It may take several weeks or months to get the real story on the defection of Arlen Specter to the Democrat Party. One question about the behind the scenes negotiations may be what motivated Specter to make such a public spectacle of his decision to vote against cloture on the EFCA a month or so ago. Was this actually a negotiating tactic given that the senator, as Lori mentions below, was on the phone with Vice President Biden discussing political dissembling for the past three months? Perhaps. It’s difficult to imagine a scenario where Specter does not flip flop on the EFCA prior to the primary because the unions would seemingly not gamble on such an important piece of legislation by not attacking Specter in a primary.
But the broader perspective remains that the Specter defection is a good thing for conservatives. (Note that I said conservatives, not Republicans.) Conservative governing principles have not been served well in the Congress or the Executive when Republicans try to emulate Democrats. The loss of Congress in 2006 was the end result of the futility of hybrid political philosophies in action. Conservatives routinely confront two inherent obstacles to the attainment of a long term ruling majority: first, conservatism by its very nature is not a centralizing, governing political philosophy; second, conservatives are not as good at the business of politics as liberals because liberals organize around a core belief in centralized power. The founder’s concept of a citizen legislator that lived primarily in the private sector and governed only part time is one of the tenets of classical liberal and modern conservative thinking.
Because of these fundamental differences between liberals and conservatives, conservatives have more often found a home in the Republican Party; however, Republicans, as a rule, have not always been welcome in conservative movements. The exodus from the long wilderness period that conservatives were led from by Mr. Buckley was accomplished by intellectual leadership followed by political organizing. Buckley laid the intellectual foundations that allowed conservatives to divorce themselves from the inimical influences that held the movement back: the Birchers and the “country club” elitists.
There is only one way for conservatives to regain power in the current political economy and that is to return to fundamental principles by purging the party of its pretenders. The Specter defection is a good start. As I noted during the stimulus debate, principled opposition to the Obama/Pelosi/Reid agenda was a good first step. The recent Tea Party demonstrations have been a very effective opposition for conservatives and classical liberals to organize around. As Bill Kristol noted, the political calculus at work now is that Obama owns all of the first One Hundred Days and its consequences.
(Obama will be) responsible for everything. GOP obstructionism will go away as an issue, and Democratic defections will become the constant worry and story line. This will make it easier for GOP candidates in 2010 to ask to be elected to help restore some checks and balance in Washington — and, meanwhile, Specter’s party change won’t likely have made much difference in getting key legislation passed or not. So, losing Specter may help produce greater GOP gains in November 2010, and a brighter Republican future.
One consequence will certainly be an up surge in inflation, massive deficits and massive borrowing on a scale never seen before. Voters will eventually acknowledge this by turning out politicians, many of whom will be Democrats.