Ben Buchwalter


Better Democrats, Not More
May 3, 2009, 10:53 am
Filed under: 2010 and 2012 | Tags: , , ,

Pennsylvania has two Democratic Senators now. And I’m sad to say that Specter’s defection has earned a “whole lot of nothing” for progressives hoping for better government. In fact, I’m not sure that Specter has signaled that he will vote for a single Democrat-sponsored bill since the switch earlier this week.

The Democrats rushed into embracing Specter as a Democrat. If he lost the Republican primary in 2010 to ultra-conservative wingnut Pat Toomey, then a real Democrat would have had a smooth path to winning Specter’s seat. Instead, with President Obama, Vice President Biden and Governor Rendell promising to campaign and raise money for Specter in 2010, he pretty much has a lock on the seat. The only problem is that Specter is not a Democrat, even if he now gets to put a “D-PA” next to his name.  The benefits of this are negligible unless he is pressured to be more liberal in order to hold on to his seat.

This week, PA Congressman Joe Sestak told news networks that he would consider challenging Specter in the 2010 Democratic primary. Sestak (once my Rep.) is a strong Democrat with a military record who is very popular in PA. If he or some of the other Dems  rumored to be considering a run (including Iraq vet Patrick Murphy and Allyson Schwartz), jumped into the race, then it would force Specter to start acting like a Democrat in order to reach the general election. 60 Democrats is no more special than 59 if people like Specter continue to vote with the GOP most of the time.

But how does my desire for better Democrats differ from the motive behind Pat Toomey’s challenge to Specter for being too liberal? Maybe it doesn’t. I’d like the Democratic party filled with Ed Kennedys and Barack Obamas, not Arlen Specters and Evan Bayhs.

But I recognize that there is value to moderation. Perhaps Specter will, in fact, vote more progressive than anyone expects. And I’d think that Obama has scored some major Independent points for 2012 for his embrace of Specter without conditions that he be more liberal. But for the sake of good government, I’m hoping that Sestak gets into the game to remind Specter that his job is not secure unless he starts to vote along with the hopes of Pennsylvania Democrats.
LATE UPDATE: Josh Marshall weighs in on this subject.

I guess my thought on this, to the extent it matters — which isn’t much since I’m not a Pennsylvania voter — is that I’m happy to have [Specter] as a Dem. But it’d be nice to see him have to make some case to the Democrats in his state that he’s worthy of their nomination — something that could be accomplished either by Sestak threatening to get in or actually challenging him in the primary. Because at the moment at least it does seem like he’s taking the matter entirely for granted.

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