The Republican Party is moving so far toward an extreme Libertarian economic ideology, and an ultra-conservative social policy, that it has become virtually irrelevant in American politics. Senator Specter's change of parties is not so much an endorsement of the Democrats as it is a rejection of the blind, ideologically-driven positions of never-say-die forces that now control a shrinking Republican Party.
Senator Specter is, and has always been, a moderate voice in his party. He has outraged diehard partisans over the years and his criticism of many Bush Administration positions exposed him to the full fury of the likes of Anne Coulter, Rush Limbaugh and the other poison-tongues of the right. When Sen. Specter broke ranks recently to support President Obama, his move was not seen as one intended to reduce partisan fighting and serve the interests of America, but rather the deed of a filthy traitor deserving of summary execution.
Democrats should recognize that with Arlen Specter in their ranks, a very strong and influential voice of moderation and restraint echoes through all future policy discussions. Sen. Specter, in fact, may well become a spokesperson for President Obama, who is more centrist than many Democratic members of Congress. And Democrats should be ready to see that Senator Specter is just as likely to take sides with the opposition when some measures he believes go too far come up for a vote.
The greatest significance of Arlen Specter's change of parties isn't that he has altered his principles. It is that what is left of the Republican Party has abandoned the principles it once held and is now shrinking to a minority of loud-mouthed, bitter ravers who by recent polls only speak for about 20 percent of the country. If the GOP intends to survive, this is the most important warning shot ever fired in U.S. political history.
J. Lange Winckler is a maritime historian in Tampa, Florida.