Tuesday, April 28, 2009

"Thoughts on Specter"

We Democrats here in Pennsylvania know Arlen Specter's record better than anyone and you'll be hearing endless reiterations of his many sins over the next two years. I don't need to do that now. Suffice to say that most progressives in this state find Specter to be enormously frustrating. We do not dispute that he is what passes these days for a moderate Republican. We know that he has a good record on labor issues and that he is officially pro-choice. I know high level people in the teacher's unions that intended to re-register as Republicans to vote for him in the primary and then re-register as Democrats to vote against him in the general. Specter is not hated or despised by most people, but he isn't liked or respected either.
We were hoping to beat him in the 2010 election, not be asked to support him. I suspect most activists and progressives will simply refuse to work for his reelection and we'll probably get organized in the Netroots to do the best job we can financing an alternative in the primary.

This sets us up to look like the left-wing version of the Club for Growth. We look too ideologically rigid and intolerant to allow for moderates in our party. There is no doubt that this will be the dominant media narrative, especially considering that Specter will have the full support of the DNC, DSCC, Harry Reid, and President Obama. But it's not a fair characterization.

The Republicans need a moderate to win in this increasingly Democratic state. The Democrats do not need a moderate to win. We just went through a less clear case of this in 2006 when we were forced to stomach Bob Casey Jr. as our candidate against a mortally wounded Rick Santorum. Sen. Casey is good on many issues, but we deserved a chance to choose between several viable candidates, including one that supports abortion rights. We deserve the same chance in the 2010 elections. But the only way that can now happen is if the progressives really get organized and have a lot of luck raising money for a challenger to Sen. Specter. It's not easy to take on our own president's endorsement.

I don't blame the Democrats for orchestrating this move. It's a solid play that deeply demoralizes the Republicans and puts them on the defensive. We will get endless benefits in rhetoric as we explain that the GOP is too radicalized and Southern to represent the people of Pennsylvania. And I know how this is going to go down. We're going to have to take on our own party leadership including the president to make the case for an alternative to Specter. And we'll have to try to communicate that the problem isn't that we can't tolerate moderates in our party but that we want choices.

Specter is popular in this state. He's only following his voters (the 200,000 moderate Republicans that switched parties to vote in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary). He's going to be formidable. And I welcome his decision to join the Democratic Party even as I know the decision was forced on him more by our idiosyncratic election laws than any matter of principle. But, just because I welcome him into the party doesn't mean that I don't want a better Democrat representing me in the Senate. Is that unreasonable? Just give me the chance to vote for another viable candidate. That's all I ask. If Specter wins I will respect that just as I begrudgingly respected Casey's win in the primary in 2006.
We can win the 2010 senate election without Specter. The Republicans cannot. And that's the difference between our position and the position of the Club for Growth.

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