Irresponsible Party Government

Little more than a month before announcing that he would leave the Republican Senate minority to join the Democratic majority, Arlen Specter dismissed speculation that he would turn-coat, stating:
I am staying a Republican because I think I have an important role . . . to play there. The United States very desperately needs a two-party system. That's the basis of politics in America. I'm afraid we are becoming a one-party system, with Republicans becoming just a regional party.
Clearly, Specter's concern for the country and his fear of a one-party state were not strong enough to override his instinct for political survival, given the likelihood of a primary contest defeat from the right. Specter's "defection" thus supports the validity of the conservative critique of so-called Rinos, that is, Republicans-in-name-only. Of course, establishment Democrats, beginning with Obama, are more than happy to welcome yet another Democrat-in-name-only into the fold. And while many liberals are nonetheless not enthusiastic about the switch, conservatives are glad to see him go. None of which is very surprising.

For us, however, the question is: how is one to read Specter's 'change of heart' given his invocation of the two-party system as a primary reason for remaining a Republican? The Think 3 Institute provides the 'bipolarchical' context:
the Bipolarchy isn't about maintaining ideological consistency or even an illusion of eternal enmity that could be dispelled by Specter's defection . . . Part of convincing the public that the two parties are the only real choices is maintaining the existence of two major parties for people to choose from. The Bipolarchy can tolerate incidents like Specter's reported switch because it's still happening within a bipolarchical framework. Specter isn't raising the standard of a new national party, after all, and neither did Sanders or Lieberman.
While Least of All Evils adds: "Let's be clear on something: Specter is leaving the Republican party for one reason and one reason only, and that's because polls show him losing by 20% to his most likely challenger in the Republican primary."

Let's assume, however, that Specter in fact acted in the interest of the two-party system, or at least thought he did. He may well be forced to say something along those lines to rationalize his maneuver, which he has already likened to "independent voting" in his announcement. So Specter is either no longer afraid of a one-party system, and is now actively subverting the two-party system, or he is still afraid of the one-party system, but determined that this was the best way for him to help maintain the two-party system. But a middle-of-the-road politician jumping back and forth between the duopoly parties in furtherance of his career is not a subversion of the two-party system, but rather one of its primary mechanisms, and lends support to the old suspicion that there's not a dime's worth of difference between the duopoly parties. And so we are left with the charitable reading, which just happens to coincide with that of the megalomaniac: how has Specter saved the two-party system? Pat Toomey, who would have been Specter's opposition in the primary himself raised the specter of a third party opposition in the Pennsylvania Senate race. The Standard Speaker reports:
“He (Specter) has so thoroughly offended Republicans and is so disliked by so many Republicans to such a degree of intensity that if he were to somehow manage to win this primary, he would ensure a conservative third-party candidate getting into this race,” Toomey, of Upper Milford Township in Lehigh County, said. That third-party candidate would siphon away enough votes to ensure a Democratic victory, Toomey said.
Such speculation aside, the Democrats have a potential filibuster-proof majority (with which Specter, however, may or may not always side), while the Republican opposition has been purged of an anomaly and consolidated its base. We are thus left with what the American Political Science Association calls 'Responsible Party Government.' The Presidential Power blog recently addressed this issue, and they're not the first to warn that one should be careful what one wishes for in this regard.

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