Sen. Arlen Specter’s sudden departure from the Republican Party is both repudiation of its political principles and embrace of its political reality. As the party drifted to the right, Specter realized his re-election chances were drifting away. So he jumped the proverbial ship.
That’s his choice; he must deal with the fallout. We disagree with his decision, as his switch will provide one party with an unbreakable Senate majority, and we object to his choosing flight, over fight, when times demand bold, thoughtful action.
Our democracy depends on the vigorous clash of ideals to thrive. While this scenario can inevitably lead to partisan gridlock, which is deplorable, this is more palatable than wholesale political monopolies that can dictate policies without hearing opposing viewpoints.
Prior to Specter’s leap, the balance in the U.S. Senate was precarious, but workable. With Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, Specter comprised the ideological moderate triumvirate within the Republican Party, which by virtue of the Democratic majority became an important, national role.
Now, Snowe and Collins are left as the vanguard of the GOP middle, as voices of conscience and mediation within a party undergoing an uncomfortable identity crisis. Now, let’s be clear: Republican actions and inactions caused their political problems. These wounds were self-inflicted.
It should also be clear, though, that having one political party marginalized and unable to muster conscientious opposition is bad for the country. Regardless of whose ideology becomes dominant, a potent atmosphere of differing viewpoints is needed to ensure the best, measured ideas are endorsed.
This situation is the Republican responsibility to fix. This requires its leaders to step forward and reinvigorate the ranks, redraft its image and rebuild the party’s platform. Maine’s GOP leaders did this recently, during an event on the banks of the Kennebec River on a sunny afternoon.
The same thing must occur on the national level. Snowe started the conversation Wednesday, writing in The New York Times. She said, “We can’t continue to fold our philosophical tent into an umbrella under which only a select few are worthy to stand.” These are strong, wise words.
To us, the comparison is clear. While Snowe shouldered the duty of saying what needed to be said, Specter elected to make his statement as a parting shot. That isn’t the leadership his old party, new party, or the country needs to tackle the challenges it still faces.
We would have preferred if Specter stuck to his principles and led his party from the ideological wilderness from a position of moderate leadership. At least we still have two senators who will.
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