The Democrats' Magic Bullet

Not that many people are aware that Arlen Specter was the staffer who developed the Warren Commission's "magic bullet" theory. The Democrats, with Specter's announced shift from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party, now have their magic bullet to ensure that Barack Obama gets what he wants in his first two years in office: healthcare reform, climate change legislation, and appointments to his Administration and to various federal courts. 

So far, there is every appearance that the Democrats are welcoming Specter with open arms, and attempting to clear the field for him to be the Democratic nominee in Pennsylvania in 2010. Suburban Philadelphia Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak had his eyes set on running for the Senate seat in 2010 and has not agreed to roll over (yet), but Specter would be favored to win if there were a Democratic primary, and if President Obama and Democratic Senators from around the country helped him raise money and campaigned for him.

Of course, Specter's move was very cynical.  If Specter could win the GOP nomination in 2010, he would have been a favorite to win re-election to a 6th term. But it was highly unlikely that he could beat former Congressman Pat Toomey in a rematch of their 2004 primary race, when Specter slipped by with a 2% victory. Toomey led by 51-30% over Specter in a recent poll. As moderate Republicans have switched their registration to the specterDemocratic Party in recent years, the GOP in Pennsylvania has become more conservative. Toomey, if nominated, would almost certainly  have been defeated by whichever Democrat ran against him -- Sestak or somebody else. The state has become much less friendly to Republicans the last few years. Rick Santorum, a principled conservative, lost his re-election fight by 17% in 2006. Barack Obama carried the state by just over a 10% margin in 2008. The GOP has lost five Pennsylvania House seats.

So the question arises, why would the Democrats roll over for Specter, when it was very likely they would pick up his Senate seat next year anyway,  running against Pat Toomey, who would have defeated the only electable "Republican", Arlen Specter in the primary?

The most likely reason is that Specter will give them the key vote this year to enable the Democrats to overcome any GOP opposition through a filibuster on major initiatives that Barack Obama wants to get through quickly.  Specter becomes the 59th Democrat. Sometime later this year, Al Franken will be the 60th Democrat in the Senate, seated after overcoming the last of Norm Coleman's appeals. Few people who have watched the post election legal battles think Coleman has much of a chance of winning on appeal.

There are several battles Specter will now help the President win:

  • 1. Health care reform can now be passed without a need to rely on reconciliation (51 votes). This will enable Obama and the Democrats to claim a broad mandate for the effort- 60 votes. Democrats can fight among themselves on the details of the plan, and allow Republicans to look like they have a role in shaping it (they don't of course any more), but Obama will advertise the bipartisan drafting effort, and with no chance of a successful filibuster, several Republicans will sign onto the bill, giving Obama a big margin of victory in the Senate.
  • 2. Henry Waxman's climate change bill is very unpopular with many oil and coal state Democrats. But there is a difference between opposing the bill, and filibustering it. Health care reform was likely to pass this year even before the Specter shift, though by the reconciliation process, which would have angered Republicans, and become a rallying cry for the Party in 2010. Climate change legislation might not have passed this year, and there was no plan to use reconciliation to get it through the Senate with 51 votes. Now it will likely pass, and overcome a GOP filibuster, after some concessions are made to get recalcitrant Democrats on board. "Blue Dog" Democrats were hoping the GOP could kill the climate change bill with a filibuster, and save them from fighting publicly with the popular President of their own Party. Now that won't happen. Obama will get his bill, and proudly display it at the big climate change conference in December, 2009 in Copenhagen. The only remaining question now is how bad the bill will be.
  • 3. The GOP will soon lose its ability to filibuster far left Court nominees ,or Administrative nominees such as Dawn Johnson, or Harold Koh.
  • 4. Specter, in his statement on his shift to the Democrats, said he will not be an automatic 60th vote for cloture on filibuster votes, including card check, the labor movement's primary goal this cycle. If this is true and Specter holds the line with his former party on this filibuster vote, it too may help the White House. This is because Obama's team may have determined that card check is unpopular with a broad swath of the population., and could harm some conservative and moderate Democrats in the South, the Plains states, and the Rocky Mountain area, where unions are not viewed favorably, and secret ballots are respected. . So Specter can save some vulnerable Democrats from having to cast a vote for or defend the passage of card check.

Of course, Specter could deliver all these favors to the Democrats, and once booked, they could still screw him next year, and not play the decisive role Specter is counting on to beat back any challenger in a Democratic primary. 

That would be poetic justice, of course, and it would show that the Democrats had one magic bullet left.

image by Big Fur Hat of

Richard Baehr is chief political correspondent of American Thinker.