A Portrait in Tolerance
By Isaac MacMillen
When Senator Arlen Specter left the Republican Party, he declared that it had become intolerant of moderates. The Republicans had made their bed, he asserted, and they would have to lie in it.
In the wake of Senator Specter's defection to the Democratic Party last week, political pundits of all stripes have loudly proclaimed that the Republican Party has moved too far to the right to embrace any moderate or centrist figures. Even Speaker Pelosi called on Republicans to be more like Democrats.
But taking a step back reveals that their criticisms are misdirected.
Indeed, contrary to the popular belief that the Republican Party is only open to those on the “far right,” it has tolerated—and even helped—many who vehemently disagree with some of the Party's core principles.
Senator Specter is a perfect example. Despite his consistent rejection of key Republican ideals—such as on right-to-life, fiscal responsibility, and health care—Republican President George W. Bush and conservative Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) campaigned hard for the Pennsylvania liberal, enabling him to eek out a victory over his conservative challenger, then-Rep. Pat Toomey (R-PA).
Instead of being so closed-minded as to limit membership to a very select few, the Republican Party has given the hand of friendship to those with whom it had little in common—to the point where it went so far as to be detrimental to the Party prospects of fulfilling its agenda.
Which of course all stands in stark contrast to the Democratic Party, something that Senator Specter is now finding out for himself.
Despite deserting the Republican Party at a pivotal time—his defection puts the Democrats within striking distance of the coveted 60-vote supermajority—Senator Specter is discovering that the party he is joining has a much lower tolerance for dissent than the one he left.
While Republicans grudgingly tolerated his presence for 29 long years, they were able to ignore his blatant disregard for their principles enough to elevate him to one of the top positions in the Senate—head of the prestigious Senate Judiciary Committee—despite their firm hold in Congress post-2004. And when he publicly disagreed with them on pro-life judges—following his reelection—they required of him only a commitment on his part to support President Bush's judicial nominees.
But now the tables are turned, and Senator Specter has dared to voice his public disagreement with the Democrats on the Minnesota Senate race—and vote against his new Party and Barack Obama on several issues. In retaliation, the Democratic caucus has voted to remove him of his seniority, at least for the time being. Said Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), "There were concerns about his actions.”
So now, after joining the party of “tolerance” and “diversity,” Senator Specter finds himself the most junior senator on all committees but one—where he is second-to-last. Despite all this, Mr. Specter is still clinging to the hope that Reid will fulfill his promise to let him retain his seniority—at least next session. Reid's office claims that the Senate Majority Leader only promised to try, and that the Democratic caucus would make the final call.
For the time being, however, not only has his betrayal of the Republicans and modest dissent of the Democrats cost him his high position in the Senate, but it may harm his re-election chances as well. With his seniority gone, Sen. Specter will have a harder time fending off attacks from younger, more liberal Democrats, who are already expressing interest in challenging the 79-year-old Senator.
Senator Arlen Specter is discovering just now what many Americans have known for a long time: That Democrats, while chastising Republicans for being “too closed-minded,” tolerate even less dissent than those whom they pretend to critique.
Sorry, Senator Specter. You actually left the Party of too much tolerance, and have joined the ranks of the Party where no dissent is abided. You've made your bed, now lie in it.
Isaac MacMillen is a Contributing Editor to ALG News Bureau.