13 May 2010

Democracy in Pennsylvania

This is party politics in America: the President of the United States and the governor of Pennsylvania are telling Democrats in that state that they are better represented by an erstwhile Republican, octogenarian Arlen Specter, than by a representative who has risen from the party's own ranks. Rep. Joe Sestak is seriously challenging Specter, whom he accuses of switching party affiliation solely to get another term in office. Perhaps even more seriously, Sestak reportedly claimed during a debate that the White House had tried to bribe him out of the primary race by offering him a federal post.

Sestak once trailed Specter by a big margin but has mostly closed the gap in recent polls. He may yet get the nomination, in which case the anti-incumbent mood in the country would for once benefit a liberal. That might prove a happy ending, but this is a sordid story of party politics. The President may be a Democrat, but he has no business telling Pennsylvanians which Democrat better represents them, and he has no moral authority on the subject when he endorses Specter only to fulfill a deal. A U.S. Senator is supposed to represent a state, not a party. Pennsylvanians owe the national Democratic party no consideration whatsoever when nominating someone to represent them in the Senate.

I wonder what Specter will do if he loses the primary? Will he turn Republican again? Will he run as an independent on the Charlie Crist model? If so, how far will the President's gratitude to Specter extend? The main point has been made already, in any event: here is a moment when the agendas of Democratic leaders and those who consider themselves loyal Democrats diverge, and the leaders favor a man who is Democratic as a matter of convenience. The scene should leave people questioning whether Democratic partisanship is a matter of convenience or a matter of principle across the board.

1 comment:

d.eris said...

As you indicate, the ways in which this contest both mirrors and diverges from the Rubio/Crist rivalry in Florida are interesting, a come from behind primary challenger supported by the progressive/conservative grassroots against the party establishment's early pick. Obviously, Specter couldn't switch again, or could he? The funny thing though is that it also mirrors Specter's previous primary race with Toomey(?), which precipitated his switch.

It seems like the progressive/liberal netroots are quietly or even not so quietly optimistic about a number of upcoming primaries. This race. Another is the Senate primary in Arkansas, looking to ousy Blanch Lincoln.