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Senator Arlen Specter is no lightweight in Washington’s political arena.  As one of the Senate’s most senior ranking members, Specter is able to wield power with even-handed temperance and balance.  He has never shown himself to be radical on issues and is not in anyone’s back pocket.

But do the Republicans realize what they lost?  If they choose to ignore what’s happened, or mock his decision – like Hannity did on Fox the other day by calling Specter “Benedict Arlen” – it could be the signal for other more moderate Republicans to also abandon the party, leaving one of our major parties in the hands of a tiny minority of radicals.

In switching parties, Specter brings with him his expertise on a variety of important issues.  Currently he is a member of five Senate committees which include the all-important Appropriations, Veterans Affairs, and Judiciary (of which he was the Republican ranking, or leading, member; a seat which will now be vacant, although Specter will remain on the committee but now on the Democratic side).

Specter’s switch was purely for his political survival.  But what’s wrong with that?  He’s a politician, and a good one.  Why should he give up almost 30 years because his own party has been taken over by a few small-minded people who really have no hope for winning the general populace because of their intolerance and inability to be open to any other views beside their own?

Specter left because Pennsylvania lost its Republican base.  Since his last reelection in 2004, about 200,000 Republicans (moderates) gave up on trying to work within the party and switched to the Democratic party.  What is left of the PA Republicans is a small minority who are religious right-wingers and do not support Specter.

Any one of us would do the same thing, given the same circumstances.

Although there have been comments on the media and Internet that Specter may face challenge from the Democrats in that primary, it is unlikely.  With the support of President Obama and the governor or Pennsylvania, Specter will have smooth sailing in the Democratic primary.

The big question, however, is how other Republican moderates will respond?

Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both from Maine, for example, are moderates.  So far, neither is indicating they will follow Specter’s lead but that could change over time depending on how the Republican party handles this.  Above all, everyone, including the Republican leadership, must remember that these people are career politicians.  They will serve in the party which respects them and which furthers their own ideals.

Snowe is up for reelection in 2012 and Collins in 2014 so there still is time but the Republicans shouldn’t sit on it too long.

If the Republican are incapable of bringing their party back to center, does it mean the end of two-party government?

Let’s hope not because that would be bad for all of us; democracy needs lively debate from opposing sides.  But if the Republican party continues to cater to its far-right minority, it’s likely that it will cease to be a major party and sink into the political oblivion of a very minor, powerless, party.

If that should happen, let’s hope that another party (perhaps an independent party) arises in power to replace the vacancy.

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