Sen. Arlen Specter's switch to the Democratic Party has implications on a personal and national scale.
For Pennsylvanians, who must decide who will represent us in the U.S. Senate next year, the stakes are personal. A central question will be whether Mr. Specter can be trusted on anything.
In recent weeks, Mr. Specter has made numerous statements about how important it is to deny Democrats the 60th seat in the U.S. Senate and how he intended to remain a Republican to prevent one-party dominance in Washington. What Pennsylvanians have to ask themselves now is whether Mr. Specter is, in fact, devoted to any principle other than his own re-election.
On that question, there is much evidence. Mr. Specter began his political career as a Democrat, switched to the Republican side out of political convenience and has switched back for the same reason. On issue after issue, he has changed his position over the years to benefit his political calculations.
The most recent example is card check, which denies workers a secret ballot in labor-union elections. First Mr. Specter supported it, then he opposed it when faced with Republican primary opposition, and now, who knows? That's something Pennsylvania Democrats will have to contend with. Do they really want to nominate someone who will switch his principles on a dime?
If Mr. Specter's political expediency were only a personal matter, it would hardly be worth noting. However, the national implications are more serious. By switching parties, Mr. Specter guarantees the very thing he has vocally warned against: a one-party Democratic monopoly of the federal government.
Just a few months ago, Mr. Specter said avoiding one-party dominance was vital for our country. He was right then. Unfortunately, his desire for political self-preservation trumped his previously stated view of the vital interests of our country.
But Pennsylvania voters will have the ability to correct this situation in next year's election. I believe the Democratic Congress' reaction to the current recession has brought our country to a crossroads. On one path, we have the most massive growth in federal spending in our nation's history. The biggest debt in history. Taxpayer-funded bailouts of failed Wall Street firms and Detroit automakers, the likes of which we have never before seen. And the promise of massive tax increases next year.
Mr. Specter, of course, voted in favor of all of this when he was still a Republican, so in that sense, not much will change. But he will embolden House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to take our country even further down the road to a European-style welfare state.
The other path is more familiar to Americans. It is the path of limited government, free enterprise and personal responsibility, which have been the hallmarks of America's success for generations. That is the path that will lead us to economic recovery. It is the path I will advocate in my campaign for the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania.
I do not believe that the rejection of the Republican Party in the 2006 and 2008 elections was a rejection of those principles. Rather, too many Republicans in Washington became enamored with, and indeed corrupted by, big government. After all, the "Bridge to Nowhere" was a Republican-sponsored earmark.
Voters threw the Republicans out of Congress because they didn't like the Republicans' performance. And there was much to dislike.
Unfortunately, the pendulum has swung much too far in the other direction, with record-shattering wasteful spending increases. Now, the Specter-empowered Democratic supermajority will go even further.
In 2010, voters will say "Enough is enough." In the parlance of economics, there will be a "market correction." Americans who voted for the nice-sounding but content-free notion of "change" in 2008 will vote again to say "not so fast; even more power in the hands of Washington politicians is not the change we had in mind." And when Pennsylvanians look at Arlen Specter's role in this political power grab, they will reject him, too.
Pat Toomey is a former Republican member of the House of Representatives and is a candidate for his party's nomination to the U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania.