Business As Usual

I really haven’t followed the Joe Sestak/Barack Obama/Arlen Specter story because I didn’t care about the outcome.  Now that the full story has been told — at least, according to the White House — it is weirder than I thought it would be.  According to the report, President Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, dispatched former President Clinton to approach Sestak and offer him an unpaid position on an obscure advisory board if he would drop out of the primary against Specter.  Sestak declined, then disclosed that decision in an interview where he suggested the job that he turned down had a bit more meat — like the Secretary of the Navy, for example.

What is strange about this story is that the White House thought that Sestak would ditch his chance to run against a weakened, mush-mouthed, party-changing hack for a chance to get a coveted seat in the U.S. Senate in exchange for a seat on the 36-member Federal Advisory Board on Widget Construction, or something similar.  Did they really think even a master arm-twister like Bill Clinton could sell such an empty and one-sided bargain?  And it is weird that Sestak would trumpet his decision and make it out to be some incredible act of intestinal fortitude, when the actual offer was about as tempting as 2010 season tickets to the Cleveland Indians at a five percent discount off face value.  If the White House account is true, both sides look pretty stupid.

The AP has a story today about how this episode really hurts President Obama’s reputation as a “different kind” of politician.  I don’t agree with that, because I really doubt that any voter has viewed him from that perspective for months.  His effort to portray himself as a squeaky clean, “transparent” anti-politician took a few mortal hits below the water line and sank like a stone during the crass, endless “health care reform” horse-trading and deal-cutting.  No, the people who support President Obama right now do so because they agree with his agenda and think he can accomplish the policy initiatives they support.  To me, the harm for President Obama is not that this incident hurts his reputation as a pristine politician, but rather that it hurts his reputation as a capable politician.  Why in the world was President Obama running interference for a hopeless and undependable dish rag like Arlen Specter?  Specter must have driven some kind of seriously unholy bargain with the President to create that kind of political obligation.  Why would the President agree to such a bargain under the circumstances?

Goodbye, Incumbents

More evidence that the nation’s voters are not happy with our elected representatives:  five-term Senator Arlen Specter, who casually switched parties at the start of the Obama Administration, was defeated in yesterday’s Democratic primary in Pennsylvania, Blanche Lincoln, the Democratic Senator from Arkansas, was forced into a run-off election, and Rand Paul, the “tea party” favorite who was seeking the nomination for U.S. Senate in Kentucky, crushed the endorsed establishment candidate in the Republican primary.

We’ll learn more about how deep and wide this voter unhappiness is in the coming months, but so far it seems pretty clear that voters want to change direction, and in a significant way.

Republican Reckoning (Cont.)

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.