As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Practical End Of The Two-Party System?

Kathleen Sebelius received confirmation from the Senate for the job of Health and Human Services Secretary, and among the 65 Senators in support was Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA).

That's not a very hard call for him to make. And he still remains opposed to Dawn Johnsen, though I await seeing how he'll vote on cloture. But psychologically, there is an undeniable advantage to having 60 Senators who want to pass a bill rather than 60 concerned primarily with defeating it. While Newt Gingrich and his cadres are somehow yelling BWAHAHA! while they stay on the rat-free sinking ship, the truth is this represents a real loss for conservatives, who see their party marginalized and regionalized, without hope and without a meaningful constituency. Which is probably why some conservative activists are having second thoughts.

Self-reflection was hard to find from the Republican Party and from activists who had attacked Specter as an example of the GOP’s image problem — a man who prevented them from appealing to voters as the party of small government. Steele accused Specter of trying to “further his personal political interests because he knew that he was going to lose a Republican primary due to his left-wing voting record.” Eric Odom, the conservative web guru who launched — and who denied Steele’s request to speak at the Chicago anti-spending rally — responded to the news by tweeting “THANK GOD we don’t have to deal with an ugly GOP primary in Specter’s district.” According to Adam Brandon, a spokesman for the Tea Party-supporting FreedomWorks, the group’s chairman Dick Armey laughed at the news and asked: “Will anyone be able to tell the difference?” [...]

Among some other conservative activists, there was more regret, and more worry about how Specter’s switch would aid Obama and the Democrats. Gary Bauer, the longtime Republican evangelical activist who is now president of American Values, said Specter’s critics did not give him enough credit for his work in the Senate. “I don’t think that Clarence Thomas would be in the Supreme Court today if not for Arlen Specter,” said Bauer. “Having the support of what are derisively referred to as RINOS — Republicans in name only — can be important in the Senate.”

Bauer rejected the idea that the Republican brand would be strengthened now that Specter was no longer giving bipartisan cover to Democrats — and that Republicans were being shaped into the clear conservative choice that voters were missing in 2008. “I take a back seat to nobody in wanting the Republican Party to be Ronald Reagan’s party,” said Bauer. “But I would remind folks that Ronald Reagan picked George H.W. Bush to be his running mate. Ronald Reagan understood that there was another element of the party that needed to be brought along. We gain nothing if we replace RINOS with Democrats.”

Bay Buchanan, the president of the American Cause, acknowledged that Specter had been a “huge problem” for conservatives who opposed pathways to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, but worried that he would become even worse as a Democrat.

“Did he give us a few things?” asked Buchanan. “Did he owe President Bush something because he flew into the fray in 2004 and saved him in the primary with Toomey? Were we able to call in a few chits? Absolutely. And now the Democrats will call in their chits. This is not good for Republicans. I’m not going to tell you that we’re cleansing the party and that this is good for Republicans.”

The conservatives who have any inkling about how Washington works knows this is a problem for them. It's actually a problem for America. I know that "we need a vital two-party system" is a cliche, but that doesn't make it untrue. My hope is that the Conservadems and the liberals will split and we can have this debate from the center left where it belongs.

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