It was an exciting time as the crowd grew at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago. A steady stream of loyal followers flowed from the Chicago Coliseum to the Auditorium Theatre, waiting for their leader and former President to take the stage. Republican Primaries have posed challenges for Republican Candidates since its inception in 1912. Theodore Roosevelt, feeling like the more qualified candidate and best spokesperson for the party, beat both of his challengers 9-2 out right in the primaries of 1912, and naturally felt as if he would be undergoing the best exercise of his life; Running For Office!
Amazingly Roosevelt’s run for office did not go as he originally planned, and as he dawned the stage to address those delegates he found so faithful, these precious words articulated the true task he felt was forgotten by the Republican Party, “To destroy this invisible Government, to dissolve the unholy alliances between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day.” After this platform was adopted, he went out on the campaign trail, and even after a “would be” assassin’s bullet, struck and lodged in his chest, Teddy Roosevelt stated, “I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose.”
As Arlen Specter stood addressing the cameras, the 29year Senator spoke with the same vigor as a wounded politician of old. “Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right. Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to become Democrats. I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans.” Specter stated, and not a moment too soon! As he left his office to dawn the capitol, constituents met the Republican Senator not with torches and pitchforks outside his office, but with warm greetings, cheers and applause. Specter had found his audience…the people he was sent to represent!
Changing parties in the United States Senate is not a new phenomenon, nor is it an explainable action. One must believe, that the Senator who’s made his choice, has spent long hours in deep deliberation with his own being, before jumping off of the Titanic and onto the Carpathia.
If you watched any news station today, you would have thought that this was the first time a Senator left the Republican Party. Playing it down, most Republican Pundits and Strategists stated, “They saw it coming” and that “He was doing this to save his own political career”. Regardless of his reasoning, the Republican Party has had a strong history of its elected members parting ways. Below is a list of Senators who have taken the same leap of faith that Arlen Specter took today:
- Miles Poindexter of Washington. Republican to Progressive in 1913 and back to Republican in 1915.
- Robert M. La Follette, Sr. of Wisconsin. Republican, ran as Progressive for President in 1924.
- Robert M. La Follette, Jr. of Wisconsin. Republican to Progressive in 1935.
- George W. Norris of Nebraska. Republican to Independent in 1937.
- Henrik Shipstead of Minnesota. Farmer-Labor to Republican in 1941.
- Wayne Morse of Oregon. Republican to Independent in 1953 and to Democrat in 1955.
- Strom Thurmond of South Carolina. Independent Democrat to Democrat in 1956 and then to Republican in 1964.
- Harry F. Byrd, Jr. of Virginia. Democrat to Independent in 1971.
- Richard Shelby of Alabama. Democrat to Republican in 1994.
- Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado. Democrat to Republican in 1995.
- Bob Smith of New Hampshire. Republican to Independent in 1999, and back to Republican in 1999.
- James Jeffords of Vermont. Republican to Independent in 2001.
Out of 12 Senators that have switched parties within the last 100 years, 7 of them (at some point) left the Republican Party. This pattern points toward two factors that both Republicans and Democrats should be aware of.
a. The Republican Party is capable of driving away its members and delegates!
Since 1938, only 10 identifiable years could Republican’s (versus 27 years for Democrats) boast that they controlled a majority of the States Legislatures in the US. This is a clear reflection of the Republican Party’s inability to articulate its strengths and/or beliefs to the constituents back home in their states and districts. Because of this weakness, former Representatives (in both the House and the Senate) have had to switch their party affiliations to correlate with the mindset of the people they represent. One must remember, Washingtonians do not elect Senators, only states and districts have that power; and an elected official is only a reflection of those he represents in those districts and states.
b. Republicans have a way of bouncing back!
We must remember that the last time Democrats were in a position to have a “Filibuster Proof” Senate; the political atmosphere was very similar to the one we are living in now. Ford had just lost the election to the Fresh, Un-Tarnished, Governor who had not been corrupted by Washington Politics…Jimmy Carter! Over those next few years, bipartisan efforts ceased to exist, inflaming the Right! It was during this period the “Moral Majority” saw its emergence on the scene, and Reagan Democrats were born, costing Democrats the Majority.
Regardless of whether Specter just wanted to secure, in his mind, a viable race for the Senate seat he’s held for 29 years, or if the Republican party has moved so far right, it pushed Specter off the boat, the fact remains that partisan politics distracted the American people and its leaders from tackling problems such as: Affordable Health Care, Lowering Poverty Levels, Equal Rights for Women in the Workplace, and lastly…pushing legislation through that would properly fund research to cure AIDS and Cancer.
Maybe our Founding Father had an accurate foresight of political parties, a warning that we might want to heed:
“However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”
GEORGE WASHINGTON, Farewell Address, Sep. 17, 1796