Past Event

Playing party politics: When a Republican becomes a Democrat

One day before the media saturation coverage of President Obama’s 100th day in office, the Washington political establishment was stunned with the news that Pennsylvania’s Republican Senator Arlen Specter was switching his party affiliation to the Democratic Party. "I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans," Specter said in his statement.

New York Times political blogger Carl Hulse reported "the news shocked Senate Republicans, who had been hanging on to their ability to block legislation by a thread."  Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky immediately called an emergency meeting of party leaders, who had not been forewarned of Specter’s switch.

Democrats, including the President, welcomed Specter into the fold. Having another Democratic Senator means a possible 60th vote and the power to break Senate filibusters in the effort to advance the Obama administration’s new agenda. In the wake of Specter’s announcement, Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, and bloggers and pundits on all sides hailed and denounced what a larger Democratic majority means specifically for Washington political machinations and for the country in general.

National Republican Senatorial Committee chair John Cornyn said that Specter’s switch and "the idea of Democrats in complete control of Washington," was "enough to make most Americans shudder." On the other side, Mary Lyon of the Huffington Post said that Specter’s switch "has made it all the more acceptable" for Republican moderates to defect. She went on to say, "Democrats now have to make sure their burgeoning majority is protected and nurtured, and keeps its integrity so it survives for many years."

Specter’s move also came on the heels of an ABC News poll reporting that only 21 percent of voters consider themselves Republican and a Quinnipiac University poll that indicated Specter may have had trouble holding on to his Republican senate seat in 2010. On his CNN talk show, Global Public Square, Fareed Zakaria talked recently about "the really amazing and underreported" of how few Americans identify themselves as Republicans. That number, he said, "is the lowest in about three decades. So, we have a shrinking Republican Party, a hardcore base, that is united in its opposition to Obama."

What is the significance of Specter’s switch? What does it say about the Republican and Democratic parties? Is all the hype warranted? Do you trust Specter’s move to the Democratic column? What will a Democratic majority in the Senate mean for the country? Is there really much difference between Democrats and Republicans? Why or why not? Does the two-party system of Democrats and Republicans meet the needs of a shifting populace and how democratic is it? How can we as a society move towards a more participatory democracy?  

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