative candidate (with this kind of friends...) Now Specter faces a strong challenger from the right in Pat Toomey and may not garner the support he thinks he'll have from the left in his state. It's almost assured that his party shift came with a handshake deal from the DCCC that they would not field a primary candidate against him, but that doesn't make him a 'good Democrat' to Pennsylvania voters.
One thing that becomes painfully clear with this shift is that the differences between the statist Republican party and the statist Democratic party are significantly fewer than their similarities. If a 28 year veteran of one party can't fins something more suitable between them then I wonder if there is any reasonable difference at all.
For my money I don't see this hurting the Republican party at all. For starters he already voted against them any time it mattered. Secondly he's not likely to vote differently as a Democrat so on the floor of the senate all it does is shift more leadership into the hands of someone who is arguably less liberal than other Democrats might be. Also as a bonus to the R's the next Senate election in Penn. will be a race between a 'good' Republican and the shitty Republican they used to have which blocks out the possibility of an even more left wing whacko Democrat that might very well have had a chance against Pat Toomey fresh from a hard fought primary. Now Toomey can begin campaigning immediatley against a weakened and despised Specter. Specter as a Republican took the senate seat in 2004 with an 11% lead over the Democrat opponent and while many people may have shifted party loyalty and some may go with Specter it still amounts to a large margin for Toomey to hold. Especially when you consider how many fewer Democrats can bring themselves to the polls for a man they have hated for years. Also of note I highly doubt with all the vitriol on the right it will be remotely difficult for Toomey to raise a campaign war chest.
For those of us who prefer Liberty to the State this doesn't mean very much at all. Specter was no friend of ours to begin with and frankly Toomey isn't much better. The amount to which this emboldens the big government left may hurt a little but at this point it would be difficult to find that nugget in the massive pile of insult we are already enduring. It may stand to help fund raising efforts for us as it's one more name to add to the list of people who prove that both major parties favor vast government expansion as much or more than we have been saying all along.
So across the board (as with most political upheaval in Washington) it may very well amount to equal parts benefit and deficit for all parties involved. Perhaps there's some advantage for the left in that they can claim a strong victory over a longtime Republican but the cost is the loss of an opportunity for what very well could have been a much more favorable (to them) candidate taking the Senate seat in 2010. And I can assure this wont save them any money in that race.