Senator Arlen Specter’s decision to switch parties prompts one observation as to the new balance of power in the Senate:
Like nature, the Senate abhors a vacuum. Now that the Democrats appear to have reached the all-important 60-vote threshold, the weight of the world will rest atop the shoulders of heretofore ignored moderate Democrats. These new darlings of the national media include Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Evan Bayh of Indiana, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, and Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad of North Dakota. All eyes will also be on at many as three freshmen Democrats — Mark Begich of Alaska, Michael Bennet of Colorado, and Kay Hagan of North Carolina.
Why? Specter’s switch means that at least one Democratic vote — and often two or three — will be required to torpedo way-out liberal legislation. Moderate Democrats can no longer sit back and laugh as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ken.) tries to maintain perfect unity among his ideologically diverse caucus, with the national media focused on nasty intramural GOP blood feuds. No, moderate Democrats will soon realize that they are the only ones standing between President Obama and some monumental (and uber liberal) legislative accomplishment.
Thanks to Specter, they have no choice but to suit up and be held accountable to their constituents for the work product of this Congress.
This inevitable and heightened scrutiny may prove to be more a curse than a blessing. The above named moderates, after all, hail from decidedly conservative states. According to 2008 state exit polls, self-identified conservatives outnumbered liberals by the following lopsided margins:
State % Conservatives % Liberals
Alaska 47 12
Arkansas 45 17
Colorado 36 17
Indiana 36 20
Louisiana 42 16
Missouri 36 19
Nebraska 36 17
North Carolina 37 19
North Dakota 36 16
Thus far, moderate Democrats from decidedly conservative states have happily signed on to the Obama/Reid/Pelosi agenda. But, now that even Keith Olbermann must admit that they represent the balance of power in Washington, will the moderates begin to feel that pressure? Will they feel confident enough to sign on to new energy taxes, government-run health care, and weakened defenses against plotting terrorists and rogue nuclear-armed nations if their undeniably conservative constituencies understand that it was their vote that, in the end, made the difference?
Don’t count on it.