Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Specters of the Past: Unintended Consequences

When you choose an action, you are also choosing its consequences. The social conservative shepherds of movement conservatism are finding that out today.

I'm a long-time fan of Arlen Specter. I'm a fan in general of what social conservatives call RINOs (as opposed to what Eisenhower-Nixon-Reagan libertarian leaning Republicans call them, which is Republicans.) It's probably not an accident that RINOs hail from the Northeast - yes, those states comprising a hated bastion of elites that have all that patriotic history and all those excellent centers of higher education, and that number among the minority of states that not only pay their own tax bills, but most of the rest of the country's. (Hey Oklahoma and Mississippi - you are tax parasites on California and Massachusetts.)

I'm originally from Pennsylvania, and Specter is well-liked in general in the state, even if among the remaining Republicans, Toomey seems prettier. Note that Specter did his best to shore up his support in the GOP before he switched - he visited some of the state's conservative strongholds, like he did earlier this year my own home city of Reading, claiming that a social conservative would get slaughtered in the general election. Next year, Pat Toomey will get a chance to prove Specter's point.

So why did Specter leave? One possibility is to take at face value his statement that the GOP has moved socially further to the right than his constituents will tolerate, not to mention his own principles, and that further to the right does not equal better. He cites stem cell research, which is a perfect example of an issue on which movement conservatism is making irrational decisions that have nothing to do with economic growth.

A second and related possiblity is that Specter has had enough of being pushed around by party bosses, and at this point in his career he doesn't have to put up with them any more. The GOP has developed an effective system for maintaining party unity, although it's controlled by the social conservative element in the party that drives people like me out of it. Don't take my word for it - look at who the system has recently been punishing and rewarding. If you lose an election, you have the option of retiring to a cushy thinktank, as Rick Santorum did after 2006.

As for Republicans that are a little too independent-minded in sticking to their principles - like Specter - if you stray too far from their party line, they run somebody against you in the primary, as happened in 2004 when they ran Pat Toomey against him. Is this kind of centrally-planned, authoritarian politburo-style party really the best model for a political party that claims to be about small government and independence? For one thing, it's exactly the opposite of what Thomas Jefferson wanted for America when he warned us of the dangers of factionalism. While he may have been naive to our jaded modern eyes, there is little virtue in a party structure that allows a few unelected strategists to dictate to the elected Republicans in Congress who are supposed to be representing our interests. Olympia Snowe has stated openly that Specter's switch is the direct consequence of that policy.

There are other reasons that social conservatives will "articulate", so to get those out of the way: that all the while Specter has been planning his betrayal and he was never a real Republican to begin with - or, more charitably, that recently his brain was infiltrated by gay communist atheist nanoprobes that came through the new digital cable brainwashing devices.

The reason that social conservatives have focused on most is that Specter might have lost the primary election, so he's switching to stay in office: "He left to further his personal political interests," Steele said, "because he knew that he was going to lose a Republican primary due to his left-wing voting record." Brilliant, Mike, lots of Reagan Republicans have left-wing voting records. We can let you on in a secret: politicians like to stay in office, and when your party is the one threatening to remove him from office, he's going to jump ship. Dear reader, ask yourself this: if your boss was bringing in outside candidates to interview for your job, would that make you want to stay at that company? In any event I'm sure that Specter is quaking in his boots with such harsh words from a high-powered kingmaker like Steele. Acting out of self-interest is what human nature, and the U.S. Constitution, are based on. Politicians do it, you do it, and I do it. If Steele was a real conservative, he would understand that. Hopefully the recent interest in Ayn Rand's works will promote that understanding - novels like Atlas Shrugged, and essay collections like The Virtue of Selfishness.

The bottom line is that Specter is not interested in compromising his political philosophy, which has been consistent since he first won the office, or his constituents. The real question is, if Specter keeps voting the same way on the same issues, do we care which party he's in? His positions aren't going to change, and what matters is results. Most important, Specter has done a great job of representing the interests of Pennsylvania in the United States Senate. I heartily endorse him in advance of the 2010 Senate election. I've already seen comments from people saying "Farewell Specter; why don't you take your fellow RINOs Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins with you?" Guess what? He might! And then it will be 62 Democrats in the Senate. Brilliant! I now live in California and can tell you with certainty the results of these circular firing squads: a state where the Republicans sometimes lose to the Greens. Keep it up, if that's what you want.

Before you condemn Specter too strongly, let's not forget how close John McCain was to being John Kerry's VP. Parties only exist because individuals' principles sometimes align. Principle is always, always more important than party.

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