TWC Roundtable 2 – Arlen Specter

TOPIC: Last week, Arlen Specter left the GOP, likely setting up the Democrats with a 60-seat majority in the Senate. National Republicans have launched a major re-branding effort to reconnect with voters. Is the GOP in trouble? Will Democrats overreach and squander this opportunity? How will this affect 2012?

coughlin Chris C
International government relations consultant
Chris has spent years doing international development work, and helped open one of the first companies in Vietnam after the war. When not recounting elections past, Chris enjoys reminiscing about his time at the world’s greatest university – SUNY Oneonta.
golding Chris G. – TA, US History 1600-1877, Temple University When not in St. Andrews, Chris spends a large portion of his time as a public intellectual. He is a noted scholar of things that happened several hundred years ago. Chris aspires to one day participate in a coup and settle down with Shakira.
steph Steph – mining industry fundraiser
Stephanie has lived in DC for several years now. She is a young Republican and represents the future of her party. When not working hard, she enjoys supporting mascot-like wildlife.
brett BrettPhiladelphia-based venture capitalist Brett has spent seven years in venture capital, primarily focused on early stage tech companies. He is also a Penn graduate and as such, has detailed knowledge of things our other panelists can only hope to comprehend. He resides in Philadelphia with his wife, dog and love of bagels.

Chris C.:

Greetings all.  Clearly the GOP is at a nadir. Two election cycles and the Republicans gave up all the gains in the House since 1994. With Obama in the White House and a fresh, emerging filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, the Republicans haven’t been this bad off since, well…..Jimmy Carter.

Therein lies the promise….Democrats gone wild.

Already Obama has seen fit to triple the national debt, fire CEOs, replace boards of directors, award unions equity stakes in major companies, vilify investors and threaten contract sanctity. One can only imagine what he and the Democrats can do with the GOP completely closed out. Now he owns it, lock, stock and barrel. No more snarling conservatives to blame. Nancy Pelosi may necessarily go mute as a result.

Stripped of its rhetoric, Obamaism doesn’t add up. In total, it undermines its own goals, ironically making his policies the antithesis of the prosperity he ostensibly seeks. “There is no such thing as a free lunch.”  Obama wants to change to laws of economics. 2012 rides on his success.

Chris G.:

Let’s push aside the larger ramifications for a moment and focus on Arlen Specter, who happily represents me and the state of Pennsylvania. The man was a moderate Republican and he is now going to attempt to fashion himself as a moderate Democrat. Personally, I hope this fails and a real democrat wins the next election for the PA senate seat.

As to the Republican Party itself, they are in terrible trouble – but only if the natural reaction to the current state of affairs takes place. The defection of Specter points to the stark chasm that is opening up within the moderate political spectrum. The Republican Party is simply getting destroyed in almost every meaningful political demographic poll. They are witnessing defections in who identifies as republican, and the existence of “young republicans” is on par with the wild Panda. We can only hope that this will also result in biting incidents.

So, what should be the reaction to this situation? The development of a new political party. Specter could lead the damn thing. Call up Ron Paul and see if he wants out of this mess, and try to spawn a moderate-republican/libertarian coalition that would return to many of the supposed principles of the current Republican Party. It is clear at this point that the political spectrum within America would likely be best served by at least four different parties (left-liberal, moderate-liberal, moderate-conservative, and right-conservative). The liberal coalition is rather strong at the moment, but, let’s be honest, some of the far-left are absolute nutters of the same ilk as Michelle Bachmann (they just tend not to get elected because, well, most liberals are smart enough not to vote for those assclowns).

Back on topic. What I would expect to see is the continued ossification and radicalization of the Republicans as they flail around trying to figure out how to compete in an environment where every year their voting bloc shrinks as a new group of liberal-leaning 18 year-olds come of voting age. Ultimately, this should force the Republican Party to disavow it’s more radical members, and try to re-incorporate the Arlen Specter’s of the world.

As to Chris’ point about the economic validity of Obama’s policies, good things come to those that wait. Obama has already explicitly announced his plans to eviscerate entitlements and rein in a considerable amount of government spending in the coming years. To borrow from South Park, Obama and his team had to choose between a shit sandwich and a giant douche in dealing with the current economic situation. So, it is a bit premature to suggest that Obamaism doesn’t add up. Obamaism is in power now, which equates to compromises and dealing with lived realities…rather than simply stump speeches.

Chris C.:

Well, at least we can agree that a real Democrat wins the Pennsylvania senatorial primary.  I heard Sestak was looking.

There is no “stark chasm” – at least none that Specter represents.  He’s a narcissist who has mistaken his indispensability to Senate with the some sort of barometer of Republican politics.  And I’d be cautious in using words liked “destroyed.” Democrats were blown out the window in ’80, ’84 and ’88, and Reagan carried the youth vote in ‘84. And by the same token, Clinton won more electoral votes in a three way race twice than Obama did on his own. We need to be careful about mandates and party disintegration talk.

Conservatism needs an update, but Obama makes a better case for it than the Republicans do themselves. He’ll reap what he sows, as will the Democrats. Republicans will eventually come back to the basic rules that put them in power in the first place. After 6 years of Richard Nixon, two wars, inflation and pardons, a non-elected president almost knocked off Carter.  Reagan – what was the word – demolished him, with the very principles that I suppose Chris calls radical.

Obama is in charge. He owns the store. There’s no one left to blame.  He gets to run it as he calls it.  As he famously told John Boehner, he won the election.  Fine. There are no compromises necessary.  Pure liberal politics.

In a sense, there is relief.  I genuinely believe that Obama’s policies will fail because he can’t pay for the dollars he’s shooting out the door. And in creating new entitlements, he only perpetuates the lock of Washington on walled off tax dollars that can never be touched.

Joe-six-pack is going to take it in the shorts with medical scarcity and obscured tax increases not even remotely offset by his Happy Meal tax credit.

Chris G.:

Specter is a man that saw the writing on the wall, as the Republican Party has shrunk considerably in Pennsylvania, where moderate Republicans have left the party (badly exposing him in the primary) and what is left is a rump party of ideological die-hards. All polling data shows that people that the number of people who self-identify as Republicans has shrunk considerably. It is not the right-wing element of the Republican Party 6 years ago that is defecting, so, there absolutely is a chasm opening between the “Republican Party” and traditional moderate republican thought.

The problem for the Republican Party can possibly be best exemplified by the polling slide of the gay marriage debate. The evangelical infusion into the party’s message is creating a dogmatic position on an issue that is consistently sliding against their stance. Similar to the segregationists of a previous epoch, this current crop of “conservative” politicians is going to be pushed into the dustbin of history.

One can certainly make a cogent argument that political trends sway, but, generally speaking, western political thought has been on a narrative of overall liberalization for a rather long period of time. If one is on the conservative side of the line, it is likely that your views will be castigated as time passes. Hell, in the course I am currently teaching I’ve read students lambasting Lincoln for not being progressive enough on slavery. The fact that the southern states felt the need to secede due to his election had little effect in saving his political opinions in his own time. What is absolutely true is that the Democratic Party in the last 80-odd years has generally been ahead of the curve as far as the political center of the nation (thus their struggles in presidential elections). However, the liberal party and liberal political moments like the one we are currently living within have supplied the impetus for dragging the conservative party towards a more liberal agenda.

Therefore, in order for Republicans to find the path back to power, it is almost assured they are going to have to move significantly left (moderate) on a slew of social issues that they are currently struggling with, or will be in the coming years if they do not shift their position (gay marriage, and drug legalization leap immediately to mind). In the meantime, what we are left with can only be viewed as a radicalized rump of the Republican Party that went to battle with Clinton. I mean, seriously, Michelle Bachmann is a prominent Republican. That is sad for America, not just the Republicans.

Just as liberals grossly underestimated the capability of the neo-conservative cadre to push their policies through the government, I would hold off on underestimating the pragmatism this administration has espoused…and entitlements and spending have specifically been cited as goals to address. May or may not happen, but after 100 days it’s a bit early.

Chris C.:

You know, it’s funny.  When I think of ideological die-hards, I think of Kos and Soros and their ilk and their putrid campaign to dislodge Lieberman.  But to his eternal credit and credibility, Joe stuck it out, fought for his ideas and when ideologues had their day in court, he took the message to Connecticut and won decisively.

Specter could only dream of cohones like that.

Let me say here and for the record, that I haven’t quite figured out how to update the Republican Party.  The debates of the late 20th century were settled – on Republican terms – with slashing tax rates, limiting needless regulations and promoting economic growth that has lasted for 296 of the last 312 months.  Now it’s time to move on to other challenges that require moderation, not throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

But I’m wondering what “moderate thought” Chris is talking about here. Rockefeller Republicanism died a painful death in 1968. Winning Republican candidates for the White House have been unabashed conservatives since – Reagan, HW Bush, and GW Bush.  It was the moderates, Ford, Dole, McCain – the ones who were suppose to reach out to the all-important cut-the-difference middle, that lost.  When there is a clear conservative Republican message, Republicans win.

Chris is absolutely right that the GOP lost its way. The K Street project, earmarks, the perpetuation of power for its own sake…it deserved to take the Congressional wing down. What the congressional GOP did was fracture the core of fiscal conservatives.  I mean, if you can’t reign in budget deficits with a Republican president and a Republican Congress, gigs up.

Chris, are you comparing gay marriage to segregation?  This is troubling on so many levels. For the record, it was the Democrats who from the 1880s through the 1950s that kept the South segregated through Jim Crow and kept it that way. It was only with the civil rights act that Johnson pierced the veil on segregation.  He could not have done it without the votes of Republicans. The southern Democrats bolted on that vote.

But really, taking a step back, do you think that the Republican stance on gay marriage is going to be the defining moment for the Party?  I am old enough to remember when the 2nd Amendment and Republicans full backing for it was going to be our undoing.  Democrats learned that in practice, nice voting Democrats in Michigan and PA and Minnesota and the West were attached to their guns and weren’t ready to give them up while the criminals kept theirs.  It died as an issue.

Gay marriage is complicated, mixing politics, theology and civil law.  It defies easy definition or solution. But in a time of terror, financial collapse, economic uncertainty, it’s not going to be the make or break for the GOP.

And neither is the turn left that you propose. That said, a very hard look at libertarian end of the Party is constructive and useful. It is where maximum political freedom is rooted. But legalizing pot?  For crying out loud Obama won’t get within a mile of that debate.

Oh, and Michelle Bachmann is not a prominent Republican.  Rush Limbaugh isn’t the Party spokesperson, and neither for that matter is Sean Hannity, Chris Beck, Michael Savage or whomever is Axelrod’s target of the day. I can only conclude that the Democrats are so terrified of what Republicans really represent that Team Obama is left to scare the living daylights out of average Americans by accenting extremes, while they themselves practice extremes under the rhetoric of moderation.

Increasingly, what is good for Obama is good for America.  In that sense, Arlen Specter’s defection makes sense. The Democrats are now the Party of raging narcissism.


Let me attempt to digest everything we’ve seen so far. Chris C. started the discussion by saying that there is nothing to worry about in Specter’s defection, because the Democrats will legislate themselves out of office in an orgy of tax increases and hair appointments for Speaker Pelosi. Since I included this possibility in the discussion topic, I certainly agree this is possible.

Chris G. countered by noting that Democratic party affiliation is on the rise among younger voters, which could spell long term trouble for the GOP. He briefly toyed with the idea of a third party, until its major candidates were all eaten by wild pandas. He gives the GOP credit for something that I completely agree with – say what you will about its tactics, but the party knows how to stand up for things. Whether one personally agrees with Bush’s policies, we know the Democrats don’t, and yet they did little to stop him. This has eliminated much of the Congressional leadership’s credibility in my book.

Chris C, by using as many backhanded compliments as will fit in a sentence, pointed out that the GOP has not been effective enough in their opposition. While conceding that Congressional Republicans have largely just said “no,” he blames Democrats for killing several reforms and the kind folks over at Freddie and Fannie. Obama is also accused of raping and pillaging the private sector, which is unfortunately the sort of hyperbole this blog was created to help avoid. Not because I disagree necessarily, but because the thought of Obama bedding several bank CEO’s and then laying waste to lower Manhattan is revolting.

Now for my two cents. I would disagree with the idea of Bachmann being a prominent conservative. The problem is that a large portion of what she says is so $^&%^& absurd that it makes the news. This is a woman who attacked AmeriCorps as being an internment camp program, and was shot down by noted liberal Orrin Hatch. I think the media and liberal blogs enjoy mocking her, and rightfully so, but she isn’t important in the traditional sense.

As for the various arguments put forth about the parties historically, I think it’s more instructive to look at where they stood at those points on the ideological spectrum. For example, while Democrats in the 1800’s supported slavery, this was a conservative position and not something the current party would ever support. Chris C’s point, which I agree with, is that while conservatism may have remained fairly constant, Republicanism hasn’t. For example, even in the last 60 years, we have had several Republican landslides in the presidential elections, including Nixon. Yet Nixon, even in all his Nixon-ness, did things like create the EPA. There are plenty of legitimate arguments for why the GOP has pressed for increased drilling, lesser regulation, and no cap and trade policies, but when today’s party makes Nixon look like a leftie, that clearly indicates a shift.

I don’t disagree that Specter is spineless, and doing what it takes to win, but the one thing about spineless followers is that they tell you who the favorite is. So, this leaves us with the central question. There will always be arugula eating, war hating, pot smoking liberals and there will always be war mongering, nationalist leaning, intelligent design teaching conservatives. Most of America is somewhere in the middle, and it looks like the situation has aligned to make more of that middle vote Democratic. How does the GOP re-attract everyone else without sacrificing its core ideals? Do they become more moderate? Coronate Ron Paul? This is where temporarily, someone not named Chris solves the future of America.

Chris G.:

I would like to begin by rebutting the claim that Michelle Bachmann is not a “prominent Republican.” If you’re elected to the US Congress, you are a prominent Republican. Now, Republicans may not like it but there are what, ~220 republicans currently working in the US House and Senate. There are 306 million people in the country, and ~50 million of those are affiliated with the Republican Party. Most of those folks can say whatever crazy crap they want and it won’t get reported on MSNBC to Olbermann’s delight.

Chris, you write that you think a comparison between gay marriage and segregation is troubling and possibly offensive. You write: “Gay marriage is complicated, mixing politics, theology and civil law.  It defies easy definition or solution. But in a time of terror, financial collapse, economic uncertainty, it’s not going to be the make or break for the GOP.” Segregation was complicated, it most certainly mixed politics and civil law, and given that segregation and Jim Crow were the outgrowth of slavery, theology was most certainly mixed in as well. However, the real reason that gay marriage and drug legalization are worth paying attention to is that they are both social issues that are trending against conservative opinion–I say conservative, because a libertarian would legalize drugs tomorrow if given the opportunity. Both issues represent debates that we are going to see ongoing in the coming years where the older you are (regardless of party affiliation) the more likely you are to be conservative in your stance…the younger you are, the more likely you are to be progressive and liberal in your view. Similar to the gestation of political hot potatoes of the past like abolition and segregation, the conservative position on the issue is on the decline as of now.

You are right to note that even now Obama and other Democrats are not prepared to or willing to move on some of these issues in any strong fashion, but the Democratic Party is far less entrenched and dogmatic in its opinion on both issues in the public sphere- as it is perceived, even if it is not the actual reality for many of them. At times this works to their detriment as Democratic politicians struggle to speak in the absolutes that we see from Republicans…in a sound bite age this is not a strength.

If conservative ideology did not shift to the left over time, the Republican Party would be trying to eliminate Social Security…not reform it. Seems likely to me that we will see similar shifts in the coming years.

Chris C.:

I take my cue from our esteemed moderator, who, through the use of levity might even be able to broker and understanding between Maxine Waters and Tom Coburn.  Hats off to Evan’s succinct summary as well as my worthy enemy combatant, Chris G., for spirited reasoning and wide-ranging knowledge in support of a determined point of view.

One immediate aside.  What is this obsession with pandas here? References abound.  I live in DC, Panda capital of the US with lil’ “Butter Stick” all growed up now. Give a guy a clue.

Now Chris G, I have to ask…do you really want to define prominent as someone elected to Congress? Here, the simple volume of crazies on your side outweighs mine. I’ll raise your Michelle Bachmann with said Maxine Waters and the little guy with the UFO fetish, Kucinich.

Chris G.:

You won’t find me saying anything all that positive about the far-left. However, I haven’t heard any of them publicly telling the American people that the President of the United States is planning developing concentration camps for re-education. This being on the heels of a republican administration that managed to pass the American equivalent of the Reichstag Fire Decree. Read the wording of the Military Commissions Act and the Reichstag Fire Decree in tandem and simply transfer terrorist for Bolshevik…good times.

Liberals have their own nuts, but as moderates defect from the Republican Party you are left with a situation where a far narrower ideological subset can gain office. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party has been expanding, which will expand the ideological spectrum.

Chris C.:

306 million people. 69 million voted for Obama, 59 million voted for McCain and 2 million voted for someone else. Taking out people under 18, Chris’s stoner legalization hopefuls, those transfixed by CNN’s color election graphics, and the homeless that ACORN was having vote multiple times, that leaves more citizens who didn’t vote than those who did. Prominent simply becomes just another subjective term applied to that which irritates you the most. For me that would include both Nancy Pelosi’s politics and her eerily wispy voice.

Let me ask Chris G., do you really believe that drug legalization and gay marriage are the defining issues of our time?  I mean, if legalization was THE issue, Obama would legalize it, tax it, subsidize it, and disribute it as an entitlement. If there is so much support for gay marriage, then by all means, lets get a constitutional amendment passed.  I will cede that these issues trend against Republicans with the caveat that any snapshot of public opinion is the worst indicator of truth.  Personally, I’m much more interested in how you are going to pay my social security benefits and  whether my lower health care premium means that a doctor board decides whether its economical for me to live based on procedures its can approve.  Republicans have answers to these questions.

Chris G.:

The problem is that Americans tend not to vote on economic issues on average, thus why the battleground is social issues and why they are so easy to mention in any discussion of the two parties. The better educated you are and the more affluent you are likely to be…you are also more likely to vote Democratic. The less educated you are and less affluent you are…you are more likely to vote Republican. If economic issues really drove the vote, that situation would be reversed.

As of right now, I would say that gay marriage is going to turn into the social issue of the next decade or so. I would not be shocked if the matter was pretty much decided by the end of that period at this rate. Some of the more conservative areas of the country (read as South…the area where Republicans are strongest) might remain without legalized gay marriage, but what we have been witnessing in the last few years is just the beginning of a trend, and the louder republicans yell against it the more they are going to alienate themselves to a younger demographic that will simply view them as bigoted and theologically dogmatic. Now, what’s important about this is it’s an issue that you can pinpoint without making any value judgment about the opinion of an individual (unless you’re Perez Hilton), as the truly important fact is that the polls are moving progressively. Nor is this a “snapshot of public opinion.”

Chris C.:

Here you and I disagree pretty profoundly. That great intellectual James Carville had it right, it’s the economy stupid.  Exit polls in 2008:  most important issues in your vote: Economy 63%.  Worried that the economic crisis will affect your family?  81%.  BTW, gay marriage and drug legalization didn’t make the survey of important issues.

Principles stand zenith and nadir in political cycles. While the counter-culture dropped acid and made love and not war, conservatism was out of fashion. LBJs victory in 1964 made Obama’s look, um, Bush league. But 16 years later Goldwater’s principles rode into the Oval Office with Reagan. In between, there was eight years of Republicanism. Until Obama, Reaganism was the standard.  Who said the era of big government is over?  Bill Clinton.

Before running to far afield, let me get back to Evan’s points.

Is the GOP in trouble?  Well it depends on what the meaning of “is” is…..

As a party, the Republicans are deeply wounded. You can’t go through the last two election cycles and say anything less. Does that therefore entail that the GOP jettison its long held positions to accommodate a fickle electorate?  No.  Conservatism isn’t a policy it’s a vision grounded in a set of principles that you apply in solving problems. During Reagan’s zenith, that included tax policy, regulations and defense. For W, it was NCLB education, a prescription drug benefit that expanded coverage and reduced cost through private sector competition and keeping tax rates low to remain competitive.  At the same time, Republicans became victims of their own success as entrenched interests in Washington. They spent like drunken sailors and forgot why they were sent to DC in the first place. They confused the national interest with their own interest. Throw in the financial meltdown while Bush was president and who wouldn’t want change.

But the underlying principles, free markets, limited government, competition and entrepreneurship, civil society.  These things won’t change, just adapt  – and that process is ongoing.

Will the Democrats overreach?  It is hard to say no given the track record so far. That’s an observation by the way, not a criticism. The Democratic leadership is playing smack down with legislation. Pelosi promised the most transparent Congress in history in 2006.  Yet the Stimulus bill went forward without so much as a hearing.  The only Republicans consulted were the PA turncoat and the dependably mushy Maine sisters to get past a filibuster in the Senate.

Under the guise of emergency, Obama and the Democrats are taking unprecedented actions. They have approved the use of “reconciliation” in the 2010 budget – a short cut that limits debate and amendment, and eases the majority that is required. What I find so fascinating about this is that reconciliation only requires 51 votes to pass the Senate, not the usual 60 to avoid a filibuster. But the Democrats have a filibuster proof majority.  One can only conclude that the Democrats anticipate losing members of their own party on their own priorities.  What does that tell you about the temperature of the legislation?

2012?  Modern politics suggests that voters hold the incumbents accountable.

2000 was the first time in modern history that the White House changed parties amid peace and prosperity.  And don’t blame Bush — Blame Nader.  And so it was in 08.  With an unpopular war, and unpopular president and a financial meltdown, folks voted for change.My best guess is that half the story of Republican resurrection is being written unwittingly by Obama, Pelosi and Reid.


Oh BOY could this be a long one.  Instead of Three Word Chant, can we turn this into Three Hour Rrant?!  Because Arlen Specter definitely threw me into one last week…

Before I get into how my party plans on rebuilding itself, let’s talk about Mr. Arlen Sphincter (as he’s so warmly called now in DC) and how he almost had me quit my job and get out of politics all together last week.  I could care less whether he wants to run as a Dem or Rep next year.  In fact, I would think he was committing political suicide had he stayed with the GOP – but to change parties at such a critical time when you still have 2 years left in your term is such a kick in the face to Americans.  Yes Americans, not just Reps or Dems or Indies.

He was re-elected in 2004 as a REPUBLICAN, so he should stay through 2010 as a REPUBLICAN.  It’s just common sense.  Especially when it is the make or break difference between a filibuster-proof super majority. (And to make Al Franken that number 60 just makes my blood boil).  I can say as someone who was not only sent to Scranton, PA for his re-election, but someone whose entire profession relates to getting candidates elected, it was a move that can only be described as spineless.  I mean, I was chased down the street by a dog… a very LARGE, FAST dog campaigning for the guy… he could at least thank me by sticking with the GOP for 18 more months… no? Sheesh!


You were chased down the street by a dog campaigning for Arlen Specter?


Anyways, so onto Eric Cantor and this re-vamping of the GOP.  I have four words for the party that has caused me so much joy and pain over the past couple of election cycles: IT’S ABOUT FREAKING TIME!  (I can’t believe I’m about to say this) but I couldn’t agree with Jeb Bush more when he says, “that it’s time for the Republican Party to give up its ‘nostalgia’ for the heyday of the Reagan era and look forward.”  Don’t get me wrong, I think Ronald Reagan is the greatest thing since sliced bread (until of course the creation of the ShamWow!) but seriously, it’s time to instead return to and solidify the core values that make the GOP the Grand Olde Party; lower taxes and smaller government.

As someone who lives, eats, breathes, and sleeps election analysis, I actually think the Republicans should take a play action right from their own playbook.  I’m thinking of freshman member of Congress, Aaron Schock.  Yes he has a striking resemblance to Doogie Howser and he may just be the same boy wonder for the Republican party…

Rep. Schock is just about to turn 28, epitomizes the GOP as well as his district which includes Peoria, Ill.  He is a brand new face on the Hill and is sure to be the next rising star.  This is the kind of re-vamping we need!  New faces, modernized interpretations of what it means to be a Republican, and understanding the needs and wants of your district, hell they are the people that get you to that big, beautiful building in DC anyway.

So, is the GOP in serious trouble?  Honestly, I think not.  I say this outside of being a member of the GOP as well as a fan of the underdog (unless they are a team from Philly, Pittsburgh, New Jersey, Buffalo, Dallas, or Boston), but I also think the next 2 years of Hope and Change are going to tell A LOT! On average, the party that runs the White House loses an average of 29 seats in the House and 6 in the Senate in mid-term elections.  I definitely do not think this is going to be the case this cycle or any future cycle for that matter. If nothing changes, I think we’ll see some of the thirteen districts that elected a Democratic House member but also went to McCain return to a Republican member.  I also think if things don’t look like they’re going to be fixed, Obama is a one-term President.  Right now it’s just too early to tell.  Based on what I read from Charlie Cook (God’s gift to elections), Larry Sabato and Real Clear Politics, it’s going to be a very interesting cycle… more so than 2008.

Moral of my story: Chris Dodd needs to go…

Brett Topche

Clearly, I need to learn to either type faster or take Mondays and Tuesdays off so I can just focus on responding to these things without getting sidetracked by “work”.  Silly me, trying to avoid becoming part of those unemployment statistics they keep talking about.  Anywho, I can’t help being amused by the epic overreaction to the Specter situation.  In practical reality, this is much ado about nothing .  While the Democrats will have 60 seats in their caucus, they rarely vote 100% as a block.  If anything, this is great news for the Republicans.  The vast majority of people in this country do not take the time to understand the subtleties of the circumstances surrounding each vote.  Now, the Republicans will be able to claim that the Democrats had a filibuster-proof majority in both houses as well as controlling the White House, so anything that goes wrong has to have been their fault.  Who cares if senators in the center of the political spectrum from each party are really swing votes who could go either way on many issues (I’m looking at you, Senators Snowe, Collins, Murkowski, Voinovich, Nelson, Bayh, Landrieu and McCaskill)?  This, of course, assumes that Minnesota gets around to certifying Al Franken as the winner of that election at some point before his term expires (seriously, Norm, give it up.  You lost).

In any event, I’m not sure this symbolizes the death of conservative thought, so much as a shift in the way people identify the parties along the political spectrum.  Chris C is right in that the Republicans have done a terrific job in turning “liberal” into a political curse word, which explains the poll results he cited.  However, right now, people are increasingly identifying themselves as Democrats or Independents, rather than Republicans.  How can this be?  Simply put, the people in the middle, whose ideas haven’t shifted, currently think that the Democrats are closer to their positions than the Republicans.  This is not necessarily permanent, but it certainly explains Specter, given that the remaining Republican primary voters are currently less likely to vote for him.  Regardless, it will be interesting to see if Specter’s voting pattern actually changes along with his affiliation.  If it does not change on some key issues, he may well find himself with a primary challenger from the left calling him a DINO, rather than a challenger from the right calling him a RINO.

To address a couple of the other issues that have come up in this brief chat, I couldn’t help noticing Chris C saying that under Obama, entitlements will do nothing but “grow and grow massively”. Allow me to remind you of a recent piece of legislation known as the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003 . You may remember it as the largest expansion of entitlement programs since the 1960s. You may also recall that it was passed by a Republican-controlled legislature and signed into law by a Republican president. If you live in one of these, you may want to rein in your stone-throwing tendencies.

Finally, I agree with Chris C (C-Squared?) and his use of the infamous Carville quote.  The problem is, for all of its scientific-sounding jargon, economics is far from scientific (note: I was an econ major, so I am fully aware of the cost of lunch).  Will Obama’s massive deficit spending make JM Keynes sit up in his grave and smile as we stimulate our way out of disaster?  Will all of the debt result in crowding out and further injure the already wounded private debt markets, killing the ability of businesses to finance growth?  The economy is wildly complex and the smartest Ph.D economists in the world vehemently disagree on damn near everything, so how are regular people going to figure out what policies will or won’t work?  Other than a few misguided Kansans, people will by and large vote their wallets.  Thus, with no understanding of what will work going forward, they can only look backwards.  If the guys in power are presiding over a good economy (and not schtupping the interns), they will probably get re-elected.  If things go south (take a look at McCain’s poll numbers for the month before and after Lehman Brothers imploded), the other guy’s plan will usually sound better.  In other words, the Dems had better hope that Obama and his team of merry Wall Street Exiles are right on the stimuli or else 2010 and 2012 are going to be mighty uncomfortable no matter where Arlen Specter is sitting.

Chris G.:

This final point, of course, brings us back to the fact that the Democrats are useless as an opposition party. Bipartisanship has become an absolutely useless term. Republicans have not really sought it out, the Democrats are just so terrified of looking weak on foreign policy and military issues that they go along for the ride. Moreover, when a tax cuts are going to get put in place regardless of what you do…is it really wise to vote against tax cuts? Remember, vote tallies, at the end of the day are not necessarily indicative of all that much other than a bill passing.

Now you’re running into a Democrat-dominated situation, and we once again see that the Republicans are vastly superior as an oppositional party. And, again, looking at vote total does not necessarily instruct as to whether bipartisanship is taking place, or at least being efforted. Obama just told Cantor to bring him a list of potential cuts…we’ll see if he can put his money where his mouth is. If the group in question is being obstinate to the point that they submarine bipartisanship…then it isn’t the ruling party’s problem.

Chris C.:

Maybe its all mirror imaging, but I wish the GOP was as good, and the Democrats as useless as you postulate.

After 20 years in DC, I think bipartisanship is overrated. When common interest merges with common principle it’s constructive, but to govern as if universal bipartiship were the goal, that defeats the purpose of winning. When I bop Obama for slamming legislation through the process, its because he promised something different than he is delivering.

I think a no vote is just as valuable as a yes. Stopping a policy can be just as important as approving it. And when you win, and you have the tools, you need to pick the fights you were elected to win. Obama won 54% of the vote but 100% of the presidency. He can do as he pleases.  The ankle biting is that he can’t have it both ways on post partisanship to the cameras and hyperpartisanship on the floor.

Evan made a useful point before on the majority actually treating the minority with, well, respect for lack of a better term. That’s takes a bigger person.  It also requires the person on the receiving end to do their part in not simply obstructing.  It almost never works out that way.


Thanks to this week’s Van Buren Boys team for their (lengthy) insight. I am happy to report that after nearly 6,600 words, we have come to agree on the fact that bipartisanship is unecessary and stupid. Hopefully the next 4 years of election results are now locked in and CNN can go back to focusing on missing white women. Stay tuned for next week – when we implement a word count limit!


Filed under politics, roundtables

2 responses to “TWC Roundtable 2 – Arlen Specter

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