Two New York state senators today switched their party affiliation from Democratic to Republican and joined the GOP members in an impromptu vote to replace the upper house's Democratic leadership with Republicans. In an obvious condition of the deal, one of the defectors has been given a share in the new power by being made president of the senate. The two senators are downstate Hispanics who had threatened to switch affiliation late last year in an attempted power play. They are opponents of gay marriage, legislation for which was pending, and both are in legal peril, though it isn't clear how changing sides can help them. The Democrats claim that today's action was illegal, but so far they've offered no basis for thinking so apart from accusing the two senators of betraying the people's will as expressed last November when the Democrats won the majority.
While I dislike the Republican agenda, I have to say that the senators owed nothing to the Democratic party. They are entitled to believe that their constituents voted for them personally, whether that's true or not. The law of the Bipolarchy is that since people literally vote a party line on the ballot, any given seat belongs to the party as much as to the person. Fortunately, there's no statutory law saying so, and in the absence of any recall mechanism there's no way to punish renegade legislators until the next election comes along. But that doesn't make the senators any kind of heroes. Rather than challenge the Bipolarchy, they've perpetuated it, since they've affirmed that the only effective way to express their dissatisfaction with their old party is to join the other. That's effective because they can deny their old leaders the ability to fill majorities on committees. It would cease to be effective if committees weren't filled on a partisan basis.
What should the senators' constituents make of what's happened? They ought to reserve judgment until they see how the men vote. All legislators' first responsibility is to their constituents, not to their parties, and in theory, at least, a senator might betray his party without betraying the people. If they suddenly start voting the opposite of how they did before, constituents could well cry foul. But the constituents themselves should make sure not to confuse their interests with those of parties. If we grant that any constituency, no matter how small, has distinct interests, than there can't be a perfect match between those interests and the platform of any party. In these particular cases, voters apparently thought the Democratic candidates offered a closer match. They are the same men today. It may turn out that they are just as the presumably-deposed majority leader has described them: unprincipled and completely self-interested. But that's for their constituents, not Senator Smith, to judge, and they should judge by the senators' acts. It remains to be proven whether or not today's actions are in the constituents' best interests, and only subsequent action can prove that one way or the other.