It always interests me when a well-known politician decides to switch parties, as Sen. Arlen Specter did today. They always explain their decisions as involving some titanic internal struggle of principle and conscience, when in reality they have coldly assessed their prospects and decided that, if they want to get reelected, they need to make the change. In that sense, I agree with this article. What does it mean when a politician who has run for decades as a Republican or Democrat suddenly changes their affiliation as easily as they might change an overcoat? It tends to confirm what many Americans seem to think — that the political parties don’t really stand for anything, and are just a matter of convenience.
I’m not questioning the personal sincerity of elected officials who switch parties. I think most politicians honestly believe that it is best for their constituents and the nation as a whole if they continue to serve. Indeed, one of the main problems with most politicians is that their egos have grown so colossal. If, as many politicians do, you think it is critical that you be re-elected, why run as a Republican if you are convinced you are going to lose to an announced primary challenger?
I’m not sure, though, that Sen. Specter’s announcement says anything about the general status, popularity, or prospects of the two political parties — any more than did Joe Lieberman’s decision to endorse McCain for President. Decisions that are motivated entirely by naked self-interest tend not to be suggestive of broad trends.