Political Musings: Arlen Specter’s Switch to the Democratic Party

Any politician in Washington (in America?) has one of several competing goals when making a political decision:
• do what’s good for the country
• do what’s good for local constituencies
• do what’s good for his political party
• do what’s necessary to get elected

This often presents a politican with a problem. Because what’s good for the country is not necessarily what’s good for his constituents, which is not necessarily good for his political party, which is not necessarily good for getting elected.

Which brings us to the case of Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter. Specter shook up Washington by announcing he was switching from the Republican Party to the Democratic party.

Specter is a moderate/conservative politician who, he believes, is not conservative enough to win the Republican Senatorial primary next year. But he does believe that he’ll win in the general election, when voters of all (or no) parties get to cast a ballot.

What got Specter into such trouble with Republicans in his state? Specter voted for the multi-billion dollar 2009 stimulus package. He felt the stimulus was good for the country. But Republicans in Congress voted overwhelmingly against the stimulus, and Specter was seen as a traitor for not joining with them.

So we see the conundrum of modern politics. People say they want independent lawmakers who will put partisanship aside, and just do the right thing. But the fact is, when principle is voted over party, there is often a political price to pay. Specter’s price was becoming a political outcast among the membrs of the Pennsylvania Republican Party.

So now Specter is a member of the Democratic Party. And already questioned are being asked about his loyalty to that Party.

So it seems like Specter is damned if he do, and damned if he don’t. And that pretty much describes the current state of American politics: just plain damned.

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Black Students at Lincoln University Wait 5-7 Hours to Vote

My great-grandfather was an immigrant from the Caribbean who was employed as a cook for Lincoln University, a small, Quaker-founded historically black college in southeastern Pennsylvania. Several of his children, including my grandfather, attended Lincoln University. Many family members still live in the area.

As such, I was personally touched to read this story of the perseverance of Lincoln University students who waited for hours, some in the rain, to cast their votes.

Video of this from a local TV station is here:
http://abclocal.go.com/wpvi/story?section=news/local&id=6490963

The Philadelphia Inquirer tells the story:

College students around the region turned out in record numbers to vote, but probably few of them underwent the test of endurance that greeted students from Lincoln University in Chester County.

The average time in line at their off-campus precinct in Lower Oxford Township was five and a half hours, according to some students. Food and drink were brought in. Portable toilets were set up. When rain started, volunteers arrived with umbrellas and ponchos.

“It was a travesty,” said Michele Vaughn, chairwoman of the Chester County Democratic Committee. “But the kids stayed in line. Their resolve was remarkable.”

But absent a court order, no change is likely anytime soon, said Terence Farrell, a Republican committeeman in the Chester County precinct, and the first African American elected to serve on the county Board of Commissioners.

In September, when presented with a petition from several residents, Farrell and fellow Republican Commissioner Carol Aichele voted against moving the precinct to the gym on the Lincoln University campus, where voters could wait indoors and where there is plenty of parking.

“The large turnout only happens one out of every eight elections, the presidential,” he said. The next election is the spring 2009 primary. “Very few students will participate,” he predicted.

Lincoln University president Ivory V. Nelson said that the university had agreed to the change but that the county commissioners had rejected it. “We did what we thought was a civic duty in saying they could vote here,” he said. “We want to congratulate our students for sticking it out. It was an important election.”

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Republicans in Pennsylvania Warn Jewish Voters That Obama Will Lead to Another Holocaust

In order for John McCain to win the presidential election, he has to win in one or two key northern states. So the McCain campaign is pulling out all the stops to eke out a win in places like Pennsylvania, for example.

What does “pulling out all the stops” look like? How about this:

AP, PHILADELPHIA – Pennsylvania Republicans are disavowing an e-mail sent to Jewish voters that likens a vote for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama to events that led up to the Holocaust.

“Jewish Americans cannot afford to make the wrong decision on Tuesday, November 4th, 2008,” the e-mail reads. “Many of our ancestors ignored the warning signs in the 1930s and 1940s and made a tragic mistake. Let’s not make a similar one this year!”

A copy of the e-mail, provided by Democratic officials, says it was “Paid for by the Republican Federal Committee of PA – Victory 2008.”

The story from the Associated Press notes that the Pennsylvania Republican Party was for the mailing before they were against it:

Political consultant Bryan Rudnick, identified as the strategist who helped write the message, was reached Saturday night and confirmed he no longer works for the party, which employed him a few weeks ago as a consultant to do outreach to Jewish voters.

“I had authorization from party officials” to send the e-mail, Rudnick said, but he declined to say who had signed off on it. “I’m not looking to drag anyone else through the mud, so I’m not naming names right now,” he said.

This comes on the heels of the story of an attempted hoax by McCain campaign volunteer Ashley Todd in Pittsburgh. Todd, a 20-year-old college student , had claimed that she was mugged at an ATM by a large black man who, upon seeing a McCain sticker on her car, scratched the letter “B” — for “Barack” — on her face.

If that story sounds unreal, it’s because it was. Todd has since admitted it was all a hoax.

Questions remian, though, about the complicity of the Republican Party in publicizing the hoax to the press. As reported at the website Talking Points Memo (TPM):

John McCain’s Pennsylvania communications director told reporters in the state an incendiary version of the hoax story about the attack on a McCain volunteer well before the facts of the case were known or established — and even told reporters outright that the “B” carved into the victim’s cheek stood for “Barack,” according to multiple sources familiar with the discussions.

John Verrilli, the news director for KDKA in Pittsburgh, told TPM Election Central that McCain’s Pennsylvania campaign communications director gave one of his reporters a detailed version of the attack that included a claim that the alleged attacker said, “You’re with the McCain campaign? I’m going to teach you a lesson.”

Verrilli also told TPM that the McCain spokesperson had claimed that the “B” stood for Barack. According to Verrilli, the spokesperson also told KDKA that Sarah Palin had called the victim of the alleged attack, who has since admitted the story was a hoax.

The McCain spokesperson’s claims… (are) significant because it reveals a McCain official pushing a version of the story that was far more explosive than the available or confirmed facts permitted at the time.

It seems that the communications staff for the Pennsylvania Republican Party has been very busy lately.

Fortunately, the hoax was revealed before the police went on a witch hunt to find a “big black guy” who might have been responsible for the fake assault.

It seems that the Republican Party has a history of using scare tactics in western Pennsylvania.

I’ve spoken with a lot of folks about this. Are these acts by the McCain campaign racist? No, not intentionally. But it does show that, in this time of desperation, some members of the McCain campaign have lost their moral compass, and will in fact say anything and do anything to get their candidate elected. I hope the voters are taking notice.

Republican Scare Tactics, Circa 1949

Lately, I’ve been talking a lot about political ads. This is from an earlier blog post, back when this site wasn’t getting a lot hits.

I think this speaks for itself. It almost makes the Willie Horton ads from the 1988 presidential campaign seem tame.

Note the little girl’s doll:

This picture was taken in 1949. Obviously, Republican campaign tactics haven’t changed much.

This is from the excellent book, One Shot Harris: The Photographs of Charles “Teenie” Harris. Harris was a photographer who worked for the Pittsburgh Courier, which was one of the nation’s top black newspapers.

The book contains photographs taken by Harris from the 1940s through the 1960s. Black Issues Book Review said this about Harris and the book:

One Shot Harris is pure soul. Though Harris photographed people living in poverty, most of his photos break away from the all-too-familiar images that oftentimes represent blacks during hard times. Instead, Harris focused on local folk–proud at work and at home–along with numerous celebrities to convey cultural pride. He took particular pleasure in highlighting The Hill District, the Pittsburgh neighborhood where many African Americans flocked seeking employment and entertainment.

“What I’d like for readers to take away from this book,” says writer Stanley Crouch, “is that Harris shows that these black communities, regardless of all stereotypes, were as civilized as any community in the entire western world.”

The book contains an essay by noted writer Stanley Crouch, and a biography of Harris by African American photography scholar Deborah Willis. Highly recommended.