Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania has decided to change parties. This will undoubtedly be met with cheers and jeers on both sides. Many republicans will be glad to be rid of a moderate. His former challenger will be thrilled at the clear path to the republican nomination, and Specter’s early admission of defeat. It will certainly make good fodder for a general election, and an easy charge of flip-flopping. ‘Can Arlen Specter be trusted?’
Democrats are gleeful of the prospect of a filibuster-proof governing. Specter’s defection brings their total to 59. If Al Franken prevails in Minnesota, they will have a lock of sixty votes in the Senate.
Specter himself has down-played the significance of the change, stating that he will continue to vote as he always has. He was not a sure vote for the republicans, and will probably not be a sure vote for the democrats, either.
Which begs the obvious question: Is this a significant event? And if so, then why?
The first thing Pennsylvania party democrats should be evaluating is that their best chance to elect a new voice in Pennsylvania has been lost. If Specter carries the democratic primary, then the status quo wins. Same face with new lipstick. If Specter loses the general election, then the democrats’ base slide backwards, and lose a republican moderate. This is a huge event for Pennsylvania democrats, and for Specter personally, but I would argue that this is an insignificant event for everyone else.
Politicians are people of ambition. I apply this definition to myself, too. I ran unsuccessfully for State Rep and am currently on the ballot for Board of Selectman. I am self-employed, too. By any measure, I am a person of ambition. Unlike Arlen Specter, it doesn’t bother me if I lose. Bob Dole once quipped, ‘show me somebody who doesn’t think winning is everything, and I will show you a loser.’ Arlen Specter changed party because he doesn’t want to lose. By changing now he will get a better committee position, too, I presume. He will be with the majority and get to call the shots.
Everybody loves power.
Why do people love power? Sadly, because they can do what they want without caring how it effects others. The Democrats want more power so they can ignore Republicans altogether, just as the Republicans ignored Democrats not so long ago.
So what should we take away from this event? Power still corrupts. Victory is not the same as progress. And most importantly, we are a nation self-defined by stereo-types. We are perpetually defined by labels. Labels are the American dogma, and serve as the basis for avoiding a serious discussion of serious issues.
Imagine, if you will, two herds of rhinoceros on the open plain in Africa. The herds are totally oblivious to everything around them. One animal leaves one herd and joins another. The nature photographer captures every detail. The naturalist observes and records the social behavior of the animals. The paleontologist recognizes traits similar to dinosaurs.
I can’t help but thinking I’d rather lose the election and retain my humanity, flawed though it may be, than pretend to grow a conscience as a mask for my lust for power.