Sunday, February 15, 2009

The "Specter" of Bipartisanship

Though it received little media attention, Senator Arlen Specter revealed a major conundrum facing the GOP. After voting for the Economic Stimulus Bill, Senator Specter Remarked:

"When I came back to the cloak room after coming to the agreement a week ago today, one of my colleagues said, 'Arlen, I'm proud of you.' I said, 'Are you going to vote with me?' And he said, 'No, I might have a primary.' And I said, 'Well, you know very well I'm going to have a primary."

"I think there are a lot of people in the Republican caucus who are glad to see this action taken without their fingerprints, without their participation," he said.When asked the number of Republican Senators who held that sentiment he replied,
"I think a sizable number, I think a good part of the caucus agrees with the person I quoted, but I wouldn't want to begin to speculate on numbers."

The issue of a primary was first and foremost on the minds of Specter's Republican peers. They feared that they would anger the base and risk losing their cherished Senate seats to more conservative challengers in the primaries. This is of special concern now because the bulk of the Republicans in Congress are from extremely conservative districts. The appearance of caving in to the Democrats would be politically fatal to an Alabama of South Carolina GOP Senator.

Specter's cloak room conversation makes it pretty clear that a sizable number of GOP Senators are not, as they assert, ideologically opposed to this Bill. They simply value keeping their Senate seat over working to save the ailing U.S. economy.

This episode also reveals the depth of the problems faced by today's GOP. The Republicans in Congress are being controlled by the Party's right wing. To make matters worse, it's the right wing at the bottom of the Party as opposed to the right wing at the top. During the Bush Administration, the neocons and the wealthiest 1% controlled the Party via the White house. When the Party fell into disarray after the 2008 election cycle, the core of power fell from the top the the bottom. The sudden power vacuum created an environment in which the hapless base inadvertently seized power. Their unity around social issues and collective view of Democrats as an outgroup made them the only element in the Party with any semblance of continuity.

During the Bush Administration party elites, with Karl Rove as their enforcer, ruled GOP members of Congress with iron fists. Congressional decisions were made collectively based on the fear of retribution from above. Now, as indicated by Senator Specter's comments, the situation has been reversed. GOP members of Congress are now forced to consider the effects of angering the unified voting base before making political decisions. Inspired by powerful right wing media personalities such as Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh, the myopic republican base is demanding strict adherence to right wing philosophies. Though likely aware of the long term consequences, GOP members in Congress are bound to satisfy the base or be replaced by someone who will.

The issue of bipartisan governance is being decided by a shrinking group of White Southern Protestant Evangelicals oblivious to the social revolution that has taken place around them.

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