With the defection of senior senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) to the Democratic party, many are left wondering how this could impact, possibly negatively, the chance that the Dems could garner a 60-member majority in the Senate (if Al Franken holds his lead) and thus be able to rule without the minority being able to filibuster their efforts.
Of course, the question many of the pundits are caught up in asking is "what will happen now?" but I believe a more apt question to pose would be "how did we let this happen?"
Let me explain.
Specter, a 5-term Senator up for reelection next year in 2010, is one of only a handful of moderate Republicans still in Congress. With the push within the party to radicalize it's base to right-wingers instead of maintaining a welcome sign for all who believe in smaller and less intrusive government many of these moderates have been pushed out of the party altogether through primaries and in-house bickering.
Like anything in life, when there is no room left open for dissent and compromise, bad things will happen. When narrowing ideology forces people to either accept the status quo or jump ship, things are definitely not heading in the right direction. However, this problem is not exclusive to the GOP, as many southern (blue) Democrats have faced such conflicts from the growing and very powerful liberal base in their party. The polarization in Washington during the last 15-20 years has caused throngs of Americans to lose hope in compromise, in politicians, and even our system of government.
This is not to say that Specter himself is not to blame for some of his own criticism, citing that he would have not survived the GOP primary in his state next year if he had stayed in. Instead, he has sought to keep his job by switching sides and running the chance that his base (and then some) in Pennsylvania will keep him in D.C. for 6 more years.
Maybe between now and then, they can actually work on creating balance instead of ballistic rhetoric towards one another.