Arlen Specter and a Postpartisan Landscape

Written by Henry L. Chambers, Jr. on April 29th, 2009

The Democrats have gone from minority status to almost filibuster-proof majority status in the Senate with blazing speed, at least in political years.  The essential switch in party affiliation by Sen. Arlen Specterspecter.jpg coupled with the anticipated eventual victory of Al Franken in Minnesota has nearly made the transformation complete.  The irony is in how many Republicans have changed their tune with respect to the power that should be accorded a majority.  Many Republicans seemed to argue that 51 Republican votes in the Senate should lead to the exercise of 100% of power.  When Democrats gained 51 votes in the Senate, the Republican mantra became shared power.  The claim was that power should be shared because America was essentially equally divided.  Indeed, even when Democrats reached the high-50s in number of Senators, the Republican position appeared to be that using the filibuster to enforce shared power was perfectly acceptable.  Using the filibuster until Democrats shared power or put some Republican ideas into specific pieces of legislation was deemed perfectly appropriate.  The question now becomes: What power should the Republicans be able to exercise in a Senate in which Democrats have a filibuster-proof majority?

Republicans, as a political group, should not be able to exercise much pure power vis-a-vis the Democrats.  Of course, individual senators and certain groups of senators with ideologically similar positions on specific issues should be able to exercise influence on particular matters.  As a consequence of the numerical paucity of Republicans, Democrats arguably should stop listening to Republicans as Republicans and should start listening to individual Republican senators or mixed groups of Democratic and Republican senators as members of the club who might have good ideas.  Ironically, if Democrats take the ideas of these groups seriously, Sen. Specter’s switch in party affiliation may be the first step to a postpartisan Senate.


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