Don't let the door hit you on the way out

Published 2:02 am Monday, May 4, 2009

By By Tray Smith
Can we continue to listen to Rush Limbaugh? Is this really the kind of party that we want to be when these kinds of spokespersons seem to appeal to our lesser instincts rather than our better instincts?" The preceding question was famously posed by former Secretary of State Colin Powell to his fellow Republicans shortly after last year’s election. The irony is that in that election, Republicans like Rush Limbaugh furiously opposed John McCain’s primary campaign and supported Mitt Romney. Mainstream Republicans in fact did not listen to Limbaugh, and instead anointed McCain as their party’s nominee. McCain was the anti-Limbaugh, the type of moderate politician that centrists like Colin Powell should have enthusiastically supported.
Yet, Powell did not support McCain. He, along with numerous other Republican moderates, jumped ship and endorsed Obama. He followed the route so common among liberal Republicans: beg the party to become more moderate and ignore Rush Limbaugh and, as soon as the party heeds that advice, join the Democrats. These people pretend that they are loyal to the party, but the party is constantly becoming too extreme for them. (In reality, the only loyalty most moderate politicians - Republican or Democrat - have is to their own political career. That is why they straddle the fence eternally, hoping to never upset anyone.
So it was no surprise this week when moderate Republicans everywhere fed the Democrats’ frenzy over Pennsylvania Republican Senator Alren Specter’s party switch. The move was described as a symbol of the GOP’s “shrinking base,” its increasing hostility towards moderates, and confinement to the south. In reality, it was a confirmation of what many Republicans had long suspected: Arlen Specter is a hack.
When Democratic machine politics in Philadelphia prevented Specter from running against the District Attorney there as a Democrat in 1966, Specter ran and won on the Republican ticket. He remained a Republican until he announced he was reverting back to the Democrats last week. He did so in the face of a daunting Republican primary challenge that would have likely ended his political career. In short, Arlen Specter joined the Republican Party to win an election, and he left the Republican Party to win an election.
In the meantime, the Republican Party invested a lot in him and his career. In 2004, when Specter also faced a competitive opponent in the Republican primary, President Bush campaigned for him, and the entire national Republican establishment lined up against his opponent. After Specter won that election, the Republicans made him chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, one of the most important committees in Congress. In that position, Specter oversaw the confirmation of all Supreme Court justices and was easily one of the ten most powerful Republican Senators.
Specter was not just any Republican, he was a leading Republican. He used the Republican Party to gain power and win elections for 43 years and now, with the power to provide the Democrats with their 60 vote, switched to secure his own re-election. While Democrats rejoice in their newfound Senate seat, they should be careful. Arlen Specter used the Republicans. He very well could use them, too.
And that’s the bottom line.
Tray Smith is a former page in the U.S. House of Representatives. He can be reached at His column appears weekly.

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