Since my day effectively begins around noon when I wake up (I love being off from school for Christmas), I woke up yesterday to the news that Rep. Parker Griffith, who represents Alabama's 5th district (around Huntsville), decided to switch parties. This in and of itself is not unusual. After all, Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) did the same thing earlier this year, several current and recent members of the House and Senate have done the same. What struck me as both odd and telling about his decision was that he was a Democrat switching to the minority party. What made this especially odd was the fact that his switch was inconsequential to the current balance of power in the House, which now stands at 257 Democrats and 178 Republicans.
There are a couple of ways of looking at this. I'll explain after the fold.
First, there is the optimisitic way. Parker Griffith, was after all, a conservative Democrat. He's voted against Cap and Trade and the economic stimulus, and he's voted with the Republicans on numerous other issues. He's also called Pelosi "divisive" back in August, and he's said that he'll never vote for her as Speaker again. The Politico reports he said at a press conference today:
[H]e can no longer align himself “with a party that continues to pursue legislation that is bad for our country, hurts our economy and drives us further and further into debt.”
“Unfortunately there are those in the Democratic Leadership that continue to push an agenda focused on massive new spending, tax increases, bailouts and a health care bill that is bad for our healthcare system,” Griffith said in a statement. “I have always considered myself to be an independent voice and I have tried to be that voice in Congress – but after watching this agenda firsthand I now believe that the differences in the two parties could not be more clear and that for me to be true to my core beliefs and values I must align myself with the Republican party and speak out clearly on these issues."
There's little reason for him to switch parties, politically speaking, so there's a good chance that he may have genuinely believed the Republicans best represented his views. Jumping to the Republicans makes him a freshman representative from the minority party in Congress. This diminishes any influence he may have had, and it will surely mean he is among the most insignificant members of the body. He also will lose his committee assignments in the process, which further damages his influence.
He very well could have had the same sort of experiences in Congress with his party that brought Zell Miller over to the Republican Caucus while he was a Senator from Georgia (though Miller remained a Democrat by name). He describes his experiences in his book A National Party No More:
What I saw gradually drew back the curtain on Washington's political stage and over time my awe [with being there] turned to shock, the Capitol's own version of shock and awe. I began to refer to the Tuesday meetings as the "TUMS-days" lunches as the ideology moved further and further to the left and the oratory was turned up to a decibel level that got so shrill for my old ears that I needed Tylenol to go along with my antacid....I began to think that the caucus, or at least the speakers who held forth at the lunches, sees the entire nation through the partisan prism of liberal states like California, New York, Maryland, and Massachusetts and believes that what is good Democratic politics there just has to be good Democratic politics from sea to shining sea. (pg. 64)
The story of Miller's progressive disaffection with his party could be told through the titles of the chapters of his book alone: "Born a Democrat--Married a Democrat," "Elected a Democrat," "Governed as a Democrat," and finally, "But NOT This Kind of Democrat." It could be very likely that the conservative Democrat Griffith could be having the same experiences as Zell Miller did, judging by his remarks at his press conference.
The other way of looking at this is a more negative way. After all, the conservative nature of his district (it went for McCain in 2008 and Bush in 2004) would mean he would have an uphill battle for reelection as a Democrat in next year's election, especially if the current political trends continue. He may see the party switch as bettering his reelection chances. Furthermore, though Griffith bucked his party on numerous issues, he still voted with Pelosi 80% of the time, mostly on procedural motions and the like. Finally, though I don't endorse this notion just yet, an especially Machiavellian perspective could lead one to believe he is a plant by Pelosi to ruin the GOP's plans, spy on them, and cause dischord within the House Republican Caucus. Though this may be a little extreme on the surface, I would not necessarily put it beyond Pelosi to try such a thing.
The best way, I believe, for conservatives and Republicans to approach this is to watch him for a little while to see if his actions as a newly-minted GOP member match his words from the press conference today. We must make sure he will be a good Republican before we truly accept him as one of our own. I'm not against welcoming him to the party. In fact, I'm all for it. I just want to make sure his reasons for switching are sincere and his convictions are genuine. To do otherwise would be naive and stupid.
Make no mistake, this is a huge blow to Barack Obama and the Democrats upon the Hill (provided this isn't some Machiavellian gamble by Pelosi). His switch helps prove just how far to the Left the party has gone and how out of touch his old party is with the average American. Representative Griffith, if you can back your words up with actions and your reasons are sincere, then I welcome you to the Republican party. It's great to gain an ally.