Switch hitting

I guess I was supposed to be surprised by Arlen Specterís announcement earlier this week that he was eschewing the political party heíd called home for his five terms in the U.S. Senate in favor of a seat on the other side of the aisle.

Well, I wasnít really. In fact, I think itís about time he came out of the political closet.

There is, of course, much talk about the timing of the senatorís announcement. Up for his sixth term in office, he is facing opposition from within his own party in the form of the much more conservative Pat Toomey, a man who has already garnered support from Specterís Republican colleagues on Capitol Hill.

Not to mention the fact that his Pennsylvanian constituents have gotten a bit ďbluerĒ in recent years. (His approval rating among Republicans in his home state is only something like 30 percent.)

ďIím not prepared to have my 29-year record in the U.S. Senate decided by Pennsylvania Republicans in the primary electorate,Ē Specter said on Tuesday. I canít help thinking thatís no way to talk about the people that kept him in Washington for nearly 3 decades, but who am I to judge. Iím not from the Keystone State.

And swapping sides right now, with Democrats so very close to reaching the golden number of senate seats required to effectively shut out the (rapidly shrinking) minority, Specter will himself be golden among Washingtonís Democratic elite. Itís been reported that heís met with the Vice President more than a dozen times in the last few weeks, and President Obama not only welcomed him into his new party with open arms but also stated his personal support for Specter. (You better believe that will go a long way toward winning over Democratic voters in the next election.)

Maybe it is a matter of political survival. Specter could see a possible defeat on the horizon and at the same time felt the lure of hanging with the popular crowd. But Iíve always thought that if someone talks like a Democrat and votes like a Democrat, theyíre probably a Democrat; no matter how hard they try to pass themselves off as a Republican.

And by looking at the distinguished senator from Pennsylvaniaís record, it is plain to see that he hasnít exactly been toeing the party line. Well, he has, but just not the party of which he was a card carrying member. Gay rights, abortion rights, the presidentís stimulus packageÖ His stance on many of our current hot topics has been decidedly left of center. And I have to admit, that I guess it is why Iíve always kind of liked him. He always seemed like more of an independent thinker than all of those party-line kind of politicians.

Specter is by no means the first politician to change his political stripes. After some minimal searching, I found a rather extensive list. Most of the names didnít mean a whole lot to me (like some random school superintendent from New Orleans), but there were some notables.

Ulysses S. Grant for example, became a Republican in 1868, just in time to be elected president. Ronald Reagan, Condolezza Rice, Strom Thurmond, Rudi Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg all started out as Democrats.

Hillary Clinton and Howard Dean made their political start as Republicans. And apparently former NBA star Charles Barkley, who intends to make a bid for Governor of Alabama, has recently swapped his blue jersey for a red.

It isnít just notable, in my opinion, that Specter is switching sides now, but rather the fact that this isnít the first time he has switched his party loyalties. He actually started out as a Democrat, but ďturnedĒ Republican in 1965.

There is a chance Iíve read too many novels about international espionage, but have you considered that Specter could be some deep cover Democratic agent? Maybe he has been working for years to undermine the Republican party from the inside, to weaken its resolve and turn away voters. (As his approval rating shows, heís obviously been successful with it in his home state.)

Whether this move will be political suicide or a gold-mine is yet to be seen, but the senior senator from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has accomplished one very important thing. Heís got the whole country, both inside and outside of the beltway, talking about him. That canít hurt in an election year.

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