2009 has been, to put it bluntly, one hell of a political roller coaster. No election cycle in recent memory has been as contested and dramatic as '08-'09, and with good reason. Between 2000 and 2006, the entire US government was essentially Republican-controlled. In the 2006 Congressional elections the US House of Representatives moved hard to the left while the Senate made significant strides likewise. In 2008 the Senate completed its shift to a slim Democrat majority, but the changing tides haven't rolled back yet. Senator Al Franken is well on his way to a seat representing Minnesota, for one.
But the big news for this week is long-time Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter's decision to switch his affiliations. Specter has been in the US Senate for just shy of thirty years and he has identified as a Republican for all of them. On Tuesday, April 28th 2009, he officially announced his move to the Democratic Party, citing a growing difference between his personal ideology and that of his former party-mates in the GOP.
So, aside from being a prominent front-liner for the growing Democratic presence in America, who is Senior Senator Arlen Specter? In short, he's kind of a mixed bag when it comes to hot-button issues. The only thing that can be said of his moderate voting record is that it's consistent. Perhaps no modern Senator has skewed more toward the center than Arlen Specter.
His years in the Senate have consisted of fighting gun control and supporting the continued use of the death penalty in the United States. On social issues he's been more right-leaning than most Democrats would like, voting for abortion regulations but vocally supporting the Choice platform. He has been one of the most supportive Republicans in terms of LGBT rights, though that isn't really saying much. He has openly opposed same-sex marriage and has voted against the inclusion of attacks based on sexual orientation in the definition of hate crimes. On the other hand, he has supported civil unions as well as legislation to prevent workplace discrimination against people based on orientation.
The two items that likely put Specter off his Republican colleagues are immigration and fiscal reform. The Senator supports progressive "pathway to citizenship" programs for immigrants and his voting record concerning financial matters has leaned toward the restructuring of taxation and further consumer protection legislation. He has also been a frequent supporter of a raise in minimum wage.
The question now is what his new affiliations will do to the voting habits of Senator Arlen Specter. How much of his previous platform was based on the desire to please his contemporaries and constituents? How many conciliatory compromises did he make over the past three decades in office? A man who has been in this game for as long as Specter knows what the implications are of this shift to the left. Between Franken and himself, Specter is allowing the Democratic Party to attain that "magical" number of 60 seats in the Senate. With little effort the Party may have as many as eight years of uninterrupted power in the United States.
With our country in a nearly unprecedented jumble, this shift to the left in our highest offices may be a sign of bigger changes to come. If the Republican Party is on the edge of dissolve, what will replace it? It's unlikely that the Democratic Party will come to control much more than it already does, so is it possible that we will witness the emergence of new parties, and therefore new politics, in our lifetime? If an old-guard Republican like Arlen Specter is switching teams in 2009, others are likely to be close behind.