arlo spector waves goodbye to the GOP

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Posted 29 Apr 2009 in Politics

A couple of months ago, in the days and weeks after Barack Obama was elected, I had a funny feeling that while American politics was likely to become a great deal more fruitful and worthy, it may well become a lot less interesting as well. The sheer decency of the new President, combined with the size of the task in front of him, seemed to suggest that US politics would become sober, thoughtful, complex, where before it was brash, infuriating and – in the days when the momentum of Obama’s campaign was at its height – deliriously full of unrealistic hopes. With Obama in charge, everything was bound to tone down.

And in many ways it has – but American politics remains deeply interesting. The latest incident, the conversion of Arlen Spector from Republican to Democrat, is hugely fascinating. With the election of Al Franken still (temporarily) up in the air, Obama remains tantalisingly close to a workable majority in the Senate. Now that Spector has crossed the floor, he need only wait for the inevitable confirmation of Franken’s victory in Minnesota. The implications for Obama’s ability to stretch his agenda are profound. The Republicans can’t stop him.

And just as interesting are the implications for the Republican Party itself. The GOP looks increasingly to be in the same state that the British Conservative party were in after Tony Blair’s election in 1997 – riven with fury at their loss of power and in a tumult over their direction. Like the Tories, the GOP have lurched to the right, and the party’s complete lack of focus presents many questions. The modern day Republican party is unrecognisable from the one which was once dominated by sensible conservative moderates like Arlo Spector – politicians of his intellectual calibre are now deeply unfashionable in the GOP tent. So what of the remaining moderates? Will they come over to Obama too? If they do, his potential to affect lasting change is huge.

I hope to heaven that he doesn’t waste the opportunity in the way Labour did in the UK.

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