My initial reaction to Arlen Specter's party change was one of extreme pain. Of all the 100 members of the United States Senate (well, all 99, as one seat from Minnesota is still being contested), Arlen Specter was probably the one closest to my own political ideology. And yet, unlike Sen. Specter, I feel that the Democratic Party is still much further away from all that I believe in than the Republican Party, so there is no way I would ever make the party change that Specter did.
But (particularly after reading more about what has happened) I see the reason behind it. And clearly the whole problem was Pennsylvania electoral law. The situation is obviously the mirror image of what happened to Joe Lieberman in 2006; the Connecticut Democratic Party in 2006 was so dominated by extremists that Joe Lieberman lost the primary to Ned Lamont, though it was clear from what happened in November that more Connecticut voters as a whole preferred Lieberman to Lamont. Exactly the same thing looked to be happening in the Pennsylvania Republican Party, except that Lieberman's option (forming a party to elect him after he lost the primary) was not available to Specter because Pennsylvania law has a "sore-loser" provision (a candidate who loses a party primary cannot run as the candidate of another party). And Specter had to look at the polls which showed him losing a Republican primary, but winning a general election whether he ran as a Republican or a Democrat. So his decision was, I'm sure, a painful one, but a logical one.
Arlen Specter, despite the party enrollment change, is still more a Republican than a Democrat. (According to one chart I saw today, only two Republicans in the Senate voted less with their party than Specter, but Specter's percentage of votes with the Republicans was still 65%!) Perhaps he's still going to vote more with the Republicans than with the Democrats, but it is true that he'll be voting to help the Reid/Pelosi Democrats control the Congress. If I'd been living in Pennsylvania, I'd have a difficult choice in November 2010 (as I said yesterday on my blog). Fortunately, I'm not faced with that choice.
The two-party system has one very negative result. It means that within each party there are fights between those, on the one hand, who want their party to be "pure" and take unified stands, and those, on the other han, who want theit party to reach out to the ideological center. I think that Olympia Snowe (one of the two Republicans who voted less with their party than Specter, according to the article I was quoting!) has it right: the Republican party cannot win without its conservatives, but it also cannot win without its moderates.
I've not agreed with some of the people posting on the Range Voting site that abolishing the 2-party system in the U. S. is a great desideratum; I've felt there are good things about having two parties rather than the weakly bound coalitions of countries like Israel. But the two-party system certainly brought about Arlen Specter's dilemma, and as someone who generally has liked Specter's politics, I have to be more sympathetic to those who would change it.