Democrats and 'The Magic Bullet'

As counsel for the Warren Commission, Arlen
Specter described a "magic bullet" that changed America. Four decades
later as a U.S. senator, Specter is providing another history-altering
magic bullet - one Democrats will either fire off in a starting gun, or
use in their suicide.

By leaving the Republican Party this week, the five-term
Pennsylvania lawmaker eliminated the last Democratic rationale for
inaction: the Senate filibuster. With Minnesota Democrat Al Franken
expected to be seated soon, and now with Specter, Democrats will have
the 60 Senate votes needed to overcome all parliamentary obstructions.

This legislative magic bullet will force Democrats to fulfill their
policy promises and commence an era of dominance, or fail and get
annihilated at the polls.

No longer can they blame Republicans for stopping bills to reform
health care, tax, defense and trade policy. In command of the White
House, the autocratic House of Representatives, and soon a
filibuster-proof Senate, Democrats will have total authority to do
whatever they want, and no scapegoat to fault. That means, as ABC News'
Rick Klein said, "This is Democrats' turn to govern, no excuses" - and
it means we're about to find out whether their pledges were genuine.

Ever since the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress, Democrats have
guaranteed "real change" if we give them back control of government.
They've made this pledge despite helping Republicans deregulate the
financial system and plunge the country into the Iraq War. And at every
turn, they've blamed the GOP, rather than themselves, for gridlock.

When they temporarily took back the Senate in 2001 after Vermont
Sen. Jim Jeffords' party switch, they said the Republican House would
stymie their priorities - a logical argument that came true. When they
won both houses of Congress in 2006, they said George W. Bush would
veto their agenda - again, a fair assertion that proved correct. When
they won both Congress and the White House in 2008, they insisted they
still couldn't do very much because their 58 senate votes couldn't
overcome a filibuster - a less believable claim considering Obama's
bully pulpit, but nonetheless at least mathematically valid.

It has been like watching a 15-year version of an Indiana Jones
film - every time we think the quest to find the ark will be completed,
there's been another twist, putting off the promised conclusion just a
little bit more.

Of course, when Dr. Jones' adventure did eventually end and the ark
was found and opened, it gruesomely melted the heads of those standing
nearby as they euphorically screamed, "It's beautiful!" And, in fact,
that's one possible outcome of Specter's announcement.

Sixty Senate votes do seem beautiful ... until 10 bought-off,
right-wing, and/or weak-kneed Democrats decide to keep helping
Republicans make the upper chamber our nation's single most powerful
obstacle to "real change." When that happens, 60 votes become an ugly
flame that sears the electoral flesh off politicians who technically
have the power to act, but whose subsequent failure to deliver exposes
their dishonesty.

The other possible outcome is actual progress. Even the most
recalcitrant Democratic senators likely comprehend that in a 60-vote
environment brimming with expectations, their continued alliance with
Republican obstructionists could endanger their whole party and
consequently their individual careers. They have to understand that
it's one thing to vote against your party's universal health care
promise when the GOP could already filibuster such a proposal - but
it's quite another thing to cast a deciding vote against that promise
when your party has all the power. That reality could forge a new
cohesion necessary for results - and for an enduring majority.

It all depends on how Democrats use the magic bullet Arlen Specter just handed them.

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